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The World of Illustrated Picture Books




Sharing picture books with children leads to amazing conversations. In the best picture books there is a gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the child’s imagination. Anthony Browne


When we refer to an illustrated picture book, we are talking about a text in which the illustrations play a key role in the development of the story. The images can clarify, extend, or even contradict the meanings in the printed text. A reader must read both word and picture and then interweave the meaning(s) of the two in order to construct a response or interpretation.

High quality picture books, written in a variety of genres, have the power to engage students of all ages in powerful shared reading experiences.

Illustrated Picture Books for Younger Readers

Illustrated picture books are at the heart of early literacy learning. These books teach children to read. Hearing the books read and reread to them, listening to the rhyme and rhythm of the language, making connections to their own experiences, the students are in fact rehearsing and reinforcing their own reading skills. IPBs reach students in ways that other texts cannot. "Their use recognizes children’s visual literacy and provides equality of access for all children to the powerful pleasures that involvement with narrative can bring." (Bromley)

Illustrated Picture Books for Older Students

The more sophisticated picture books, written for older or mature readers, might use more subtle visual features to elaborate on ideas that are not made explicit in the text. The interplay of the text and images work to produce different layers of meaning.

These picture books may:

  • deal with complex ideas and realistic issues
  • use varied page layouts and sophisticated illustrations
  • break away from more traditional narrative structures in ways that challenge the reader
  • contain many layers of meaning, or multiple narratives
  • use literary devices such as satire or metaphor
  • require the reader to make connections to other texts or knowledge of the world to construct meaning

In the following video clips, Abigail Anderson talks about how visual images have impacted the books our students read today and the kind of talk that leads to a deeper understanding of the way picture books work. 



Teachers who are considering using illustrated picture books in their classrooms will find the projects and classroom ideas in this section of the website helpful in getting started.


Additional Resources

Bromley, Helen. Early Years Reading: the power of the picture book in Books for Keeps: the children’s book magazine online (#152, May 2005)

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