The joy of picture books
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The joy of picture books

This International Picture Book Month, Nonikiwe Mashologu shares why picture books aren’t just nice to look at, but are an essential part of children’s literacy development.

One of the main reasons I found myself in the field of children’s literature was my love of the imagery that often goes together with the words in children’s books. I’ve always loved the art, colours and textures that illustrators use to help tell a story, usually before you’ve begun to read the text. I still have very fond memories of lying in my bed as a little girl, spending the first few minutes paging through a book and looking at the illustrations to try and get an idea of what it was about. It was like watching my very own movie trailer before getting started with the story.

the herd boy


I’ve noticed that my daughter shares the same traits as I did as a little girl. When we go the library to borrow books, she first selects the books based on the cover and then places the pile of selected books on a table. She then takes a seat and slowly starts to page through each book. She first spends time looking at the pictures, page by page, to get a sense of what the story is about – this is called ‘picture walks’ – and then gradually creates piles the books based on those pictures: there’s the ‘yes’ pile and the ‘no’ pile. It’s only after having gone through that process, that later, when we are at home, she starts reading the text and linking it with the images she saw earlier.

"Pictures in books help children to tap into their emotions"

Thinking back to my experience as a child, and now watching my daughter, has shown me how children generally learn to read pictures before they learn to sound out words. As we read together, my daughter’s eyes light up as she connects the beautiful partnership between the pictures and the text. Most times after we’ve read a book together she insists on reading it on her own, and this is when I see that the process we go through, looking at the pictures, helps stimulate her desire to read the words. These are the small steps on her path to becoming a reader. Picture books can be especially useful for struggling readers as the pictures can help them figure out words or passages.

 "These images and emotions can linger in our minds for many years, even as adults"


Like most children, my daughter has a big and active imagination, so pictures in storybooks always seem to be a natural part of storytelling for her. When she opens a book and sees all those images, a seed is planted that allows her mind to travel to other worlds and meet many different, sometimes unfamiliar characters, thereby sparking her curiosity of the world around her. Interestingly, pictures help develop her listening skills and vocabulary too – because they are meant to be read aloud, picture books are a wonderful way to expose children to new words and sounds.

Pictures in books also help children to tap into their emotions, whether it’s the colours in the pictures or images of the characters in the story. All of this visual stimulation can help to bring out certain types of emotions in children. The text then helps to give a voice to the emotions being felt. Many of these images and emotions can linger in our minds for many years, even as adults. I still have a few books that I have kept from when I was a little girl; bringing them out to share with my kids always stirs up lovely memories. Now it brings me joy to see my children also creating special memories with their picture books today.

 To find a list of recommended picture books for children, click here

This article originally appeared in the Sowetan

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