Seeing and Reading - the Purpose of the Pictures


Neil Béchervaise


When Greg Rogers, illustrator of Libby Gleeson's Way Home and Gary Crew's Lucy's Beach and a number of other delightful books, said that he didn't enjoy reading, I looked at him again. A leading Australian Book Illustrator who doesn't enjoy reading?? And then I saw his spectacles and I wondered when he first started wearing them. And how the need to see the print is critical to early reading.


Few people argue that children can really read words when they are first read aloud to. But they do learn to associate elements of reading with what they hear. They learn the sound of a story, the look of a book. The difference in sound between a newspaper story read aloud to them and a storybook story. They learn to identify their favourite stories from the cover. They learn to point to parts of the picture identified in words.


What is often overlooked is that children learn to associate the story with the printed words rather than the pictures by having the words shown to them. And they can only learn to read the words if they can see them. Children with congenital sight defects are at risk as readers because they cannot easily identify and differentiate the words on the page as the source of the story - presuming that they are directed from the pictures to the words.


A common consequence of this inability to see the words seems to be a preference for pictorial presentation. Not necessarily moving pictures, not necessarily television but pictures rather than words. Students brought up in homes where reading is affirmed often irritate and bewilder the adults of their family with their preference away from reading. An understanding of the possible source provides us with opportunities to expand the reading options of the child by recourse to large print and by acceptance of the fact that we don't actually need to read everything.


House Notes - Prepared for Random House