On writing The Boy and the Importance of Children’s Picture Books

The Boy Who Talks in Bits and Bobs

I’ve been on a creative roll recently as friends and followers would’ve noticed. It’s been the most splendid rollercoaster ride since I’ve joined a thousand other people in the children’s book playground.

Many have asked why I chose to dabble in children’s fiction when I write Flash Fiction for adults. Flash Fiction is mainly for adults though but there’s a relatively new market out there for children’s Flash, I was told. I think I might explore that. 

Children’s books fascinate me. They entice me. They speak to me. I love trawling through the children’s book section in bookstores. I judge a book seller on the types of children’s books they carry. 

Being a children’s book collector, I have many vintage copies of these books to leaf through, to consult and to pour over when I need to be inspired or when I want to reconnect  with my inner child. 

But enough about me! 

Children’s books are for children. They fascinate kids. They entice kids. They speak to kids. 

I write for children for a purpose. All children want to see themselves reflected back to them in books. They may not be able to express this when they’re toddlers and learning to speak. So a picture speaks a thousand words to them. Children read images before they read words. So a picture book must have a visual narrative that kids can get pictorially. A picture book must have a visual representation of a kid’s world that they can see visually. 

I’ve been buying and collecting picture books for the past 21 years. My journey started when Sophie, my elder, was born. Her first book was made of fabric and it was made of different types of textured pages  — a velvety one for a soothing touch, a crinkly one for a touchy sound, a dotted one for a textured feel, a monochromatic one for a visual reference. Then when she could sit up in a pushchair, she graduated to a little board book with a plastic spring-attachment that could be fixed to her pushchair. Sophie’s little world was filled with picture books and her adult world is filled with books. My parenting world is filled with children’s picture books and my adult world is filled with children’s picture books . 

Then when Raffaella came along, I repeated the process once more. But an eight year gap meant that a new range of books took over our reading diet. We savoured, chewed on, and ingested books that are now more diverse — a black character is now present, boys who want to dress up as mermaids can now be found, and two male penguins that want to be part of the hatching and parenting game was a sensation that shook our worlds. Yet something was missing. 

Why aren’t there more people like me in books tugged at my heartstrings. Raffa was learning that diverse needs aren’t always represented in children’s books. She was coping with speech when she asked me this question. At 5 years old, she already understood what diverse needs meant. We were living in Paris and she was in speech therapy. Some sounds were harder for her to make and we were looking for a book that could help her process her thoughts and find answers to her question. There were no books available. 

Why aren’t there more people like me in books stayed in my unconsious. I dreamt of a little ginger-haired boy who talked in bits and bobs. That little boy stayed in my dream-space and I let him linger there for years. It wasn’t until about a year ago that he surfaced again in a conversation with someone who found speaking challenging. 

Why aren’t there more people like me in books became a quest. Raffa is now twelve and speaking fine. But the disappointment of not being able to find a book where she could see herself, even if it were in a male character, came ebbing in. And because I am the person that I am — a go-getter, a self-motivator, a children’s book author — I embarked on ‘The Boy Who Talks in Bits and Bobs’

I had the story, I had the words, I had the vision. But I needed someone who could interpret all this. I found an art angel. Her name is Smita and she created Owen, just as I saw him in my dream. 

An author and illustrator duo is the magic behind children’s picture books. One without the other is like a fish without water. Children’s picture books exist because of the illustrator. What are pictures for? They tell a visual story and enhance the textual narrative. 

I champion picture books because they are diverse in the ways that they enable our children to learn.

Why are children’s picture books important?

  1. Picture books that are written for a higher reading level use words and a set of complex vocabularies that can help your kids develop theirs.
  2. Words are made of different sounds and picture books help children learn these sounds, often introducing them to new sounds and language. 
  3. Children read pictures first before they read words. The illustrations in a book help children connect to the story and find meaning in the text. 
  4. Kids love art. The vibrant images in picture books fire their imaginations and enable them to learn a different form of storytelling – visual storytelling.
  5. There is often repetition in children’s picture books. Repetition helps kids to engage with the story, to participate in a read aloud and to anticipate the next lines. They also learn phonic awareness, comprehension and fluency. 
  6. Some picture books are multi-sensory and help to stimulate children’s imaginations. There are touch, smell, sound and sight markers that enable kids to immerse themselves in the story that they’re listening to.
  7. Picture books help parents and care-givers bond with their children through reading. You can talk about the story – what it means to you, then ask the children what it means to them, children can also ask questions about the illustrations and explore what the picture means, they learn to infer, to analyse the story with the help of adults, who can ask emotion-questions like how do you feel about the rabbit losing the race, and other questions that help children to think critically from a young age.
  8. Reading picture books help children understand the structure of stories – the beginning, the middle, the end — and to understand conflicts and resolutions. 
  9. Reading is the ultimate form of empathy – Matt de la Peña for We Need Diverse Books. Picture books can help develop your child’s natural ability to empathise. Children learn to see for themselves the age-appropriate issues that they or their friends are facing. 
  10. Picture books are fun and help children look forward to reading time and to bedtime when a picture book follows them to dreamland. 

And picture books are as much for adults as they are for children.

I’m taking children’s picture books one step further. Contact me for a reading of The Boy Who Talks in Bits and Bobs at your school and children’s book parties. 

Illustrations by Debasmita Dasgupta.

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