Choosing High Quality Children's Literature/Picture Book Illustrations

Typically, the first books that children will read are picture books; they should, therefore, be a positive experience for children. In addition to teaching children that reading is fun, picture books have an important role in a child’s development. When books are read to children, and as they look at the pictures, language development and auditory discrimination are stimulated. Early concepts of reading such as how to turn the pages and which way to hold a book come into play. Concepts of print such as recognizing sound-symbol relationships and the position and order of words are introduced. It teaches children that shapes and symbols on the page have meaning. Of course, picture books can be used to teach young children to read, but readers of all ages can gain so much more. Readers can use the illustrations to find further meaning, value symbolism, and practice higher level thinking skills. It allows people of all ages simple, aesthetic pleasure.

What Are Picture Books? Edit

Typically picture books have pictures on almost every page. The illustrations are so essential to the story that sometimes they could tell the story by themselves. In fact, there are picture books with no words at all. Sometimes the pictures expand the story line or give more significance to the words. The books are either intended to be read aloud to children or for children to read themselves with guidance. (Lynch-Brown, 2008)

What Do I Look for in High Quality Books? Edit

There are multiple criteria for selecting excellent children’s picture books. Most importantly, we must choose the right book for the right child in the right situation. It should be a book that has “high literary merit” and one the child enjoys (Kurkjian, 2005) Parents and teachers are in the best position to determine what books are appropriate. However, students can also be taught how to choose books for themselves. The following are some ideas to consider when choosing books for children: (Lynch-Brown, 2008) (Norton, 2003) (Kurkjian, and Livingston, 2005)
  • Topics and themes that children enjoy or need such as: of imagination in overcoming fear as in Where the Wild Things Are adjusting to new siblings, as in Darcy and Gran Don’t Like Babies, or the importance of friendship as in Officer Buckle and Gloria. Children often enjoy and can relate to stories that use animals that are disguised as people. Jan Brett is an excellent author of such books. The use of humor and fantasy as in many Dr. Seuss books such as And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street and Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji where animals enter real life through a game.
  • Illustrations are accurate to the plot, characters, and setting, as well as pleasing to the eye. The pictures must support the text. The less words there are in a book, the more the pictures must convey. Understanding how illustrations show visual elements such as line, color, shape, texture, and composition can help to appreciate and understand the artists’ intentions through the artwork. Children and adults can begin to identify illustrators’ styles such as realistic, impressionistic, expressionistic, abstract, primitive, and surrealistic. The manner of creating the artwork is unlimited. Examples include: drawing, collage, print making, photography, and painting. Early exposure helps to develop the aesthetic sensitivities of young children.

Kay E. Vandergrift explains on her website at that Children's book illustration is both an art form in its own right and an integral part of the literary composition of the book as a work of art. To fully appreciate all the styles, media, and techniques represented in children's literature, one must be knowledgeable about art in general as well as about the composition and design of children's books.

  • Pictures should avoid stereotyping. Children are very impressionistic. Not only should the pictures that accompany the text avoid stereotyping, they should encourage children and adults to think outside of the box. Teachers should choose books with care, considering their own teaching situation.
  • Length and amount of text per page should be appropriate to the age or development of the child. Wordless books require the reader to rely on illustrations only to present the story. An example is A Boy, A Dog, and a Frog by Mercer Mayer. A few words allow the reader to use the pictures to help figure out the words to the story. Chris Rashchka’s Yo! Yes? uses just a few words to describe a story of friendship between two people who are very different. Without the pictures and punctuation the story wouldn’t make very much sense. If there are too many words on a page or the words are too difficult, the reader may become frustrated. Generally, the longer the text, the more mature a child must be to appreciate it.
  • Books should offer something to the reader and listener. As children become more mature and better readers, they may think that picture books are for babies. Understanding what the illustrations add to the story will help children and adults to better appreciate the text. The illustrations can also provide hidden meaning or underlying storylines that wouldn’t be able to be perceived if it were not for the illustrations.
  • Use professional recommendations such as Caldecott Medal Award Winners, The New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of the Year, and reviews in journals such as The Horn Book, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.

Types and Excellent Examples of Picture Books Edit

Baby Books Edit

Intended for children 0-2,these books must be durable for little mouths and hands because children of this age need to experience books through feel. They may be made of plastic, vinyl, cloth or board books. The content is usually focused on developing vocabulary, familiar objects and routines such as bedtime or bath time. There is usually little or no text.

Interactive books Edit

Intended for children 2-6,this type of picture book encourages a child to participate through rhyme, repetition, predictability, or movement such as clapping or dancing. One classical interactive book is Dorothy Kunhardt’s Pat the Bunny. In this book children are encouraged to lift flips and feel different types of material in the book.

