I read a New York Times article a few months ago that said publishers are cutting back on their publishing of new picture books. It seems parents are purchasing chapter books for their preschoolers and early elementary children. The rationale being chapter books are more like real reading. It is a shame picture books carry the stigma of just being for young kids. I think a great picture book can speak to every age. I passed the half century mark a few years ago, but I can still relate to Max in Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. There are definitely days my inner child wants to run away from home and go on a wild rumpus.
A well-done picture book is like a beautifully illustrated poem. Picture books don't always have poetic structure but the good ones oftentimes have a lovely rhythm to the text. Good picture books weave the visual with the text. If either the illustration or the prose is missing, the story remains untold. Sometimes there are only pictures to draw the reader into a highly imaginative world. The reader oftentimes has to dig deep into their creativity to construct the author's meaning. I think we should encourage imagination and creativity at every age so I don't think picture books are just for kids.
If I was stranded on a desert island, I'd want a David Weisner picture book or two. Three of his books have won the prestigious Caldecott Medal and two others were Caldecott honor books. BTW if you click on the book links below, Amazon has a look inside so you can see some of the illustrations. I highly recommend taking a look at the excerpts to get a feel for Weisner's work.
Tuesday would probably win if I could only take one. I've shared this book countless times with elementary children from 4 to 12 years of age. It's a book that brings a surprised smile to the faces of most adults. The text simply states that it's "Tuesday evening, around eight". It's the illustrations of frogs and lilypads that are the heart and humor of this story. The twist at the end is a great opportunity for adults to talk about cliche expressions.
Flotsam ties with the following book for second place. It is an intriguing wordless story of a camera found at a beach. When the photos are developed, a mystery is found. This book may need the first reading to be with an adult since the concept of a film camera and developing photos is rapidly disappearing from our culture. But I think that also adds to the charm of the book -- a time when things were different.
Art & Max is about Max finding out about painting and drawing. There are lots of word puns in the tiny amount of text. The unintentional outcomes when art goes awry are hysterical. I've always struggled when I've tried painting or drawing, so even as an adult, I related to poor Max.
June 29, 1999 is about a science experiment that doesn't quite go as planned. There's a very humorous twist at the end. It also has more text than the ones above and the text adds another bit of humor along with some geography.
Young adults oftentimes want to appear sophisticated and mature, so they might not want to be seen with a picture book. But I think all these David Weisner books could be shared with both middle school and high school students. Teenagers might appreciate the humor and understand the unwritten concepts better than the elementary aged child.
I think David Weisner is like a bite of dark chocolate... a healthy piece of humor in a tasty morsel and not just for kids.