We all know the snuggly, cosy effect of picture books. They are designed to be shared and bonded over; adult and child leaning in together in a moment of comfort and joy.
But, as well as these snuggly qualities, did you know that picture books can promote language development, literacy and social skills?
‘Dialogic book reading’ is a style of shared reading where the parent interacts with the child, talking about the illustrations and asking questions about the story. This kind of activity encourages the child to think beyond the story, to relate the pictures to their everyday life and to make sense of their world.
So, as parents and carers, how should we read to our children?
- Research suggests we should encourage the child to participate in the reading process by asking questions, even at a young age.
|From Bye Bye Baby by Janet and Allan Ahlberg|
- Ask questions about physical things: What do you see? Where is the baby? What toys does he have?
|From Thumbelina by Hans Christian Anderson, Kaj Beckman and M.R. James|
- Ask about feelings to help the child express themself: The girl looks sad, why is she sad? Are the fish going to help her?
- Let the child ask you questions too.
- Feed back to the child; praising them when they notice something in the story. Don’t forget the illustrations in this respect. If a child is decoding a story simply from the pictures, praise this as much as when the child reads a word in the text.
|From Princess Smartypants, by Babette Cole|
- Adapt the reading style to the child’s growing linguistic abilities. For older children picture books can be used to discuss more complicated issues: Why doesn't Princess Smartypants want to get married? Do you like this ending? Can you imagine another giant pet for her?
|From Where the Wild Things are, by Maurice Sendak|
- Move beyond the text and relate the story to the child’s life: Would you like a boat like that? You like costumes too!
|From Possum Magic, by Mem Fox|
- Talk about culture: What kind of animals are these? Can you think of any other Australian animals? Would you like to live in Australia?
Recent research has found that even picture books with very few words can encourage language development in two-year olds. A study by Manchester University revealed that when parents share very simple books with their child, the language the parent uses contains more complex constructions than everyday speech. This helps the child learn a wider vocabulary, grammar and even enhances their maths, as one of the key predictors in children’s mathematical skill is early language experience.
But, as Monty Python would ask; other than vocab, grammar, maths, sharing, expressing emotion, cultural values, and bonding, what have picture books ever done for us? Well, if that list wasn’t enough…
...A study found those children who are read a picture book before having blood taken feel less pain.
For tips on dialogic reading, see http://www.readingrockets.org/article/400/
For information on language development and picture books, see
For more on pain management and picture books, see
A Prospective Randomised Control Study: Reduction of Children's Pain Expectation Using a Picture Book during Blood Withdrawal Zieger B. et al (2013) Klin Padiatr; 225(03): 110-114