10/28/2010 02:00 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Overprogrammed and Out-of-Touch: Why Picture Books Aren't Good Enough

Recently, there was an appalling New York Times article that described the lengths that overzealous parents are taking to make sure their kids do well on standardized tests. Parents, who are known for being calm, rational, and level-headed at all times, are forcing their children to forsake the evils of color -- specifically, picture books -- and to focus exclusively on esoteric, high-level reading like Stewart Little. Children as young as 4 years old are being freed from the tyranny of bright, attractive illustrations so they can focus on more complex chapter books.

In all seriousness, though, I think that this introduction of children to bland books at young ages speaks to a bigger issue -- a shrinking of an intellectual curiosity, and, to borrow a phrase, "the nerd moving away from the herd." When students are forced to put down the books they find interesting, they start to associate reading with discomfort and even blandness. Since these students are young, these impressions are likely to continue throughout their schooling, depriving them of a lifelong love of reading, and stifling newly-born interest in the world around them.

One parent quoted in the article epitomizes my point. Amanda Gignac, a San Antonio stay-at-home mom, pushed chapter books on her son at 4 years old. Now her son, who is 6, still reads chapter books, but is a reluctant reader who "would still read picture books now if we let him." She added that she and her husband "have kept him reading chapter books."

Unfortunately, this trend is only getting worse. The article also mentions that users on a parenting website have been asking for chapter books for 5-year-olds. Responses included The Phantom Tollbooth, weighing in at 272 pages, and The Wizard Of Oz, both books normally reserved for the 9 to 11-year-old set.

So what can the concerned parent do? Foster a love of learning in your child -- read them picture books when they're young, and guide them towards interesting reading as they age. Instill a love of learning in them -- it's better than any standardized test score they may get.