Birch Lane students have a message for the publishing world: They love their picture books.
So much so, in fact, that students read a grand total of 4,590 picture books during their recent “Love a Picture Book Month.”
During the month of February, students received punch cards and kept track of how many picture books they read.
“Each time a punch card was returned to the library,” said teacher librarian Lynne Sundstrom, “we added an oval to our hungry caterpillar and watched him grow across the library.”
Topping it all off was a visit in March by children’s author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, who spent a whole school day in assemblies with students, sharing her picture books — several of which students had already read — and telling them about the process of creating a picture book.
It all came about largely because of a New York Times article in October, which seemed to declare the demise of picture books.
According to the article, “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children,” picture books have become so unpopular that publishers have scaled back on the number they’ve released in recent years and bookstores have dedicated less and less shelf space to them. One of the factors the article noted was parents who increasingly encourage kindergarteners and first-graders to leave picture books behind in favor of chapter books.
Birch Lane students responded by sending The New York Times a letter, signed by 388 teachers, staff, students and parents, that called picture books “essential to the development of life-long readers and learners.”
And then they read to prove it.
Bardhan-Quallen’s visit provided students with insight into the world of writing, illustrating and publishing picture books — including the amount of time that goes into each book.
“When I start the story,” the author of “Hog Prince” told her rapt audience, “and you’re in kindergarten, I don’t finish it until you’re in second grade.”
Meanwhile, she said, the illustrator can take a year or more to finish that side of the job.
Students even got a sneak peek at two of her upcoming books, “Hampire” and “Pirate Princess.”
According to Sundstrom, picture books hold great value to children of all ages.
“Picture books are filled with rich vocabulary and incredible illustrations that contribute to the imagination,” she said. “Readers make connections to the world through books and these books make a visual connection as well.”
Picture books can also be used to introduce difficult or sensitive topics to older readers, Sundstrom noted, and expose readers to a multitude of literary elements and writing style.
“Besides, based on what intermediate students have told me, they still enjoy reading picture books,” she added. “It’s quick and evokes wonderful memories of a shared reading experience with their parents.”