When I was in kindergarten, I brought a picture book for show and tell. It was a non-fiction  book with bright illustrations of sea creatures. After I showed it to the class, I continued to share the book with the kids sitting beside me on the floor. They were crowding in for a closer look.

My teacher, Mrs. Ferguson, did not like this. I was causing a distraction during someone else’s sharing time.  She asked me to put the book away, but I had a captive audience. They were enthralled with the illustrations, and wanted to see more. So for the first (and last) time in my life, I defied a teacher.  I wrinkled my forehead and shook my head no.  Which meant: No, Mrs. Ferguson, I will not put the book away. I’m still sharing it. My classmates will be sad if I take it away.

Well, Mrs. Ferguson was not pleased. She told me to put the book on her desk and sit in think time. Which I did. And all I could “think” about was how it didn’t make sense that I got in trouble for getting kids to look at a book.  I mean, picture books were meant for sharing. Right?

Of course, I realize now I was being rude. But I’ve never changed my mind about picture books being meant for sharing. It’s one of those universal truths. There is just something about picture books with their art and poetry that makes them ideal for a shared reading experience. And if we’re lucky that experience might include questioning, giggling, pondering, cuddling, snuggling, and bonding. Maybe even while being lulled into dreamland.

At the very least, picture books keep the tradition of oral storytelling alive.

My mother shared picture books with me. One of my favorites was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst.  I can remember my mother’s voice and the rhythm of her speech as she repeated the phrase, “It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”  There was a nice cadence to that line. A chorus that repeated.  Sometimes my mother would say the first few words and I would say the rest. Sometimes we would say the line in unison.  We sat close to each other. Tender moments. And even at that young age I knew, when the book ended with, “My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia,” we had come full circle. The story’s text had an artistry to it, like the illustrations.

ZOMBELINA DANCES THE NUTCRACKERAs a mother now myself, I’ve loved sharing picture books with my own seven children. I plan to share them with my future grandchildren. And as an author, I enjoy sharing the picture books I’ve written with children in elementary schools all over the country. ZOMBELINA is a fun book to share.  I love to see the mouths of young listeners drop open and the smiles spread wide across faces when Zombelina takes her head off to dance in her first recital.  I like to see looks of satisfaction when she overcomes her own version of stage fright, with her creepy family’s support.  I’m excited to see what reactions kids will have when she throws her foot at the mouse king or distracts her Grandpa Phantom in my new book, ZOMBELINA DANCES THE NUTCRACKER. Fun and silliness.

Occasionally I’m lucky enough for readers to share with me in return. Parents like to email me photos of their children dressed as Zombelina for Halloween.  Or of Zombelina dolls they’ve made–with head, arms and legs that velcro off.  It’s a blessing to get to send a book out into the world, and have readers let me know how it inspires them.

Perhaps the most fun I have sharing with readers is when I bring instruments to schools for my rhythm symphony assemblies.  My books BEDTIME AT THE SWAMP and SKELETON CAT both have refrains with a repeated rhythm. So I haul 100+ instruments to schools, and kids play along with my books’ refrains. 1000 children chanting while others play in rhythm as I read the text–what a fabulous shared reading experience!

Of course, when we grow up we get more selfish with reading. We like to lounge on hammocks and sip fancy drinks while we read our favorite books. It’s a rite of passage. We clutch novels and tuck them away like personal treasures. And that’s good. Loving a book is one of life’s greatest joys. It’s the way to experience things and feel emotions we otherwise wouldn’t. Books are tiny doorways into new worlds, and reading can be a very personal adventure.

But picture books are special.  They give us the opportunity to share in a way that novels can’t.

And that’s why, Mrs. Ferguson, I love them so much.

KRISTYN CROW loves to use rhythm, rhyme, and repetition to make reading snappy and fun. Her first book, Cool Daddy Rat, received starred reviews and was named a Blue Ribbon Book by the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. Other titles include Bedtime at the Swamp, The Middle-Child Blues, and Skeleton Cat. Kristyn enjoys visiting elementary schools, where she directs eager young readers in a “swamp rhythm symphony” using a variety of percussion instruments. Kristyn is the mother of seven wonderfully creative children, and is married to a policeman, who doubles as a mad scientist/inventor. She lives in Layton, Utah. Visit her at www.kristyncrow.com