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What is a picture book?

Updated on July 21, 2016
Half a world away by Libby Gleeson. An ideal book for friends separated by a move, this is the unforgettable story of a friendship lost and found.
Half a world away by Libby Gleeson. An ideal book for friends separated by a move, this is the unforgettable story of a friendship lost and found.

It has been said throughout time that "a picture could be worth a thousand words." This adage suggests the expressive power of images which constitutes line, shape, colour, value and space. Images in picture books allow the sustained viewing time necessary for developing critical viewing skills through exploration, reflection and observation of the young readers.

The picture book combines words and pictures to tell a story. Text and images work together, to bring a story to new levels. Illustrations can extend the meaning of a story or alter a book together. So while a picture book is simply word and pictures, when viewed as a whole it becomes a work of art.

Anyone with an interest in children's literature will be aware that picture books are no longer only the domain of the very young. A growing number of picture books targeted at older kids, sometime even adult audience. Picture books can be attractive starting points to help older students explore and understand social and environmental issues and they hold value for reluctant readers too.

Cat and Fish is the story of two characters that come from very different worlds – the land and the water. By by Neil Curtis and Joan Grant
Cat and Fish is the story of two characters that come from very different worlds – the land and the water. By by Neil Curtis and Joan Grant

The American Library Association defines a picture book as: "A picture book for children as distinguished from other books with illustrations, is one that essentially provides the child with a visual experience." A picture book has a collective unity of story line, theme or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.

In picture books, the illustrations are absolutely necessary. They carry parts of the story or the narrative and in some case the language is dropped and pictures alone are all that is needed. Picture book is a story told in words and pictures and each makes a important contribution to the way the story is told.

The physical aspects of picture book make them distinct within the field of children's literature.

Standard picture books have 32 pages, the illustrations dominate the text and integrates with the narrative to bring story to a satisfying conclusion. Word count is generally less than 500 words and overall design serves to build a relationship between the text and the illustrations.

Different types of picture books:

Picture books are the first thing most people think when they think of children's books, a form of literature reserved in today's society almost entirely for children.

Toy books - includes board books, pull-tab books, flap books, pop-up books, cloth book and plastic books.

Concept books foster visual literacy and language development in children. These includes books based on colours, shapes, numbers and the alphabet.

Wordless books help children develop language and narrative skills. In wordless books text is absent or minimal, so children apply meaning to the story and no two stories will ever be the same.

Easy readers are children's books that fall between picture books and early chapter books. These books have a grown-up look to them, making a child feel like they are reading books like their parents or siblings.


Picture Books Genre

Genre is a term used in literature to designate a type. Picture books have fewer genres than the fiction books. The principal genres for most picture books are:

Anthropomorphic (Animal) Stories are realistic stories that have animal or inanimate objects as the main character. Animals talk, walk, dress and behave like humans. The "Who Sank the Boat" by Pamela Allen is about five friends, a donkey, a cow , a sheep, a pig and a mouse who all decide to go for a boat ride.

Realistic stories feature sympathetic characters that children identify and empathize with. For the last two decades or so authors have explored timely, somber topics in picture books such as cancer, death, homosexuality adoption and AIDS.

Magic Realism is a fusion of reality and imagination. Ordinary activities are infused with a sense of wonder and promise - anything is possible. These tales can have a contemporary or an imaginary setting.

Traditional literature includes tales, fairy tales, folktales, myths, legends, beast tales, creation stories and fables. Traditional literature features storytelling pattern, rich language and elements of fantasy.

Picture books have evolved in the last 100 years and have become a booming business for publishers.

With thousands of new titles published each year, the competition is tough and only a few stand out among the thousand published.

Do you have a favourite picture book?

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    • profile image


      7 years ago


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      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      7 years ago

      This is an interesting website and gives a good comprehensive coverage. Thank you.

    • MM Del Rosario profile imageAUTHOR

      MM Del Rosario 

      12 years ago from NSW, Australia

      Hi Rmnathan, I am glad you enjoy reading this hub. thanks for visiting.

    • Rmnathan profile image


      12 years ago from Sharjah

      Good one. You took a simple subject and created a hub that is interestin to read.


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