Picture Books Are Not Written to Teach Reading
I passionately believe children from any age can benefit from exposure to picture books. Through my teaching career, I have spoken to parents who are often in a hurry to move their young children onto chapter books, feeling picture books are too easy.
Picture books are written for children to understand not necessarily be able to read. That comes later. Illustrations along with text lead to more complex understandings. Reading between the lines with the help of images provides opportunities for interpretation through exploration. This is further enhanced through discussion with friends or classmates.
Picture books have a dual purpose. Reading and sharing with an adult and then to read independently when they are fluent readers, both helping to develop a love of reading.
Picture Books Are Not Only for Young Children
There is a perception that picture books are only for young children. However, many authors create picture books with an older audience in mind. They offer different levels of understanding and appreciation, but their message is more sophisticated and complex in both text and illustrations. Complex picture books help older children deal with sensitive topics, such as bereavement, self-esteem or identity.
Selecting Picture Books For Older Children
- Have a clear purpose. Is it for a lesson, casual reading or to introduce a specific topic?
- Spend time reading the books to make sure it has a deeper meaning that leads to discussion and discovery.
- Check the book allows for prediction, nuances, inferring, hypothesis and the opportunity for opinions to change as the story progresses.
- Does the book allow discussion of plot, characters, theme and story structure?
- Review the illustrations to see if they help children stay on the page rather than skipping past.
- Use resources around you, such as school librarians and teachers. You can also browse websites of shortlisted and award-winning books. Here are some of the most famous book awards for children’s books.
Using Picture Books at Home or in the Classroom
As you share the book model how to describe the plot, setting and characters and add dialogue. Initiate discussions by elaborating on what is happening and highlighting cause and effect and conflict and resolution. Asking questions teaches children to comprehend what they are reading and use the illustrations to deepen their understanding.
Here are a few questions to get you started with additional ones here.
- Tell me about the characters. What are their emotions?
- What is the character thinking? How do you know?
- What is the character’s goal/mission? How will they achieve their goal?
- Why did the character make this choice? Could they have made a better choice?
- What is the character going to do next? How will their actions affect the story?
Picture Books for Older Children
I am sharing books I have used or been recommended by teachers. They introduce complex themes and issues and are great for starting discussions and debate. When using them in a classroom environment the length makes them perfect to read with a whole class. If you have students of differing abilities, they can all engage at their own level.
These books will also appeal to children who are newly fluent readers who want to read a book with pictures but want a rich reading experience. Many of these books are written by authors whose other picture books are suitable for older children.
*Disclosure: Amazon, Book and Depository buttons are affiliate links. I will earn a small percentage of any purchases made. It won’t cost you anything!
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
“The Arrival is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images that might seem to come from a long forgotten time. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean… He is helped along the way by sympathetic strangers, each carrying their own unspoken history: stories of struggle and survival in a world of incomprehensible violence, upheaval and hope.” Shaun Tan
The Dream of the Thylacine by Margaret Wild
“Celebrating the Australian landscape, this book interposes arresting text, images of the last known thylacine in a concrete cage, and sweeping color paintings of the animal in its natural environment.” Allen & Unwin
The Eleventh Hour by Jacques Goldstyn
“Jim and Jules are childhood friends, born on the same day in the same village. All their lives, Jim has been first ― born two minutes before Jules, always faster, always stronger. When the First World War breaks out in Europe, the two young men enlist in the fight with 30,000 other Canadians… On November 11, 1918, Jim and Jules are sent out to fight one last time. Jim, always first over the top of the trench, is shot and dies at 10:58am, two minutes before the Armistice takes effect at 11:00am.” Owlkids
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
“The Journey is actually a story about many journeys, and it began with the story of two girls I met in a refugee center in Italy… Almost every day on the news we hear the terms “migrants” and “refugees” but we rarely ever speak to or hear the personal journeys that they have had to take. This book is a collage of all those personal stories and the incredible strength of the people within them.” Francesca Sanna
*You can find further resources on The Journey page.
My Father’s Arms are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde & Øyvind Torseter
“It’s quieter than it’s ever been. Unable to sleep, a young boy climbs into his father’s arms. Feeling the warmth and closeness of his father, he begins to ask questions about the birds, the foxes, and whether his mom will ever wake up. They go outside under the starry sky. Loss and love are as present as the white spruces, while the father’s clear answers and assurances calm his worried son.” Enchanted Lion Books
Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg
“At the turn of the nineteenth century, a retired sixty-two-year-old charm school instructor named Annie Edson Taylor, seeking fame and fortune decided to do something that no one in the world had ever done before–she would go over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel” Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Razia's Ray of Hope by Elizabeth Suneby
“Razia is excited when her grandfather tells her there’s a school for girls being built in their Afghan village. At last, girls will have the same opportunity to be educated as boys. Her grandfather wants Razia to enrol in the school… Razia knows, however, that she will need permission from her father and her oldest brother, Aziz, in order to be allowed to attend the school. But will her grandfather’s words be enough to convince the younger men of the value of an education for Razia?” Kids Can Press
The Secret Subway by Shana Corey
“New York City in the 1860s was a mess- crowded, disgusting, filled with garbage. You see, way back in 1860, there were no subways, just cobblestone streets. That is until Alfred Ely Beach had the idea for a fan-powered train that would travel underground. On February 26, 1870, after fifty-eight days of drilling and painting and plastering, Beach unveiled his masterpiece-and throngs of visitors took turns swooshing down the track.” Schwartz & Wade Books
Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz
“A young boy wakes up to the sound of the sea, visits his grandfather’s grave after lunch and comes home to a simple family dinner with his family, but all the while his mind strays to his father digging for coal deep down under the sea.” Groundwood Books
Tsunami!! by Kimiko Kajikawa
“Ojiisan, the oldest and wealthiest man in the village, doesn’t join the others at the rice ceremony. Instead, he watches from his balcony. He feels something is coming; something he can’t describe. When he sees the monster wave pulling away from the beach, he knows. Tsunami! But the villagers below can’t see the danger. Will Ojiisan risk everything he has to save them? Can he?” Philomel Books
Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
“Four people enter a park, and through their eyes we see four different visions. There’s the bossy woman, the sad man, the lonely boy, and the young girl whose warmth touches those she meets. As the story moves from one voice to another, their perspectives are reflected in the shifting landscape and seasons.” DK Children
The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman
“Lucy is sure there are wolves living in the walls of their house — and, as everybody says, if the wolves come out of the walls, it’s all over. Her family doesn’t believe her. Then one day, the wolves come out. But it’s not all over. Instead, Lucy’s battle with the wolves is only just beginning.” HarperCollins
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