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You’re Missing Out As An Adult If You Don’t Read Picture Books

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Jamie Canaves

Contributing Editor

Jamie Canavés is the Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator and Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter writer–in case you’re wondering what you do with a Liberal Arts degree. She’s never met a beach she didn’t like, always says yes to dessert, loves ‘80s nostalgia, all forms of entertainment, and can hold a conversation using only gifs. You can definitely talk books with her on Litsy and Goodreads. Depending on social media’s stability maybe also Twitter and Bluesky.

I still have an entire shelf in my office with picture books from my childhood. Some I can still vividly remember every detail of the illustrations from how many times I stared at the pages as a child. I can also still recall many of the feelings associated with me sprawled out on the floor intensely looking at the picture book’s illustrations and creating all the stories that were continuing to happen off the page. For something that has such a strong, positive memory attached to it, I have no idea why I ever stopped reading picture books. Why do we age out of reading categories instead of adding new categories as we age?

In my thirties, I added reading YA and later middle grade, and yet never thought to pick up a picture book. So I started the year with the intent to read one picture book a week. I opened my library’s Hoopla and OverDrive and started wishlisting picture books. I selected using my most trusted and favorite method: I like that cover, and that cover, and that cover. I’d amassed a little pile of picture books and I was ready, at least for a few months, to read one a week. What awaited me was much more than I’d imagined. I didn’t want to wait an actual week sometimes, and started grabbing picture books when I needed a destresser, or a pick-me-up, or just a quick escape. If reading a novel is like sitting with a pot of tea, then surely a picture book is like a cortadito. I found myself getting little doses of believing in humanity again. I was falling down rabbit holes to learn more about things I’d gotten a brief introduction to while falling in absolute love with gorgeous illustrations. We should all, at every age, reach for a picture book, even if just once in a while.

cover image for My Name Is Bana

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the time to read: most picture books are about 32 pages filled with illustrations and brief text. It’s the kind of time requirement that is small enough to aim to do and feel accomplished after. For the purpose of proving to you that you do have the time to read one picture book, I timed myself reading My Name is Bana by Bana Alabed and illustrated by Nez Riaz, and it took me just over three minutes to read her story and take in the illustrations. It was just under five minutes in total with reading the author’s note — which I read through tears: “Kids shouldn’t have to always be so strong. Every child deserves to live in peace.” So if you’re constantly wishing you had more time to read and are never able to get around to reading adult books, pick up a picture book and welcome back to being a reader.

Related: It also doesn’t matter if your brain is mush and you’re just too tired to pick up a book. You’ll probably still be able to grab a picture book, even if just to absorb the illustrations. Unlock your creative brain and let the images expand in your mind into new scenes, or just take time to spot every detail. Appreciate the use of color, or lack of. Imagine yourself jumping into the page, touching things, exploring. Be curious for a moment.

Let Me Finish Book Cover

The more picture books I read, the more I realized how desperately nice, and important, it is to be reminded of the beauty of humanity and kindness — or just silliness. Another wonderful surprise of reading picture books is that because there are mass amounts published, you will certainly find a ton for any reading mood you’re after, from educational to just humorous and silly.

Maybe you can relate to a kid who is constantly interrupted when they try to sit down and read in peace like in Let Me Finish! by Minh Lê and Isabel Roxas. Maybe you’ve never heard of Zaha Hadid, in which case a great quick intro into her and her career would be Building Zaha: The Story of Architect Zaha Hadid. You could use picture books as introductions into people, places, and events to then further learn about. Maybe you’ve never really been able to get into nonfiction or biographies. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised with finding picture books a nice alternative that will lead you down rabbit holes.

cover image for Tia Fortuna's New Home

That has been one of my favorite discoveries of reading picture books. Tía Fortuna’s New Home: A Jewish Cuban Journey by Ruth Behar and illustrated by Devon Holzwarth was not only a lovely story with beautiful illustrations, it also had an informative author’s note about Sephardic Jewish and Cuban heritage, which led me to not only find articles but to of course add more books to by TBR pile.

The world is hard enough, and being an adult requires so much of everything that I think we’re just hindering ourselves by aging out of a lot of things instead of continuing to enjoy them. So grab a picture book and have a moment of enjoyment.

If you’re game but don’t know where to start, here are 17 Stunning Picture Books by Debut Illustrators and a whole slew of picture book posts certain to have something you’re looking for.