Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Picture Books Matter: A Guest Post by Sandra Tayler

A few years ago at DeepSouthCon 50, I had the privilege of meeting Sandra Tayler,  who kindly gave my children an autographed copy of her picture book Hold on to Your Horses (written with illustrator Angela Call). My daughter loves the book, and we have read it together many times. So I was very excited to see that Sandra has just launched a Kickstarter for the sequel, The Strength of Wild Horses. I'm a backer, and I strongly encourage you to check out and consider supporting this deserving project. Meanwhile, I asked Sandra if she'd drop by Bowing to the Future and give us her thoughts on Why Pictures Books Matter. (Hint: They do!).

Why Picture Books Matter 
by Sandra Tayler

Advocates of reading are quick to tell you that picture books are very important, that they are the beginning of literacy. Which is true. Studies have shown that children, who are read to, have an easier time learning how to read later. Experts also say that picture books teach children the shapes of sentences, the sounds of language. Reading time creates bonds between children and their care givers. But picture books do something much more subtle and important; picture books teach story.

Human beings use stories to explain our lives and our history. Cultures have pervasive stories that define them. For example America thrives on the story that anyone can succeed if they apply themselves. It is the American Dream told over and over again in movies, books, and songs. Japan has stories about balance and living in harmony with nature. Other cultures have stories of obedience or strength. As children are read picture books they begin to partake in these cultural stories. They begin to understand what they can expect from the world and how they should fit into it.

This happens on a smaller scale too. The stories that parents choose for their children are expressions of their family culture. They can choose stories that emphasize competition and triumph, or stories that speak of cooperation and sharing. They pick stories that express their values and beliefs, and the children begin understanding “this is who we are” and “these are the things that we do.”

Most parents don’t realize they are doing these things when the pick up Where The Wild Things Are or Make Way for Ducklings. They just want that moment of snuggling and the sharing of a charming story. Or perhaps they’re hoping that the toddler won’t find that one favorite book that mom is sick of reading out loud. However the book that mom hates, tells something to the toddler. When a child loves a book, it is an opportunity for parents to peek inside that child’s life. In Kindergarten my son loved Where’s My Teddy, a story of a boy who wanders in the dark wood seeking his comforting bear. The boy meets with a surprising twist which makes us laugh and then ends the book safe in his own bed. My son loved that twist moment, when everything that was set up in the first part of the book was transformed into something surprising, but completely fitting. And he loved that the book ended in a safe place. Those facets of the book expressed my son’s personality. Through the book, I understood him better.

For me one of the greatest powers of a picture book is to give a child the story they need when they are struggling. The child who is fearful at bedtime can learn to laugh by reading The Nightmare in My Closet. Ish can help a child who wants to do everything perfectly. Three Cheers for Tacky can help the child who doesn’t quite fit in with peers. All of these stories empower the kids who struggle. The kids can imagine themselves being as triumphant as the characters they read about. When my children are struggling, I try to find a book that speaks to them. On the occasions that I couldn’t find one, I wrote one. Because stories matter. Stories change how people see themselves and once people see themselves differently, they become capable of more. This is true for young people as well as adults. That is how the world changes, through stories, even short rhyming stories with pictures.


Sandra Tayler is a writer of children's fiction, speculative fiction, and blog entries. She has sold stories to anthology markets, and her blog won an AML award for online writing. Sandra spends much of her time as the publication and distribution half of the Schlock Mercenary comic business. Sandra’s current project is a Kickstarter to fund her latest picture book, The Strength of Wild Horses. Please stop by and take a look.

No comments: