Why Do Books Have Images?

Picking up a child’s picture book and seeing it full of illustrations is no big surprise; after all, “picture” is right there in the name. However, seeing an image in a book meant for young adults, teens, or adults can seem odd. Why do books, especially those not meant for kids, have pictures?

Books have images for many reasons. Children’s books have pictures to help keep young minds engaged and give them a visual idea of what’s happening in the book. Pictures in adult books often serve the same purpose. Additionally, pictures can illustrate an important point or show off artistic skills.

Images in books also help showcase the author’s specific vision or can help evoke an emotional response from the reader. All of these reasons are why you’ll often see images even in unexpected books. Keep reading to learn more.

Reasons Children’s Books Have Images

Let’s start with children’s books, as it’s easier to explain the presence of pictures in them. 

1. Kids Have Short Attention Spans; Images Engage Their Minds

It’s no secret that children don’t have the longest attention spans. Anyone who’s had children, babysat children, or been in the general vicinity of children can attest to that. The younger a child is, the harder it is for them to focus. 

According to research, the average six-year-old has an attention span of about six minutes. Engaging in something can increase that to about ten to 15 minutes. Still, asking a six-year-old to sit quietly and read a book is asking a lot. 

Fortunately, most of them will do it, but they won’t do it for long. And if there aren’t colorful, fun pictures to break up the monotony of words on the page, they’ll be even less likely to keep reading.

Pictures capture their attention and give them something other than black and white words to focus on. They see something interesting in the image and turn to the text to discover what’s happening.

2. Images Can Help Children Visualize the Story

Children have great imaginations. However, it can often be difficult for them to visualize what’s happening in a book. That’s especially true of very young children just learning to read. They spend so much effort to ensure they’re reading the words correctly that they don’t process what they’re reading. 

Seeing illustrations of what’s happening can help them picture it in their minds. Once they can visualize it, they become more invested in the plot and what will happen next. 

3. Images Can Actually Help Children Read Better

There’s a reason we learn our ABCs using image association. (‘A’ is for apple. ‘B’ is for balloon. Etc.) Seeing words that we can relate to pictures (even if they’re just in our minds) helps us better understand the concept. The same is true for images in books. 

A child just learning to read may struggle to figure out what “The dog plays with the ball” says in words. They might understand a couple of sight words, but they can’t read the whole sentence. However, they can look at the picture of the dog playing with the ball and know exactly what’s happening. Then, they can read the sentence. 

4. Pictures are Just More Fun

Finally, pictures are just more fun! There are plenty of people who prefer a good book to a movie. However, most people prefer the screen to the written word. And even those who don’t usually enjoy a good flick occasionally.

How often have you read the last page of a phenomenal book and thought, Man, I wish they’d make that into a movie? Seeing something just makes it more enjoyable.

Reasons Adult Books Have Images

Many of the reasons children’s books have images are the same reasons adult books have images. A random image helps the reader visualize what’s going on and engages the mind. Additionally, they’re fun. 

However, there are some other reasons you’ll sometimes run across an unexpected picture in an adult-themed book. 

1. Images Can Illustrate an Important Point

If you’re reading a textbook, scientific book, or technical manual, you’ll often see photos or illustrations. Usually, they help illustrate something from the book that’s important and potentially hard to understand.

We’ve all seen drawings of plant and animal cells in biology books, and history books often include pictures of presidents, maps, or important scenes from history. Additionally, biographies and autobiographies often include photos from the subject’s life, while true crime books may feature crime scene photos or copies of letters from serial killers. 

The author includes these images to help the reader better understand the book. 

2. Illustrations Show Off the Author’s Artistic Talents

Some authors are also illustrators, painters, or photographers. One of my favorite authors, Brom, is first and foremost a fantasy artist and illustrator. 

In 2009, he published his first novel, The Child Thief. It’s an excellent book and on my list of “Top 5 Favorites of All Time.”

However, Brom is, as I mentioned, a visual artist. As such, he included several illustrations of characters and scenes through The Child Thief (and his subsequent books) that showed off his skill as an artist. 

3. Images Showcase the Author’s Specific Vision

Let’s stick with Brom for a minute. The books he writes are dark fantasy with creatures from legend, myth, and lore. Some are so strange and creepy that they must have come straight from his nightmares. 

It can be very difficult for a reader to picture such creatures, even when the author does an excellent job describing them. Getting to see an illustration, especially if drawn by the author, allows the reader to see precisely what the author was imagining when creating that particular character or scene.

4. Images Can Evoke an Emotional Response From the Reader

Hearing about something is one thing, but seeing it is another. That’s why commercials about starving children and abused animals are so effective. 

It’s easier to put an abused and abandoned animal out of your mind if someone tells you about them. If that same animal stands in front of you, cowering and whining in pain, that’s another story. 

Books are no exception. 

A fantastic author can make you feel something with their words. The best ones make you laugh out loud, cry real tears, and throw their books across the room in anger. However, not all authors can do that. They sometimes need some help, so they add images to their books. Seeing an image can often evoke an emotion in the reader that mere words couldn’t. 

Final Thoughts

Books have images for many reasons, and every reason is a good one. The next time you run across a seemingly out-of-place picture in your expensive, just-for-adults book, don’t question it. Just appreciate that it’s there. 

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