Friday, 24 February 2012

A Thousand Words: Illustrations and Learning to Read

By guest writer, Annie Lawrence.

Illustrated picture books are an essential part of growing up. Before words have any significance in a child’s life pictures are everywhere and everything. From ‘reading’ their mom’s face minutes after birth to curling up on the sofa bed with dad to read a favorite book, pictures and images are an essential form of communication and central to children’s understanding of their world.

Around six months old, a baby begins to understand the difference between a real object and a picture or illustration. This is a key development essential for appreciating and enjoying illustration and picture books. This development is known as symbolic representation and many believe it is the key to understanding and enjoying art and reading pictures. There are many steps in the process that results in your child learning to read and illustrated picture books are a valuable resource throughout. 

Illustrated by Florencia Delboy (images taken from El Petit Tresor)

Firstly, your young child will point at their favourite parts and interesting bits of a picture in a picture book. Perhaps there’s a recurring character or object on each page. Secondly, they’ll begin to verbalise this object, getting visibly excited by its appearance. A bit further down the line, your child will point out their favourite elements whilst telling the story themselves, pre-empting the appearance on the next page of the book. In time, your child will be able to tell the whole story, using the illustrations and understand completely that this is a separate story detached from real life.

Thus begins the formation of imagination, an essential and exciting developmental stage which makes life much more exciting and fun.

Illustration by Isabelle Arsenault (images from her blog)

Imagination is a powerful and essential faculty which most people maintain and is something which makes life much more colourful and enjoyable. It gives our children the chance to create new ideas independently, transcend their home environments and believe in miracles. Illustrations and picture books are designed to indulge our imaginations and help the first forms of imagination flourish and bloom. A favourite picture book can become like a close friend when our children are learning to develop their own ideas and very soon you’ll see the creation of their own fantasy characters either through speech or drawing and this is all down to the power of illustration. We don’t need to take early childhood education degree classes to be able to help our children develop their creative skills, we just need to introduce them to illustrated picture books.

Children can be inspired before they even understand the meaning of the word and a beautifully illustrated book can invite you to truly become one of the characters and enjoy their worlds from the comfort of your own home. Your first travels, adventures, loves and friendships can all come from your first and favourite picture book.

Illustration by Dani Torrent

Curiosity is another powerful emotion which can be developed and enhanced through the enjoyment of illustrations and picture books. It’s a driving force which helps children explore their environments and develops relationships. Curiosity helps our children find interest in new information and helps children begin to think more deeply about their world. A beautifully illustrated picture book about a far away land full of mystical creatures and characters is a fantastic starting point for introducing children to the fun they can find in fiction and may also spur them on to find out more and read more about different magical lands.

Equally, reading a book about a historical event, complete with intricate illustrations and convivial characters can spark an interest in a historical period and further the children’s education. Illustrations can introduce new ideas and before a child can even properly read, they have ingested and absorbed endless reams of information about all kinds of interesting topics.

Illustration by Joanna Concejo (images taken from El Petit Tresor)

Young children are eager to learn and as parents and educators we should jump on this eagerness with glee and use the tools at our disposal to ensure they can develop important creative skills such as imagination and curiosity. Illustrated picture books are the first step in learning to read and opening up a whole new world of understanding and the endless scope of imagination. As the phrase goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words" and it’s worth many billions more when you consider the value illustrations can have in a child’s education, development and creativity. An active imagination is a fantastic faculty to possess and the power of art and illustration is key to building it in our children.

Annie Lawrence is a full time proofreader and researcher with a passion
for art and photography. When she's not working on a feature article or
blog post, you'll find her out and about indulging in her artistic


Thank you Annie, for the wonderful and insightful article. I hope this helps open up our eyes and broaden our horizon more on the subject of illustrating for children. Both for parents and illustrators equally. :)



  1. These are sooooooo beautiful Amalia. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. thank you for this Amalia. im an illustrator and this is very much helpful for me to understand children audiences more. =)

  3. What a beautiful sweet post, dear! Thanks for sharing so lovely sentiments and images.

    At last I could be your follower!! :-D My followers gadget didn't work well until now.

    Many kisses!

  4. An illuminating article, indeed! Thanks for sharing!
    I have given you an award. Please visit my blog to find out about it. :)

  5. Wonderful post! I still love picture books. Dare I say, I think I may love them more than my children do! :D These images are fantastic!

  6. Great article, and I love the selection of books. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I so agree with you about picture books. I cherish them still. They truly do spark the imagination of young and old. Thanks for sharing these!!!

  8. Fabulous post, Amalia..many thanks for posting and sharing means a ton!


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