Picture books: sources of knowledge

TJ104-7-2014 JKT 175L CTP.inddStudies show that there are links between having books at home and being read to, and later language acquisition, literacy, social-emotional skills, and school success. I even read recently that a new technology called “Quixote” is being used to teach robots how to read children’s stories, and, in so doing, understand acceptable societal social behavior. (‘Robots Can Learn Ethical Behavior By Reading Children’s Stories’ by Katherine Derla, Text Times.) Mark Riedl, the director of the lab where these studies are taking place, says this is a primitive first step toward general moral reasoning in AI – and picture books are doing the teaching!

In addition to all the important roles that picture books uniquely play, they also play an important role that many other kinds of books do too – they communicate information. And, yet, picture books can uniquely elevate the information they impart, by isolating it, examining it, and playing with it in pictures and in words, to the point where the picture book exemplify the information’s magic.

In the movie Boyhood by Richard Linklater, the main character, Mason, says to his father, “There’s no real magic in the world, right?”

“What do you mean?” his father asks.

“You know, like elves and stuff. People just made that up.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” his father replies. “I mean, what makes you think that elves are any more magical than something like a whale? You know what I mean? What if I told you a story about how underneath the ocean, there was this giant sea mammal that used sonar and sang songs and it was so big that its heart was the size of a car and you could crawl through the arteries? I mean, you’d think that was pretty magical, right?”

What if I told you that one thing could rise, fall, be wet, hard, and fluffy? Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle written by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Jason Chin magnifies and glorifies the everyday magic of water as it transforms through seasons.

What if I also told you that you had the ability to make colors change? MiX iT UP! by Hervé Tullet is a playfully interactive exploration of color mixing.

In the words of Carl Sagan: “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree … But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person…. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” 

Mix It Up_Interior 2


Water is Water_CoverWater is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle written by Miranda Paul illustrations by Jason Chin. A Neal Porter Book, published by Roaring Brook Press, 2015

“Drip. Sip. Pour me a cup. Water is water unless … it heats up.” Water is Water follows one of many paths that water takes. The steam from cocoa becomes clouds becomes fog on an autumn morning heading to school becomes rain to run in, puddles to splash in, ice to skate on, snow to throw snow balls with, mud that feeds the roots of an apple tree – the apples from which makes cider to share with friends. Miranda Paul’s propelling rhythm teaches so eloquently, you won’t realize how much you’ve learned.


Mix It Up_CoverMiX iT UP! by Hervé Tullet. Published in the United States of America by Chronicle Books, 2014. (First published in French as COULEURS by Bayard Èditions, 2014) 

“Tap that gray spot.” MiX iT UP! suggests. Turn the page and multi-colored spots appear, summoned by you! “Place your hand on the page, close your eyes, and count to five.” Doing so creates a hand print in the spots. “You’ve got the magic touch!” – and thus you are able to mix primary colors to create secondary ones. With lusciously textured dots, smears, and splats of paint, MiX iT UP! is your guide and your pallet.



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