I love picture books. Some of my favorite childhood memories involve me climbing into my mother’s lap, a big colorful book spread out before us, enjoying the sound of her voice reading a story aloud. Of course, the truth is that I had no idea at the time how lucky I was to have parents who valued the importance of reading books to their kids. Moreover, it wasn’t until I started reading books to my own kids that I began to appreciate just how affecting and influential picture books can be in helping kids feel loved and affirmed, become comfortable in their own skins and with their own personalities, and perhaps most importantly, gain self-confidence.
Through the picture books that we read to our kids — sometimes over and over (and over again until we want to scream) — we not only get to introduce them to new and exciting people, places, and ideas, we also get to teach them new words, grow their understandings of feelings and how to navigate certain emotions, and affirm their sense of childlike wonder. Some picture books give our kids reasons to laugh out loud. Others empower their imaginations with fantastical narratives and bright, detailed artwork. And some picture books give them permission to dream and create and make believe. Picture books enlighten our children about simple human interactions. They can help them understand their bodies and teach them the importance of exercise and healthy eating. And on occasion, picture books help us find the words to talk to our kids about important ideas or difficult topics.
As I’ve watched my own kids engage with the multitude of picture books sitting on their bookshelves, I’ve noticed numerous times when a book has ignited a spark in their eye — perhaps a realized truth or a shot of confidence — something good and meaningful that seems to help them establish a healthy sense of who they are or who they want to be.
Picture books have also helped me express how much I love my kids. Think about it: How many times have you been reading a book to your child and, right smack in the middle, started wiping tears from your eyes because of how perfectly the author describes the love you feel for your own child? Those moments matter to our kids, too. Knowing and being reminded of how much love and affection we feel for our kids helps them feel not only safe and secure, it also boosts their confidence and offers them a firm emotional foundation on which they can flourish.
A few nights ago, my oldest child, Elias — he’s eight — decided that he was going to read a picture book to his siblings, 5-year-old Adeline and 2-year-old Ezra. I grinned as Elias’s face beamed with pride. Sitting on the couch, sandwiched between a curious kindergartner and ornery toddler, he opened the book and, with a concise and happy tone, he started reading. He didn’t get two pages into the story before Ezra started pointing at various spots on the pages and saying, “dog” or “cat” or “baby.” At first, Elias acknowledged Ezra’s ability to identify objects in the story with head nods and words of affirmation, but there were just too many dogs in the story for him to keep doing it. And then, on three occasions, Adeline heard a word or phrase and interjected, “What does that mean?” Elias explained to the best of his ability, which seemed to satisfy Adeline. Though Elias did finish the story, by the end, he was speed reading, Adeline was irritated because her fourth question was ignored, and Ezra was doing his best to try tear the corners off the pages of the book, still saying “dog, dog, dog, dog”.
But even though the moment ended in a bit of chaos, it was still a beautiful experience to watch all three of my kids engaging with the same book — Elias displaying his confidence in his reading ability, Adeline eagerly expressing herself with questions (and then frustration), and Ezra seeking affirmation for being able to identify objects in the book. All of them were expressing a certain amount self-confidence in that moment, a moment that only happened because Elias chose to read a picture book.