October 21, 2010


Sorting books is a wonderful, terrible job! Every one is either an old friend I plan to revisit some day, or a new friend I hope to enjoy. Yesterday I went over my collection of children’s books. I have narrowed it down somewhat over the years--I sent a huge box to my grandchildren some years ago—but they are gradually creeping back on my shelves. After all, encouraging children to enjoy reading was my career, and reading was a major part of my life. Reading fiction helped me get through the dark patches, and reading non-fiction helped me learn all the things I needed to know, from child raising to health to (ugh!) downsizing.

And picture books! How could anyone not love the wonderful picture books of today? The advances in color reproduction have made them truly works of art--but then, they always were. Framed prints and plates from picture books have graced the walls of countless children’s rooms. Discovering some of Berta and Elmer Hader’s original art, locked up in a windowless and doorless attic room for over half a century, gave me a new appreciation for their creative use of vibrant color. No, my picture book collection goes with me. They are lovely companions on days when I want only reading pleasure.

Recently I read a New York Times article saying picture books are dying. Parents don’t want children to waste their time on them--they want them to read chapter books instead. Another recent article suggested picture books should not be over 500 words because parents didn’t have time to read anything longer to their kids. It reminded me an argument I had with a principal about the cost of some picture books I was ordering for our library. I pointed out the art found in picture books might be the only art many kids would ever see. It needed to be good. Some illustrations we saw in our own childhood still influence us: can anyone think of Alice in Wonderland without the Tenniel illustrations? Good pictures blend and enhance the deceptively simple texts and take-away messages created by people who truly love children. (Well, I just read Dr. Seuss was terrified by them, but he certainly related to them through his whimsical and odd way of looking at the world.)

So the picture books get packed. All of them. Being able to read and reread them, even at my age, is a large sunny patch that will be there even in the gray days of winter.