Who Says Picture Books Are Just For Kids?

Yesterday Kate Hosford, author of the Carolrhoda picture books Big Bouffant and Big Birthday, pointed me to a blog post by Laura Purdie Salas. One of Laura’s daughters shares the name Annabelle with the daringly nonconformist protagonist of Kate’s books, and although the real-world Annabelle is 19, it turns out they also share a fondness for red polka-dotted dresses! Laura writes about reading Big Birthday with her grown-up Annabelle over brownies and enjoying these coincidences.

10968    BBirth 30-31 lowres

Kate was excited to see the book being enjoyed by an older audience. I loved it too—largely, I admit, because I like the idea of having my own mom read a picture book while we eat dessert! But brownies or not, there’s something to this.

Any children’s picture book worth its paper should certainly captivate young readers with the cadence of the text, the story it tells, and the art and design of the pages. We create picture books that are short enough to hold a young reader’s attention and that keep the language and the art kid-friendly. These books pave the way for children to advance their reading skills, and they provide invaluable opportunities for bonding between the reader and a younger child. 

But it’s unfortunate that the kid-friendliness of picture books often translates into the notion that adults do not or should not enjoy them just as much without young children around. Picture books texts, whether rhyming or not, involve a certain poetry. The more limited the text, the more thought put in to each word selected and the weaving of those words into a narrative. Take a spread from Laura Purdie Salas’s gorgeous, poetic book  A Leaf Can Be . . ., for example:


You can be quite sure the two words on each page were given substantial consideration! (For more on this book, see Carol’s previous posts.) So why shouldn’t we, as adults with scrutinizing eyes and ears, enjoy such carefully crafted language? Shouldn’t we enjoy it that much more? Perhaps it’s a stretch for me to count the Winnie the Pooh books as picture books, but I adore them even more now than I did as a child—I marvel at A. A. Milne’s understated humor and dialogue.

But the real magic of a picture book, of course, is how the illustrations and text pair to bring the story to life. As Kate Hosford noted to me, “in reality, the addition of pictures usually adds to the sophistication of the book rather than detracts from it.” Sophistication, meaning, and especially humor—I’d argue that the interplay of text and illustrations highlights these in a way that adults can (and should!) appreciate with wonder.

So why not? Lerner’s various imprints include a wide array of picture books well worth marveling (and there are more on the way that I’m dying to share). Go grab a book, a brownie, and perhaps another grown-up, and enjoy.