No, picture books are not just for children


As an adult who avidly collects picture books for myself, it makes me exasperated when people talk about them only in the context of books for young children. Toddlers, even. For some reason there is an assumption that the apparent simplicity of picture books are not demanding enough for older readers. I would argue that they are layered and challenging not only for older children, but also adults. It is the balanced interaction of the visual and written that creates the space for an entirely different and complex way of experiencing a book.

Picture book creator, Oliver Jeffers, says in a recent article that he doesn’t write them specifically for children, but for everyone. I completely agree with his point of view. It is all too easy to classify picture books neatly within the children’s category, and look at them one dimensionally. But then you would sadly miss out on all the amazing, not-so-easy-to-categorize work, that is going beyond the traditional ideas of a picture book. People are reinventing the form in entirely new, creative ways; from topics to formats. But so much is getting lost and trapped as attempts to classify them based on certain criteria continues.

Maybe this is best demonstrated by relating a little incident. I was wandering around the children’s picture book section of a book store a few months ago, when I saw a copy of  Shaun Tan’s The Arrival wedged in a shelf along with a whole lot of other books. And my first thought was — how tragic.

Till this day, it is the most moving, brilliant, unclassifiable, book I have ‘read’. It’s a picture book. It’s wordless. It’s a graphic novel. It’s a journey. It’s art. It’s poetry. It’s surreal. It’s real. It’s poignant. It’s important. It’s for children. It’s for adults. It really is for everyone.



  1. Ramya

    Ah, now that you mentioned it, I realized even the links I shared with you earlier cater to a younger audience. Does that mean I enjoy reading them any less? No. I believe it is the simplicity of picture books that makes them sophisticated. It would be our loss if we think they are for the intellectually lightweight and ignore them.

    If reviews are anything to go by, The Arrival seems like one helluva book. Will see if my library carries it. Will be interesting to see which category they carry it under. :)

    I forgot to mention that I first had this realization when I read Neil Gaiman’s Blueberry Girl for the first time. Powerful stuff. And I’ve been bitten by the picture book bug since.

    • gayathri

      Get The Arrival as soon as humanly possible. It is breathtaking. And definitely let me know which category you find it — just as an ongoing experiment :)

      Strangely, I have not yet had the pleasure of reading Blueberry Girl. Will let you know my thoughts as soon as I do. Must have been quite something if it’s what got you hooked to picture books :)

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