I remember when I first learned to read avidly pulling down from every library shelf an assortment of Dr.Seuss books, equally excited over both the stories and the pictures. While books like Watchmen and Fun Home may be a far cry from those more innocent stories, there are some similarities. Namely, both sets of books follow a narrative with the aid of pictures and text. Yet, we never seem consider anything meant for the ages of 4-9 to be ‘graphic novels’. Why not?
The obvious aside, being that the graphic novels tend to deal with far more mature material and are of course targeted towards an older audience, what qualifies one as literature and the other as the diminutive texts for beginning readers? One argument could be that the vocabulary and diction of graphic novels are far more sophisticated than that of ‘picture books’. However, there a quite a few graphic novels without any words at all, many of which are considered to be ground breaking and highly intelligent by the academic community. Take a look at Sshhhh! by Norwegian cartoonist John Arne Sæterøy.
Which leaves one thing as the distinction; the presence and use of panels to aid in the telling of the story. Panels are often the means by which an artist shows the progression of time or the movement of characters and events, while ‘picture books’ rely almost entirely on the turning of pages to create this same feeling. While in no way trying to attack graphic novels, or question their place in academic literature, I do find it compelling that the biggest difference between these two genres was the use of panels. Panels are often used quite ingeniously, and an entire blog post could be dedicated to how panels often make give even more depth to a narrative, but this answer hardly seems to be definite and constant.
I think it might be beneficial to argue that some of these picture books are in fact graphic novels. While these stories are often targeted at a younger audience and do not focus on very heavy material, the use of pictures and imagery can be creatively done and often aid the telling of the narrative. If Oldbuck can be considered a graphic novel, I see no problem in including Dr.Seuss and other similar books, under this label. In the future the limits of what can and cannot be considered as a graphic novel may be better defined, but until then I would like to argue that we have all been reading graphic novels since kindergarten.
To see what other people have said on this you can check out this discussion thread: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?177459-Graphic-novel-vs-Picture-book