Why the use of pictures in storybooks and readers is important

by | Mar 11, 2024 | Road to Literacy

By Hloniphani Ndlovu, Schools Publisher: African Languages at Oxford University Press

It is taken for granted that books for young children have a strong focus on pictures, specifically beautiful illustrations

Whether it is a storybook at home or a reader in the classroom, it is uncommon to find books without pictures in them when it comes to a young audience. Many assume that because children may not be able to read words yet, they need the pictures to make meaning. This is not untrue, but pictures in storybooks have even more significance and benefits. 

Pictures inspire a love of reading 

Do you remember your favourite book as a child? The one you wanted to reread, look at again and again, or that sparked your imagination? When you think about that book, what immediately comes to mind? For some it might be the events in the story or the character they loved. For most of us, it is the beautiful pictures that enchanted our imagination and took us to places we had never dreamed of before.

Pictures can create a fun and engaging reading experience for children. Considering that many children have a short attention span, pictures can do the job of holding the attention of children learning to read. Pictures encourage children to engage with the text, be inspired by characters who look like them, find hidden objects on a page (Fang, 1996), solve a mystery by looking for clues hidden in the pictures, and be motivated to see what the character is going to do on the next page. That excitement of engaging with fun pictures can inspire a child to fall in love with reading.

Pictures may reinforce the text and story being told in the text

In children’s storybooks and readers with pictures, the story is told twice, once through the text and once through the illustration (Agosto, 1999). This means that children get to understand the story they are reading either through the words or through the pictures. This can help children to comprehend the story more than one with only words and no accompanying illustrations or photos. Pictures bring the story to life and serve as a visual guide to what takes place on each page of the story. Children can also form mental images of story events and later create their own stories, fostering their creativity and visualisation skills.

Pictures promote the development of literacy skills in children 

Pictures accompanying text offer instrumental tools to help children build foundational literacy skills. Illustrations in a storybook can aid with the initial development of reading comprehension strategies, such as making predictions and inferences. Children can combine the words they read with the character expressions and actions shown through the illustrations to guess or predict what will happen next in the story.

Pictures can be drawn in a way that allows the child reading to pick up literary elements (such as setting, characterisation and plot) from what they see and what is acted out in the picture (Agosto, 1999). Illustrations deliver background information or knowledge about where the story takes place, what the characters in the story like or don’t like, and other unwritten details (including elements of humour) that may not be easily expressed through words.

Pictures assist with vocabulary development

Pictures do much more than illustrate the text, they expand upon the words, assisting with a child’s vocabulary development. Shulevitz (1985) pointed out that “without pictures, we might not understand the meaning of the words.” Pictures can help children comprehend unfamiliar words in a story by helping them connect the pictures in the book to the words on the page. As they read, or as the story is read to them, children can use pictures to learn the names of objects, with the parent or teacher asking a child a question such as “Can you point to the kennel on this page?”

Because most non-fiction readers introduce unfamiliar topics to help children learn about the world around them, they often introduce new words, and these are visually presented through pictures to help children with meaning. As the children get to understand the meaning of new unfamiliar words through pictures, their vocabulary grows.

Pictures may nurture a love of art

A storybook with pictures is one of the ways a child can be introduced to visual art. According to Jacobs and Tunnell (1996), books with pictures are a perfect vehicle for opening a child’s eyes to the beauty and power of art. As children read various books with illustrations and photos, they are exposed to various artistic styles and, when given the chance, can comment on the pictures to say what they like or don’t like. This allows them to develop critical thinking skills at an early age.

You and your young audience can enjoy beautiful inspiring illustrations and photos from the Aweh! and Aitsa! Readers – ideal for reading in any Foundation Phase classroom


Agosto, D.E. 1999. One and inseparable: Interdependent storytelling in picture storybooks. Children’s Literature in Education, 30(4): 267-280. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022471922077 [Accessed: 19 February 2024].

EBSCOpost. 2017. Seeing is believing – the benefits of picture books for building reading skills. Available from: https://www.ebsco.com/blogs/ebscopost/seeing-believing-benefits-picture-books-building-reading-skills [Accessed: 19 February 2024].

Balcazar, S. 2019. How picture books help kids develop literacy skills. Reading Partners. Available from: https://readingpartners.org/blog/picture-books-develop-literacy-skills/ [Accessed: 19 February 2024].

Fang, Z. 1996. Illustrations, text, and the child reader: What are pictures in children’s storybooks for? Reading Horizons: A Journal of Literacy and Language Arts, 37(2). Available from: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/reading_horizons/vol37/iss2/3/ [Accessed: 19 February 2024].

Jacobs, J.S. & Tunnell, M.O. 1996. Children’s literature, briefly. Columbus, OH: Merrill.

Shulevitz, U. 1985 Writing with pictures: How to write and illustrate children’s books, New York, NY: Watson-Guptili.

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