The Picky Reader: Picture Book Strong

At the end of April, I attended a conference called Fostering Lifelong Learners: Prescribing Books for Early Childhood Education. It was presented by The Horn Book, a wonderful resource for book reviews and articles on children’s literature. Robert Needlman delivered the conference keynote. He is a pediatrician who is perhaps most famous as co-author of latter editions of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care. He is also the founder of Reach Out and Read, a program that distributes books to children at pediatric well visits.

Dr. Needlman primarily emphasized the value of early exposure to books. He discussed the way reading leads to greater vocabulary, which impacts a child’s ability to communicate and self-regulate in school, which leads to better relationships with teachers, which fosters further enjoyment in reading… and the cycle continues. It was a nice reminder that all this reading we’re doing with our children is worthwhile.

Dr. Needlman also shared some children’s art he had seen in Thailand after the tsunami hit: sad scenes of a city engulfed on both sides by blue waves, and a beach scene where debris, including a body, littered the sand. Reach Out and Read had distributed books in Thailand, and he showed a slide featuring older preschool/early elementary-aged children engrossed in reading in the middle of a bare road. He spoke of the way, “in the face of trauma, picture books reestablish normalcy.”

Dr. Needlman admitted he hadn’t prepared this part of his presentation with the Boston bombings in mind, but I think everyone in the room reflected on the relevance of the lesson. I know I appreciated the reminder that a return to the everyday act of reading may prove comforting and create a feeling of control for the child exposed to the bombings, firsthand or on television. To push further, a picture book involves a journey to a place of fantasy, to which a child may return as many times as s/he likes. And settling down to read a stack of picture books to your child provides a way for you to wipe the worried look off your own face and take a respite from reality through fiction. So during these days when the bombing is alive in our memories, a trip to the library may be just what the doctor ordered.

Really, what would we do without books? Best wishes to you and your family as Boston heals from this tragedy.
Holding books for children to the highest standard, Elaine Dimopoulos teaches writing and children’s literature at Boston University, Simmons College, and Grub Street. Find her at

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