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Unlock the Power of Using Picture Books for Older Readers
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Unlock the Power of Using Picture Books for Older Readers

There is a perception that illustrated books are only for young children, but many authors create picture books for older readers too. Teach your middle and high schoolers literacy elements or introduce classroom topics with these fantastic picture books suited to the unique needs of older readers.

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Why Use Picture Books for Older Readers?

Picture books often conjure up images of stories for young children, but their power, creativity and beauty can be just as captivating for 4th graders and beyond!

As readers grow older, picture books can be a great way to creatively explore personal and classroom topics and be an empowering tool to explore complex issues.

“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.” —

There is a perception that picture books are only for young children. Yet, many authors create picture books for older readers. These books offer different levels of understanding with a more sophisticated message.

Consider the benefits of reading picture books for middle school students when introducing complex topics. All students, no matter their reading ability or comprehension, will be on a level playing field.

Picture books are unique, powerful tools to engage, educate, and defy the expectations of older students. They break down complex topics into digestible and inspirational stories while introducing students to critical thinking skills.

The pictures make it easier to see what is happening and remember information. Illustrations and text lead to more complex analyses, and reading between the lines provides opportunities for different interpretations.

It also encourages them to think critically and draw connections between what they are reading and seeing in the images.

Selecting and Using Picture Books for Older Readers

When choosing picture books for older readers, have a clear purpose. 

  • Is it for a lesson, casual reading, or introducing a specific topic?
  • Explore the book before reading to ensure it has deeper meanings that lead to discussion and discovery. 
  • Check for opportunities to predict, infer, hypothesise and the development of opinions as the story progresses. 
  • Does the book promote discussion of plot, characters, theme and story structure? 
  • Will the illustrations engage your students to stay focused?


Sharing a book on an interactive whiteboard allows your students to engage with the book in their own way. Displaying the illustrations gives students time to confirm their ideas and predictions. Illustrations are an excellent way for students of varying abilities to engage at their level.

Listening to a picture book read-aloud also supports comprehension, inference and prediction while you carry the reading load.

You can browse the following websites of shortlisted and award-winning picture books for recommendations.

Recommended Picture Books for Older Readers

These picture books introduce more complex themes and are wonderful ways to start meaningful discussions. Many recommendations are by authors whose other picture books are also suitable for older students. These picture books are also great examples of picture books for middle school and high school students.

Alte Zachen: Old Things by Ziggy Hanaor

Benji and his grandmother, Bubbe Rosa, prepare for Shabbat by strolling around New York. Elderly, irritable, and slightly disoriented, Bubbe Rosa’s shopping trip triggers a mixture of pleasant and painful memories from her childhood in Germany.

Bubbe Rosa’s experiences remind us of the enduring bonds of family and the vital role our past plays in shaping our present identity.

The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater

A curious fox named Marco wants to answer an important question: “What’s the best way to find a friend you can talk to?” When he embarks on a nautical adventure with a crew of deer and pigeons. Marco finds answers on his journey of friendship and discovery.

The Antlered Ship explores curiosity, courage, companionship, the value of asking questions, and the joy of exploration.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The man leaves his family and ventures to an unknown city with unfamiliar customs, languages, and creatures. When he attempts to make the city his new home, he encounters kind strangers, each with their own immigration story, who help him adjust to his new environment. 

The Arrival, a wordless book, explores hope, empathy, acceptance, perseverance, and the search for belonging.

The Barnabus Project by Terry Fan

Strange animals in glass jars are failed attempts to create perfect pets. Barnabus, half mouse and half elephant, teams up with fellow captives to escape and reach the outside world.

The Barnabus Project sparks discussion about self-acceptance, cooperation, courage, following your dreams, and embracing imperfections.

The Bird In Me Flies by Sara Lundberg

Berta Hansson knew she was always destined for a life of art, despite taking on extra responsibilities due to her mother’s illness. Growing up on a Swedish farm, she faced challenges that would have broken many, yet, she was determined to fly “because I have a bird inside me that must fly where it will…”

Hansson’s story is a reminder that anything is possible with grit, determination, resilience and belief in oneself.  

The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy

In Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, British and German soldiers in World War I found common ground during a temporary cease-fire. They shared songs, stories, and a football game in No Man’s Land.

The Christmas Truce explores conflict resolution, compromise, recognizing shared humanity amid strife, empathy, peace, and shifting perspectives.

The Dam by David Almond

ipKielder, in Northumberland, was abandoned to make way for a new reservoir. Before the water fills the valley, a girl plays her fiddle in each of the empty homes to honour the music that once filled the village. Based on a true story.

Read The Dam to promote discussions on change, music, musicians, loss, and memories.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Dreamers mirrors the author’s experience of migrating from Mexico to America with her young son. Amidst the challenges of adapting to a new culture, language, and customs, Morales finds solace in her local library. 

Dreamers promotes determination, resilience, courage, and hope, cultivating empathy and an appreciation for diverse experiences.