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Originally published Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 7:43 PM

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When should a child outgrow picture books?

Picture books can play unique role in fostering love of reading and ability to connect words and emotions.

Chicago Tribune

Q: Your first grader's friends are reading chapter books, but he still likes picture books. Will he fall behind?

Parent advice:

Picture books/chapter books — they all have words! For a first-grader, picture books are still within normal developmental expectations. During independent time, your child can read picture books, but for special parent/child time, the parent can read a chapter book aloud while the child listens or follows along to develop visualization (seeing the story in your mind) and comprehension skills.

— Paula Glenn

Children will become better readers if reading is a pleasure, not a chore. So follow your child's lead when it comes to choosing books. It's OK to suggest an easy chapter book you think he or she might like, as long as you don't push your child to read it.

— Mary Rayis

Developing a love of reading is the ultimate goal. Picture books, comic books, e-books, anything with the printed word exposes your child to new vocabulary words and reinforces grammar and syntax knowledge.

— Dawn Lantero

Expert advice:

"People underestimate the conceptual complexity of picture books," says Thomas Wartenberg, philosophy professor at Mount Holyoke College and author of "Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy Through Children's Literature" (Rowman and Littlefield Education, $24.95). "Because they're so much fun, people think they can't raise difficult and important issues."

A quick chat with your child's teacher will let you know whether he's reading at his grade level. Assuming he is, worry less about whether the picture books are holding him back, and think instead of all the ways they can benefit him — intellectually and emotionally.

"Picture books capture the interest of children so well that they really provide a way for kids to think about complex issues," says Wartenberg. "Because they're so clear and short, they allow time afterward to talk about what the books are about.

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"You may find it difficult to get your kids to talk about some issues directly, (such as) 'What do you think you should do when a bully confronts you?"' he says. "Picture books give you a way to come at it a little bit indirectly by raising an issue and leaving time to talk about it."

Courage, spirituality, multiculturalism, the meaning of life. Big issues, sure. But ones that a child grapples with every day.

Chapter books, on the other hand, usually unfold over several nights, so a "what it all means" conversation has to wait until the book's conclusion — which might be weeks after you and your child dive into it.

Which isn't to dismiss the very important role of chapter books, Wartenberg hastens to add. Nor to play down the very real pressure parents feel to keep their kids at or above academic expectations.

"Kids are in nursery school, and their parents are already worried about getting them into college," he says. "I understand the problem."

But picture books can play a unique role in fostering both a love of reading and an ability to connect words and emotions.

"Cognitive ability and a bigger vocabulary aren't the only things that matter," says Wartenberg. "The ability to think about and process information is very important, and picture books are a great way to help kids begin to have those habits of mind."

For a list of recommended picture books and the philosophical issues raised within, go to Wartenberg's site at teachingchildrenphilosophy.org.

— — —

E-mail us your thoughts at parenthood@tribune.com. Find "The Parent 'Hood" page on Facebook, where you can post your parenting questions and offer tips and solutions for others to try.

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