I Hate Picture Books

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One of my favorite things about my job as a teacher is that students will often introduce me to books that I might otherwise miss. I was a little startled when the student who introduced me to this book said the title was “I Hate Picture Books!”

How could anyone hate picture books? As a result, I was hooked immediately. In Timothy Young’s picture book (catch the irony?),” he explains just why picture books are important.

The book introduces readers to Max, who is determined to throw away his picture books. After all, he hates them, because, according to him, “all they do is get me in trouble.”

He was just following the book when he used the purple crayon to draw on the wall. And when he was sent to bed without any dinner, a forest didn’t grow in his room and “no wild things [appeared] anywhere!”

And then, of course, another reason that picture books can’t possibly be liked is because, well, they’re not real. After all, “Cow’s [sic] can’t type, . . . and there is no possible way that a pigeon could even imagine it could DRIVE A BUS.” Books also give bad advice, as he found out when he tried the green ham in the refrigerator.

But then, suddenly, Max changes his mind. “But the worst thing, there’s this book about this baby bird. It can’t find it’s [sic] mother and it looks everywhere. None of these animals can help the baby bird. So you know what this book made me do? It made me cry! Like where you think the “Snort” is going to eat the bird, but then it puts it back in it’s [sic] nest. I love that book. I mean, I hate that book. It was the first one I threw away. Wait . . . I do love that book.”

That single book makes Max go back through his box of abandoned books to find that book. As Max goes through his books, he realizes that there are other books he loves, books with “a flying snowman . . . and . . . one with the mouse who wants a cookie.” As he sorts, he realizes that he really can’t throw away the books and he discovers “I changed my mind, okay! Now go away, I just want to read my picture books.”

The book is an easy read for young children, especially children who might be moving away from picture books. I love the conversational tone, and I appreciate the fact that Max seems a little confrontational. There are some proofreading errors, especially in the use of apostrophes. Max also uses a couple of strong words, like “hate” and “stupid,” although it becomes very clear that these feelings change throughout the course of the book.

Young’s illustrations add to the interest of the book. One of my favorite things is the way he’s focused on a box of books labeled “Trash” and “Throw Away!” in big letters. This box appears throughout the book, and by the end of the book, the labels on the box have been changed with the addition of a big red “NOT.” By the end of the book, the full box of books is empty while the once-boxed books are scattered all over the floor.

I also love the way he’s used bright colors to highlight Max and his world. What’s even more fascinating is the way he’s alluded to famous (and not so famous) picture books by other authors. He’s reproduced drawings in such a way as to hint at the title of the book, but either puts Max into the pictures or focuses on a well-known picture in the book, especially when Max is pointing out the problems with books or when he lists the ones he likes.

One of my favorite pages is at the end of the book where Max is reading his books and they’re scattered all over the floor. I love the way Young has recreated covers without reproducing them exactly.

“I Hate Picture Books” made me think about my favorite books, as well as tested my knowledge about picture books. If you want to spend a nostalgic afternoon, read “I Hate Picture Books” and see how many books you can identify from Max’s descriptions of books or the books on the floor as Max talks about his picture books. I even found a couple I wasn’t familiar with. Find your favorite book and read along.

“I Hate Picture Books!,” by Timothy Young, Schiffer, 2013.

Elaine Hawker teaches English at BYU-Idaho and specializes in children’s literature.