Building a case for picture books

The first time I intuitively felt someone dismiss picture books as only for little kids, I was genuinely surprised.

“Oh, we don’t read picture books anymore with Connor.*  He’s reading chapter books on his own now.”  This mother’s statement perplexed me then as it was unexpected.  And it still perplexes me today.  My oldest two were six and eight at the time, and while they were both independent readers, I felt we were a long way from discarding picture books.  Chapter books.  Picture books.  Are they really so mutually exclusive?  Must I give up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder once I have begun to read Willa Cather?  So, it stands to reason, I refuse to abandon Jane Yolen for Katherine Patterson.  Let us linger a bit longer on the delights and purpose of the picture book.   There is a case to be made for the necessity of high quality books with beautiful illustrations, specifically targeting independent readers 9, 10, 11, 12 years old, and beyond.  Here is why we still read picture books.

SENSITIVE MATERIAL

Just as Margaret Wise Brown‘s charming Big Red Barn may be a perfect bed time read for  a three-year-old, but not so much for a ten-year-old, so there are some subject matters best left for older children.  Many authors/illustrators provide safe places for older children to explore potentially scary or sensitive issues through the haven of clear illustrations and well-intentioned words.  Death, war and severe prejudices can be broached in ways a chapter book may not be able.  Here are a few examples.

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Chicken Sunday  by Patricia Polacco

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

The Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber and Adam Gustavson

SPECIFIC INTERESTS

Whereas an eleven-year-old may not pick up an entire biography on a famous mathematician or botanist, a picture book can usher them into a brand new world with ease.  Through more complex storytelling, greater vocabulary and unique interests, the older reader may enjoy these great finds.

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Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of Socrates by M. D. Usher and William Bramhall

When Jesse Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest and P.J. Lynch

Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman

Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei by Peter Sis

My Brothers’ Flying Machine by Jane Yolen and Jim Burke

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter and Melissa Sweet

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman and LeUyen Pham

EMOTIONAL SAFETY

For some tweens, there is a sweet reassurance that our pains and feelings of inadequacy may be universal.  There is a comfort in knowing we are not the only ones.  This is true whether we are four, fourteen or forty.  Here are some wonderfully written stories full of emotional intelligence.

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Odd Boy Out by Don Brown

Chowder by Peter Brown

Basket Moon by Mary Lynn Ray and Barbara Cooney

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

GREAT STORYTELLING

Just as it is a little sad that the short story genre is dwindling, it is also unfortunate that we may not appreciate the genre of picture book in its own right.  I marvel at the craft of these below. With fewer words, they transport us to magnificent places, and succinctly help us in learning new perspectives.

The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park and Julie Downing

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Crow Call by Jane Yolen

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth

Lassie Come-Home by Rosemary Wells(adapter), Eric Knight (author)  and Susan Jeffers

VISUAL ARTS

Once you open the cover to the books listed below you will not wonder how they might appeal to an eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen-year old.  These books for older children can easily be appreciated for the visual humor, charm or poignancy.

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Locomotive by Brian Floca

Sitting Ducks by Michael Bedard

The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

Zen Shorts, Zen Ties and Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth

Tibet Through the Red Box by Peter Sis

NOSTALGIA

While the following books may readily be enjoyed by younger children, older ones may feel the thrill of nostalgia as they read them again.  Reading them later, after a span of time, just might give them the gift of growing perspective.  If they related to the little girl at six years old, now they can see things through the older sister’s or mother’s point of view.  I know we all re-read stories from our younger days, simply because it brings back some of those warm memories associated with reading.  Here is my list.

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney

Days of the Blackbird by Tomie de Paola

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list, but this should get you started if you need to re-aquaint yourself with this genre.  Does your family have a favorite not listed?  Leave it in the comments.  There are so many great ones lining the library bookcases, as well as our own at home.

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3 thoughts on “Building a case for picture books

  1. Thank you for the great ideas for some new reads! We love our picture books around here too. Miss prefers chapter books for read alouds, but I find picture books bring her comfort and confidence to share with friends or to use as reference for her writing. I still use picture books for story time during the day. Oliver Jeffers always makes my day a little brighter.

    1. Thank you! As she gets older I hope you can find some good reads from this list or elsewhere. Although G has readout of these, there are a few from the first category he has not due to topics. I should have included a multicultural category. I still love picture books for introductions to all kinds of worlds.

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