A picture book is much more than words and story, more than an art form. It is a chance to come together with your child, to share ideas, to stop, and love. And not coincidentally, it's with picture books that the reading habit begins.
''Just one book, Daddy,'' is the plea in our family, ''just one.'' Just one moment, just one more hug. Your time and love - young children demand it, and nothing satisfies quite like reading together.
We fill our odd moments with books; there are baskets by the couch, a pile by most every chair. We stop to put wood on the fire and read a book. When we're at loose ends, tired, not ready to take on more - ''let's read a book.'' Books hold together the pieces of our day, bind our weeks. They help us to slow down and listen, give us the chance to tune in to each other, to talk, and laugh.
Reading picture books expands the young child's world, awakens his mind, his sense of humor. It is through reading that the child comes to care for art and language; he develops an ear, an eye, taste. As the child reaches out to different worlds, he gains the ability to identify with others, to see himself in another's experience. He is discovering the power of empathy, and the sheer joy of imagination.
And while he's about it, he is learning to read, beginning to recognize numbers and letters, the patterns of words. His powers of observation are being sharpened, and his curiosity. And, it's hoped, he is acquiring a genuine love of books, and reading, that will see him through life. If you start him early, the reading habit will be established.
Above all, choose the books you like, books that have fun with language - rhythm, rhyme, a lilt. Books with heart and humor. And have some fun. If you lose yourself in the reading, your child will too. Below are a few recently published picture books that make for fun, for spirited reading. These are the kinds of books we find behind the call ''Let's read a book! . . . Just one book, Daddy!'' - a call that's difficult to resist when you consider the love you're giving . . . and the reading habit.
ABC CAT, by Nancy Jewell, pictures by Ann Schweninger. New York: Harper & Row. Pages unnumbered. $8.95.
A joyful, lilting ABC that follows a cat as it scampers through the alphabet, intent on its kitty-cat mischief. A delightful book for its affection and irrepressible spirit.
Applebet AN ABC, by Clyde Watson, pictures by Wendy Watson. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 1982. Pages unnumbered. $10.95.
Spirited verse and full-color illustrations lead us through a day at a country fair. There is a marvelous energy here which works together with humor and adventure.
May We Sleep Here Tonight?, by Tan Koide, illustrated by Yasuko Koide. New York: Atheneum. Pages unnumbered. $6.95.
When three little gophers get lost in the fog they take refuge in a cozy house in the woods. But whose house is it? And whose bed? Uneasily they crawl in for the night, and then there comes a knock at the door. . . . There's irresistible suspense and a heartwarming resolution.
Rhymes Around the Day, chosen by Pat Thomson, illustrated by Jan Ormerod. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. Pages unnumbered. $9.50.
Favorite nursery rhymes come to life through a young family's day - a day that has time for knee rides and make-believe, as well as the business of market and kitchen. The collection is keyed to the young child's fresh energy and imagination and stands out for the way it relates the old rhymes to our lives today.
The Ten Alarm Camp-Out, by Cathy Warren, illustrated by Steven Kellogg. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard. Pages unnumbered. $10.
When Mama Armadillo takes her nine babies camping, she rolls them up into little balls to sleep. What happens when all nine balls get to rolling - down the hill, onto the football field, into the grocery, the bakery - makes a wild and amusing game of mistaken Armadillo identity. A clever tale full of the havoc preschoolers love.