Picture book month at the library system

November is Picture Book Month, an international initiative that celebrates picture books throughout the entire month. For many people, picture books are their first experience with art and literature. A picture book that stands out from my childhood is Margret and H.A. Rey’s “Curious George Takes a Job.” In this book George, a curious brown monkey, escapes his zoo cage and wanders the city causing mischief and working different jobs including chef, window washer and movie star. It’s a delightful story that I have been able to share with my own children.

The earliest known children’s book is John Comenius’ 17th century “Orbis Sensualium Pictus” or “The World of Things Obvious to the Senses Drawn in Pictures,” as it was rendered in English. Comenius was a Czech philosopher, theologist and educator. His book was dedicated to the education of children and contained 150 pictures depicting everyday activities like brewing beer, tending gardens and slaughtering animals. Although it was written in Latin, “Orbis Sensualium Pictus” stood apart from other books of the time because it was intended to reach children at their level instead of writing down to them.

A standout in the 17th century, you will not find “Orbis Sensualium Pictus” on any lists of the top picture books of all time. Instead you will find classics such as “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,” “Tikki Tikki Tembo,” and “Corduroy,” as well as new favorites such as “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus,” “Pete the Cat,” and “Click, Clack, Moo.” And of course, whether it is a list compiled by educators, children’s literature scholars or parents, “Where the Wild Things Are” is always on top and considered by most to be the best picture book of all time.

In “100 Best Books for Children” Anita Silvey shares this synopsis for the 1963 classic by Maurice Sendak: “the hero rages against his mother for being sent to bed without any supper. Banished, an angry Max wills his bedroom to change into a forest. In that forest he finds the Wild Things. After taming them and enjoying a wild rumpus, Max grows homesick and discovers supper waiting for him –still hot. Through his fantasy, Max discharges his anger against his mother and returns sleepy, hungry, and at peace with himself.”

Why is “Where the Wild Things Are” so successful, or any picture book for that matter? Publishers have narrowed it down to a handful of traits. A good picture book has to tell a compelling story in 32 pages. While you will see some exceptions, 32 pages tends to be the industry standard. The reason is practical. It is the most cost effective way for publishers to print and bind a book.

A good picture book also has rhythm, rhyming and repetition. It has good illustrations and loveable, identifiable characters. Think of Curious George, Babar, the Pigeon, Pete the Cat, Fancy Nancy. These are all characters that encounter problems and then solve these problems with independence and creativity. Most of all, a good picture book has to be a book children and adults want to read again and again. “Where the Wild Things Are” contains all the traits publishers have identified for a successful picture book. It is a timeless classic that is as relevant today as when it was first written.

Few of us may still read picture books, but most of us can credit our joy of reading to a picture book. I invite you to take time this month to celebrate Picture Book Month by rereading your favorite picture book and then sharing it with someone. Happy picture book reading.


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