Question: If you need to learn to read, do you need to read to learn?

It sounds so logical – to understand words, you need to read words…

And yet, there’s a whole lot of evidence that says there must be way more to reading than mere words.

For example, this 2020 study shows not only that picture books prove way more effective in motivating young children to actually want to read, but also that pictures have helped improve a lot of children’s reading in the past.

Another small-sample Norwegian study even showed how using picture books helped improve school pupils’ literacy and language skills.

And you know who would agree? Charlie Mackesy, the author of uplifting 2019 children’s book (which adults also devour), The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse (yes the one Apple TV adapted into animation over Christmas 2022 – watch the trailer here).

Mackesy says: “The truth is, I need pictures, they are like islands, places to get to in a sea of words.”

So that got us thinking: How do picture books develop literacy? 

And we got a flood of answers – here’s the top 10…

10 Ways Picture Books Develop Literacy in Young Children

1. Picture books build language skills

At foundational level, picture books help children understand the meaning of words faster. They give vital background knowledge and context for the words on the page – which develops vocabulary and teaches new words.

But when you combine images with rhyme, it also helps develop phonological knowledge (the sounds and patterns of language).

2. They help kids identify story sequence

Understanding the sequence of a story is vital for comprehension. And few things make sequence as clear as a picture book – panels of illustrations that clearly follow on each other.

3. Improve comprehension through visual thinking

Pictures also relay a lot of visual information that remind you of what happened earlier in the story. Also great for comprehension and context.

See how reading develops imagination.

4. They increase engagement and make reading fun!

Because they’re so easy to follow, picture books allow you to stop every now and again to spend time discussing the story. Which is great, because it gives your child another way to engage with the story. (In fact, we use this self-same strategy to help promote your child’s reading development on the Nooksy App through Nooksy Tips).

Not to mention that funny, engaging and beautiful images make reading fun.

5. It’s an ideal introduction to reading

Despite not having any words, picture books introduce the concept of reading so well to your child. It doesn’t matter what age they are – the idea that this square thingy with the pages is a fun thing to do goes a long way toward instilling a love of reading in your child.

6. Pictures encourage conversations

Images are great conversation starters. They spark the imagination and inspire other activities like wanting to draw, colouring or counting. And research shows that having conversations with your child helps them in school later on.

7. Picture books improve listening

Because they can follow the story visually, and listen to you read the words simultaneously, it really helps hone their comprehension, which in turns builds those vital listening skills.

Learn more about how reading improves listening skills, and discover how reading increases concentration and focus.

8. They build vocabulary

It seems counterintuitive, but the images combined with unique rhyming patterns and even made-up “nonsense” words in many picture books, are actually extremely good for helping build your child’s vocabulary.

9. Picture books teach cause and effect

Again, because they’re easier to follow for younger children, they get a better sense of the full story. This is great for showing how one thing leads to another. You can enhance this by emphasising words like “because”, “so”, “if”, “then”, “as a result of” etc. in the text, and then pause to have discussions around that – oh, this happened because he did this and that.

10. They help kids develop story sense

Something as simple as recognising the beginning, middle and end of a book goes a long way to breeding a love of stories in your child. And picture books make it so easy to follow these basics that it frees up your child’s mind to explore other things in the story – like the main character’s issues and conflicts, for example.

Have you read 5 Ways Reading Develops Creativity?

You might also like…

One of our favourite ways to help keep faraway family connected is through reading together via Nooksy There are so many benefits to reading together.

Also discover all the best kids books in October and the best free kids book in November.

And, if you’re not sure, we have a guide on how to select books for our child. And even some helpful pro tips on getting the max benefit for your child in how to read each page. Also check out all the top kids books in September and see the latest in out top kids books this week.

Also see how reading improves school readiness, and explore our titles in books about character development for kids.

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