I had barely begun reading my picture book Bears on Chairs in a first grade classroom when a boy in front broke in. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “The picture shows four chairs on the first page, but there’s only one chair on the second page. Where are the rest of them? It doesn’t make sense!”
The teacher spoke of the artist’s choice. I mentioned the view through a telescope.
Then a girl near the back spoke up. “It’s like in the assembly earlier. We were all there. But the screen only showed that man and the books he read to us.”
The teacher was impressed with the analogy. So was I. More importantly, the boy was satisfied. And his comment provided the spark for a brief discussion of perspective.
Part of the fun of reading to children is in seeing how a picture book can start their mental wheels spinning.
When I read my counting book featuring groups of frogs startled into silence by a car passing on a wet street, then one big frog beginning to sing again, I always ask the kids, “What do you think happens next?”
Most answer, “All the frogs start to sing.”
In a Montessori preschool, a girl of about four took the discussion an unexpected step farther with, “And then another car comes by.”
That picture books influence their young audience was never more clearly illustrated to me than after reading Bears on Chairs to a group of first graders. As I spoke to the teacher afterward, preparing to leave, several of the children called to me. They had pushed chairs together at the head of the room and were crowded onto their make-shift bench. They said, “We’re sharing like the bears.”
They got the book’s message. Not only did they understand it, they were already taking it into their own lives.
Are picture books important to children? Of course, they are.
Shirley Parenteau published eight children's books when her three children were young. Now with six granddaughters sparking ideas, she writes picture books for Candlewick Press. Click here to visit Shirley’s Website!