Using Picture Books With Older Children
Picture Books Are Not Written to Teach Reading
“Sharing picture books with children leads to amazing conversations. In the best picture books there is a gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the child’s imagination.” — Anthony Browne, Children’s Laureate 2009–2011
I believe children of any age, including in secondary school, benefit from reading picture fiction. Illustrations along with text lead to more complex analyses of a story. Reading between the lines provides opportunities for interpretation through exploration and discussion. Exposure to picture fiction encourages older students to read for pleasure and enjoyment.
Picture Books Are Not Only for Young Children
There is a perception that picture books are only for the young. Yet, many authors create picture books with an older audience in mind. Their message offers different levels of understanding with a more sophisticated message. Complex picture fiction also deals with sensitive topics, such as bereavement, self-esteem or identity.
Selecting Picture Books For Older Children
When choosing a picture book for older readers have a clear purpose. Is it for a lesson, casual reading or to introduce a specific topic?
Spend time reading the book to make sure it has a deeper meaning that leads to discussion and discovery. Check for opportunities to predict, infer, hypothesise and change opinions as the story progresses. Does the book promote discussion of plot, characters, theme and story structure? And will the illustrations engage your students to stay focused?
You can browse the following websites of shortlisted and award-winning books for recommendations. Here are some of the most famous book awards for children’s books.
Using Picture Books with Older Readers
Listening to a read-aloud benefits children of all ages. They can concentrate on comprehension, inference and predicting what will happen next.
Share the preferred book on an interactive whiteboard, if you can. This allows the whole class to engage with the book in their own way. Presenting the book gives each student the time to process the story along with the imagery.
Displaying the illustrations gives students time to confirm their ideas and predictions. Illustrations are a wonderful way, particularly for students of varying abilities, to engage at their own level.
As the teacher, you can pause when appropriate to focus on plot, characters and dialogue. Pausing aids students in making connections and forming empathy for characters and their situation. Here are a few questions about character development. You can discover other prompts here.
- How do you know what the characters are feeling?
- 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
These books introduce more complex themes and are wonderful discussion starters. They will appeal to children who are newly fluent readers who want a rich reading experience. Many recommendations are by authors whose other picture books are also suitable for older students.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
The Eleventh Hour by Jacques Goldstyn
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
My Father’s Arms are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde & Øyvind Torseter
Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg
Razia's Ray of Hope by Elizabeth Suneby
The Secret Subway by Shana Corey
Tsunami!! by Kimiko Kajikawa
Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman
Many older children still love to read books with illustrations. I have seen many teenagers visit the library and sit totally engrossed in a picture book.
Provide your students the time to read picture books if they wish. They are a format worth considering to enhance a student’s reading progression.
Explore these resources to discover more information about using picture fiction with older children.
- CLPE: Choosing and Using Picture Books
- The Guardian: How to find picture books for older children
- Rising Stars: Using a high-quality picture book to inspire poets at Upper KS2
- Book Trust: Books and reading
Do you use picture fiction with older students? How do you engage them in reading for pleasure? Let me know in the comments below.