Wordless books Edit

Children must rely on pictures and their imagination to figure out the story line. They teach children about book structure typically before they are able to read words. However, Reading, the Online Reading Program located at list 150 books that are available and suggested at various levels. There are also lesson plans available for primary and intermediate teachers. These types of books often encourage children to invent words to the story which promotes language skills on multiple levels.

Alphabet books Edit

This type of book can have an audience of a large age range. They usually present letters one at a time usually with a theme such as animals, foods, ocean life, or some kind of device such as showing pictures that start with the sound of a letter. Most are intended for the pre-reader or beginning reader, however there are rather complex alphabet books that can be enjoyed through adult age. One example is The Z was Zapped where the letter is related to a action that begins with that letter. The easier books encourage print-sound correlations, phonics skills, and vocabulary.

Counting Books Edit

This type of book introduces children to numerals and words that represent numerals. It allows children to practice one on one correspondence. Children count hidden pigs in Arthur Geisert’s Pigs From 1 to 10. Counting books for older children focus on math concepts such as addition, subtraction, or multiplication. Inez Ramsey, Professor Emeritus in Library Science, James Madison University has identified the criteria she uses to evaluate counting books at First, it must be clear what is being counted. The children must be able to identify the objects. The numbers themselves must be clear, especially for young children. It should also be clearly accurate. The number of legs on spiders, for instance, may be easily confused with the number of spiders. There should be plenty of open space and uncluttered illustrations. Even though a book is advertised as a counting book, advanced math concepts may be taught as well.

Concept Books Edit

Intended for children 2-4 These types of books teach concepts such as opposites, fast/ slow shapes, and seasons. Eric Carle’s My Very First book of Colors is a wordless book where a child is to match a color block to a picture of an object with that color. These books usually do not have a plot. The Internet School Library Media Center at lists several recommendations in the following categories: How to Draw, Time, Calendar/ Clocks, Days, Months, Colors, and Opposites.

Nursery Rhymes Edit

Bobbie Crane and Andrea Owens have explained that many basic skills are taught through rhythm, rhyme, and melodies. They teach concepts such as counting, abc, body parts, and vocabulary. Of particular interest on this site is works by Mother Goose. Each nursery rhyme is a little story unto itself. In many ways they function as simple parables. Traditionally, nursery rhymes have been a vehicle for children to safely explore age appropriate questions about identity and their emotions. Many of these rhymes help children to confront their fears about losing things, getting in trouble or getting hurt. Numerous collections feature charming illustrations full of descriptive detail which explore and expand the rhyme's theme in a comforting and entertaining way. You can investigate this more at

Early Reading/ Pattern Books= Edit

Intended for children 5-7. These books are easily decorable and predictable. An example is Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? By Eric Carle

References Edit

  • Carle, E. (2005). My Very First Book of Colors. New York: Philomel Books.
  • Crane, Bobbie and Owens, Andrea. Mother Goose Rhymes. Retrieved from March 28, 2008.
  • Cutler, J., & Ryan, S. (1993). Darcy and Gran don't like babies. New York: Scholastic.
  • Geisert, A. (1992). Pigs from 1 to 10. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Kunhardt, D. (1991) Pat the Bunny. New York: Western Publishing Co., Inc.
  • Kurkjian, Catherine and Livingston, Nancy. (2005) The Right Book for the Right Child for the Right Situation. The Reading Teacher.Vol.58: 8, pp. 756–795 International Reading Association, Inc.
  • Lynch- Brown, Carol and Tomlinson, Carl. Essentials of Children’s Literature, sixth edition. Pearson Education, Inc. 2008.
  • Martin, B., & Carle, E. (1992). Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? New York: H. Holt.
  • Mayer, M. (1967) A Boy, A Dog, and a Frog New York: Dial Press.
  • Norton, Donna. Through the Eyes of a Child: An Introduction to Children’s Literature: sixth edition. Pearson Education, Inc. 2003.
  • Ramsey, Inez. (n.d.) Counting Books Evaluation. Retrieved from March 28, 2008.
  • Rashchka, C. ( 1993) Yo! Yes? New York: Orchard Books.
  • Rathmann, P. (1995) Officer Buckle and Gloria. New York: Putnam’s.
  • Reading, The Online Reading Program at http://www.readinga-
  • Sendak, M. (1984). Where the Wild Things Are. New York: Harper Trophy/HarperCollins.
  • Suess, Dr. (1937 And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street. New York, Vanguard Press.
  • Van Allsburg, C. (1988). The Z was zapped. New Rochelle, NY: Spoken Arts.
  • Van Allsburg, Chris (1981) Jumanjii. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
  • Vandergrift, Kay. Illustration and the Art of the Picture Book. Retrieved from March 28, 2008.