Reblog Wednesday: why picture books matter

Every now and then I’ll be reposting bookish musings that I wrote for my previous blogs and research. This sentimental little piece was inspired by a fun morning tidying the children’s section at work.

‘Das Geschenk Der Weisen’, the German transaltion of O. Henry’s ‘The Gift of the Magi’, transformed by Lisbeth Zwerger’s beautiful watercolour illustrations. I can’t read a word of it but the pictures held me captivated as a child.

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” C. S. Lewis.

One constant when you toil as a lowly bookseller is The Sudden Recollection: the jolt of memory as a customer hands you a picture book and your brain goes ‘hey, didn’t someone read that to me once?’ And you look over the counter and see their child gleaming at the book in your hands.

Peace at Last Big Book
The picture book that got me thinking: Jill Murphy’s ‘Peace at Last‘, published by Macmillan Children’s Books

Pictures have power. Stories have power. This is why I am a genuine believer in the universal appeal of picture books.

Good art and good narrative translates into adulthood. The preconception that picture books are only for children is absurd. After all, who reads children all of these books? Adults – of all shapes, sizes and minds. I’m still young enough to be terrified by the prospect of having children but I already know which books I will be reading to them because (selfishly) I enjoy reading them myself. A customer summed up this excitement for me last week when I sold her a copy of Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea (another staple of my literary diet as a toddler) and she exclaimed, ‘I can’t wait to get home and read this to my daughter!’

So I think we can all agree that picture books are also for adults to enjoy, but why exactly? What is it that separates stories and illustrations that have an expiry date from those that are timeless? I re-read a few of my favourites to try and pinpoint the answers and came up with a few suggestions:

A picture book can express the trepidation and excitement that you feel when you meet the friend you’ve been waiting for all along…

Leon and Bob cvr copy
Leon and Bob‘ by Simon James. Published by Walker

…A picture book can delve into a world where dreams and real life are indistinct, where magic is still genuine to a person and where logic exists but does not overpower or corrupt…

The Whales’ Song‘ by Dyan Sheldon, with illustrations by the amazing Gary Blythe. Published by Red Fox Picture Books

…A picture book can paint how creativity can transform the world we live in…

‘Rabbityness’ by Jo Empson, published by Child’s Play

…And a picture book can remind you of your childhood; it can make you think of your children, your grandchildren, your nieces, nephews and godchildren; a picture book can make you want to draw your own pictures.

A good picture book will stay with you for life.

The titles I’ve mentioned here are an infinitesimal drop in the vibrant ocean of children’s picture books. What picture books do you remember most?


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