Nice to see The New Yorker arguing in favour of pictures in books.
I do a lot of talks about literacy and discuss my progression from bad reader to good reader to writer. It came about thanks to the pictures, not the words.
Step One. Spider-Man... (here's a Spidey pic I drew on July 12, 1979.. always date your pictures!)
A book with lots of pictures, minimal text... and great characters and jokes. It opened the door.
Step Two. Beatrix Potter. It might be weird, age-wise, to go from Spidey BACK to Peter Rabbit, but think about how much more text, and complex language there is in Potter's books (or A.A. Milne, another fave from this time period). This was a progression, but I still read Spidey and still loved pictures. Here's a bunny.
Step Three. The Hardy Boys. Family friend John Sliwa gave me his original Hardy Boy's collection. (I dedicated my book Game Day to John and Mary). They are perfectly designed for boys who are clones of the 12-year-old me. The Hardy Boys had more even more text than Potter, but there was always an image every few pages to re-start your brain, and remind you what was happening in the plot.
Step Four. The Hobbit. I look like a hobbit so was naturally attracted to this book. (Quick Neil Flambe game... look for hobbit references throughout all the books!) But I'd also seen the old TV adaptation, so the images gave me a way to make a mental movie to go along with the long paragraphs in Tolkien's book. He even drew the covers and included maps! Here's me looking hobbit-like, sort of.
Step Five. Study Victorian Literature at UofT. It's wasn't my major, but it was my main focus in the English part of my degree. Trollope, Dickens, Thackeray... all had images woven into the text. It's not "dumb" literature, or "kiddy lit".
Step Six. WRITE BOOKS WITH PICTURES. As a result of my experience, all my books have images. And I know that adults read them as well as the kids, so I see no reason to change. I've even have adult manuscripts on my computer, and they will have pictures. And if you are really in love with reading and literacy, and not just a snob, don't denigrate books with images (and that include graphic novels!)