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As if I needed more reasons to promote my ongoing Kickstarter campaign for The Littlest Shoggoth, it turns out that November is not merely the time of NaNoWriMo, it's also Picture Book Month! I was, of course completely unaware of that when I picked this as the month to run a fund drive for my own picture book, but I've never been one to turn away a good cross-promotional opportunity.

Over on the Picture Book Month website, they're posting a series of essays on the subject "Why Are Picture Books Important?," each one written by a different accomplished and talented picture book writer or illustrator. It all came to my attention last week when they posted an essay by former D&D artist Tony DiTerlizzi (who also happens to be an award-winning picture book author/illustrator, as well as one of the mad geniuses behind The Spiderwick Chronicles). It seems like a question worth asking . . . and answering. So I thought I'd take a crack at it, too. WHY ARE PICTURE BOOKS IMPORTANT? When I was two years old, my favorite book was Little Henry to the Rescue (which I knew simply as "Henry the Helicopter"), written by Eleanor Graham and illustrated by Ben D. Williams. Anytime someone offered to read me a book (and many times when they didn't), I asked to have Henry read aloud. I couldn't get enough of that plucky little 'copter. Having grown up to see my niece, nephews, and many friend's children go through a similar media-devouring phase, that I loved the book so much is no surprise. Most kids go through a stage where they want to see the same video, listen to the same song, or read the same book over and over until their parents are nearly driven insane by the repetition. But I believe that a picture book is the most powerful of these story-delivery devices. I loved Henry the Helicopter so much, and had it read to me so often, that I memorized it completely, including when pages needed to be turned and where my finger ought to point as it scanned through the text. Family lore holds that I was so good at this trick that they were able to fool a number of friends and relations into believing that I was actually capable of reading. Reading Henry the Helicopter clearly wasn't a passive event—it was a sacred ritual, one that had to be performed precisely, whose every gesture and inflection held deep, dare I say spiritual, meaning . . . at least to two-year-old me. Reading was an activity, something special to do, something that gave me great pleasure. Henry the Helicopter provided me my earliest lessons in storytelling, timing, delivery, and even public speaking. It also was the first step in my becoming a life-long reader, something that stood me in good stead during all my years of school and certainly in my professional life afterward. These lessons cannot be learned from watching a video. These passions cannot be communicated through passive absorption of a tale. They only come from holding a book in your hands, seeing the way the printed words (though at that age you don't recognize them as such) and images and vocal inflections and physical gestures come together when a grown-up reads a picture book to a child, and when that child learns to read that book for him- or herself. I long ago lost my copy of Henry the Helicopter. I no longer remember the pictures. I can no longer recite the words. But in my heart, I still carry my passion for that book. In many ways, Henry is what drives me in my work today. I can only hope that one day I might produce something that has the same impact on, the same importance for, some other child. That would truly be a legacy to be proud of.

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