I know that I’m supposed to be talking about the power of picture books, but I’m gonna start in a different place. Please indulge me on this. I think it might be interesting. We’re gonna start in the past. (Insert
Wayne and Garth waving
their arms, or whatever flashback trope you’d prefer. I’m a big fan of the
Scooby-Doo one myself.)
Way back in my college days, I took a class about storytelling in primitive cultures. During my class, I read books by Joseph Campbell, Hero with 1000 Faces, and Mircea Eliadae Sacred and the Profane and Shamanism, as well as many other titles that were definitely NOT picture books. However, these titles did delve into storytelling. Where it came from. What its purpose was/is. And how these societies used it.
We were asked to imagine a tribal group, sitting around a campfire, regaling each other with stories. Some were tales of myth and mystery. Others, parables for how to live your life. And maybe even some purely for the enjoyment of the audience. These stories held power power for their audience. They were the basis for social interactions, decision making, and the rules of society. They were the foundation that these societies were built upon.
With the advent of written words, the stories remained similar, but the method of storytelling changed. Yes, I skipped right into written language, but hey, I’m an author I get to do that kind of stuff. And I’m not just gonna stop there. I’m gonna jump right past cave drawings, and illuminated manuscripts, through early written language and right into picture books. A bit of a stretch? Not really. Because I believe that picture books have their roots in these ancient tribal stories. It’s all storytelling. It serves a similar purpose. And because of this similarity, our picture books are just as powerful as the campfire stories of our distant ancestors.
Think about it, picture books can be tales of morality. They can illustrate lessons in how we should treat others. They can be parables or even just a source of entertainment. We read them around a fire, or by candle, or in our beds with the lights dimmed for sleep. They’ve taken the place, literally, of the fireside tales of our ancestors.
Picture a time 1000’s of years into the future. An archaeologist excavates an early 21st century home to find several bound paper items. These ‘books’ are then studied just as we study the fireside stories of our own past. Perhaps this future scientist wonders why getting a hat back was so important to us. Or maybe attempts to discern what events led up to a massive crayon strike. Or discern just exactly what kind of ritual a wild rumpus might be.
Are these books not our own myth? Do we not choose titles that will both educate and entertain? That provide both an escape and a lesson. Picture books can be used to bring families, tribes, together. What more powerful tool can there be?
Still unsure? Make yourself a bonfire, grab your favorite picture book, or three, and channel your ancestors. By the time your done, I think you’ll believe in the true power of picture books.
Adam Lehrhaupt is the award-winning picture book author of Warning: Do Not Open This Book!, Please, Open This Book!, Chicken in Space, and I Will Not Eat You as well as the upcoming I Don’t Draw, I Color (3/22/17). Follow Adam on Twitter, Instagram and Google+ @Lehrhaupt for the occasional brilliant thought or picture, and at adamlehrhaupt.com.