In an increasingly digital world, where ebooks are now downloadable instantly, it’s worth noting that one of the few types of printed books that are still selling well are children’s picture books.
I believe it’s because they give children (and the adults too) experiences that are very hard to get from TV, the internet, games consoles and iPads.
This is because print still does things that digital can’t do. Here are just some of the reasons:
1. Picture books are real 3D objects a child can experience with all their senses.
As well as seeing the pictures and hearing the words when you read to them, kids can handle a book, smell the paper and even, in the case of very young kids, bite and taste it!
2. Stories enable a child to experience emotions in a way that is completely safe.
Human beings have always loved stories. They’ve been an essential part of what makes us human for thousands of years.
We use stories for all sorts of reasons.
Think how fables like The Boy Who Cried Wolf or The Hare and the Tortoise are used to teach children valuable life lessons.
But also think of scary stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel (no, not the vampire hunters—the other ones!). Apart from teaching kids not to stray too far from home, they also expose kids to new emotions—ones they can try out for size in complete safety.
If you’ve spent any time with a two- or three-year-old, you’ll appreciate they are still very much learning to control their emotions. We are emotional animals.
Learning how our emotions work, how to control, express or understand them is something that takes a lifetime and it starts very early in childhood.
Books can help. Stories can make kids feel happy, sad, anxious, scared, in measured doses. And when the book is over and everything back where it should be, the memory of that emotion remains.
3. Stories enable kids to take a journey beyond their own work.
This can be a physical journey to another country. This is one passion of mine—many of the books I publish are set in other countries. Waiting for Mummy, a simple but moving tale of a little boy waiting for his mum to come home is set in Korea, for instance, while Lat’s delightful Kampung Boy is set in a Malaysian village. Serge Bloch’s Sam and His Dad is set in France.
Learning that there are other places beyond teaches children valuable lessons. One of the most important is that, while people may live in different places and look different to us, we have a lot in common with them. We all love our families, enjoy playing with friends, or miss Mum or Dad when they’re away.
4. Books can carry real knowledge and help kids discover passions and interests they otherwise wouldn’t be aware of.
While I was writing this, I asked my six year-old what he liked about books. His reply was slightly unexpected:
‘The best thing about books is that in science books you learn things about being a scientist when you grow up. I want to be a scientist. Most factual books have facts about science. Everything in this room is science—even that computer. And you, you’re science, Dad.’
I wasn’t expecting that. Kids are little sponges, absorbing so much. What lifelong interest might be awakened by ten minutes with the right book?
5. Lastly, reading picture books together give us all an excuse to do something few kids get enough of—cuddling up.
Sometimes, that’s all the reason you need.