Author Shirley Hughes says pictures vital in helping pupils read

Shirley Hughes, the award-winning children’s author and illustrator who created the Alfie books, has spoken out about the importance of picture books in encouraging pupils to read.

Ms Hughes talked to TES today after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from Book Trust, the reading charity.

“If they are enjoying the pictures in books long before they can learn to read, they are seeing themselves as readers,” she said. “If you can do that, you’ve got a reader for life.”

Receiving her award, Ms Hughes, who has written more than 70 books – including children’s classic Dogger, said: “Learning to look is a skill. Children can derive huge satisfaction from pictures long before they learn to read. It’s not a competition, it’s just for fun.”

Her recognition of the importance of pictures is being backed by the School Libraries Association.

Tricia Adams, the association’s director, said: “I think there has been a move in schools to appreciate that picture books can be of great use across all ages. There is a growing movement in graphic novels which are particularly useful for people who don’t want to read a huge tome.

“It is certainly very rare to discover a school, even among those schools with sixth-forms, that doesn’t have picture books. They can create interesting discussion points. I think it is an important movement and I’m delighted. Shirley Hughes always says picture books are for everyone, and I agree.”

The last decade has seen the use of pictures in young people’s literature expand beyond traditional children’s picture books into works for older children and teenagers. The trend took off with the hugely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, which uses cartoon pictures as an integral part of stories.

More recently, the million-selling Tom Gates series by Roald Dahl Funny Prize winner Liz Pichon, has made similar use of pictures.

Chris Riddell, the children’s laureate and an illustrator and author, told TES that the rise of such books emphasised how important pictures were.

“I think that picture books teach visual literacy and that goes on into middle grade fiction and then graphic novels for adult readers,” he said.

“In the UK, we have some of the best picture book artists in the world. I think it is increasingly important. It’s how you make readers. Picture books are the building blocks. That’s where you start – you start with the Hungry Caterpillar and end up with Herman Melville.”

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