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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.