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What Is a Picture Book?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A picture book is a book designed for children which uses pictures and illustrations to tell a story. In some cases, a picture book may convey the meaning of the story entirely through pictures, without any text at all. In other cases, text accompanies the pictures and is read along with them. In both instances, the book is designed to introduce young children to the idea of books and reading. As a general rule, each turn of the page reveals a new picture, or series of pictures.

Very young children are usually given board books, which are made with sturdy materials and bright, simple illustrations. Once children begin to grow out of board books, they are offered picture books as a transition before they begin simple chapter books. Most children start looking at these books at the age of two or three, and they may continue to enjoy them for several years. Initially, parents typically hold the books for their children, reading the text aloud and pointing out interesting features of the illustrations.

The artistic medium of a picture book can vary widely. Pastels, paints, colored pencils, pens, watercolors, and collage are all used to illustrate these books. The illustrator tries to make the book visually lush, with detailed, interesting pictures to capture the imagination. The idea is to get children to ponder each page, savoring the details of the pictures and thinking about them. The pictures draw children into the book, leading him or her to be intrigued by other books, including those with words.

When picture books have text, it is relatively straightforward. Many books use rhyming text, to teach children about word rhythms and patterns. If the text is intended to be read by the child, it is usually printed in a clear, large font so that the child can readily pick out words on the page. More complex text which will be read aloud to the child may be in a smaller font, fitting more of a story in words onto each page.

The picture book as a concept emerged in the late 1800s, when the idea of introducing children to reading through pictures first emerged. Numerous famous authors and illustrators such as Beatrix Potter wrote these books during this period. Most modern picture books are written and illustrated by different people, although authors and illustrators sometimes collaborate on projects together. Typically, a publisher receives the text of the book from the author, and then sets out to find an illustrator. In a book with no words, the publisher may commission an illustrator with a specific concept in mind.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon1006694 — On Apr 30, 2022

If you are referring to children's books with images and words that are interdependent, then it's a picturebook, not picture book. Peter Rabbit and A Walk in the Park are good example of this definition.

By anon170869 — On Apr 28, 2011

I'm doing homework on picture books and i have to describe why they are useful and much more. it gets complicated at the end. Help me.

By DentalFloss — On Jan 22, 2011

Picture books in foreign languages can be a great way to learn language, for the same reason they are good for kids just starting to really get good at reading in their native language. Pictures help show what is happening, and words on the page are large and easy to read, often in short sentences, with a fair amount of repetition from section to section. I learned to read Norwegian that way, and now I am trying to learn to read Slovak with a translation of The Little Prince.

By aaaCookie — On Jan 21, 2011

I still enjoy picture book illustrations. every so often, I try to go back to some of the picture books I used to read and enjoy as a small child and read them again. While my mother read to me a lot, I also read many on my own, and I remember many of the best.

By Zubair Azürá — On Dec 18, 2010

tell me about illustrated story books!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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