This list is mostly the result of a conversation with a Year 4 teacher from earlier this week, about the importance of picture books for older children. Many people tend to think that once a child can read chapter books, they should leave picture books behind. I really think that’s an incredibly short-sighted view: picture books have so much to offer, and visual literacy is at least as valuable in everyday life as fluent reading. So here are my top picture book picks!
The Red Prince – Tom Clohosy-Cole
At first this looks like a relatively simplistic story, with very few words, however, I really do recommend that you read this book slowly and take the time to pay attention to the really fine detail and the excellent craftsmanship that has gone into this book.
Tom Clohosy-Cole uses colour really well in this book to show the defiance of the besieged Avalans, and their loyalty to their prince. This is a book which really does show that no matter what happens, help can come from the most unexpected of places. This book is fantastic for prediction work, as every page leaves you wondering what could possibly come next.
Just Imagine have produced an excellent guide for using this book in lessons. I’ve used it myself with Year 4 children, and it worked wonderfully.
Wall – Tom Clohosy-Cole
Another Tom Clohosy-Cole masterpiece,t his is a fantastic book about the Berlin Wall and the families left divided by its construction. Tom Clohosy-Cole’s illustration is beautiful and really does draw the reader into the book, leaving the reader feeling every single emotion of all of the characters all the way to its heart-warming conclusion.
Again, his pictures are used in ways that really enhance the story and give so much more for the reader to look at. This book would be a perfect introduction to a not-too distant period of history which is currently rarely discussed.
The Arrival – Shaun Tan
This wordless book is an absolute wonder, and fantastic for any work about immigration and refugees. Shaun Tan really encapsulates the helpless feeling of moving to a new place, where you know no-one and every element of the world is strange and incomprehensible. He even depicts the singular loneliness of leaving every person you know behind.
It’s worth taking your time with this book too as the pictures are incredibly detailed. Discuss what Shaun Tan is trying to show in each picture. I promise you – it is worth it!
Rabbits – Shaun Tan
A book about when the rabbits came, told from the point of view of native animals invaded by them. This is a really beautiful book, told with the bare minimum of text. The pictures speak for themselves and give a chance to consider how the native animals might feel about watching their world torn up by the strange creatures who destroy it. Read this book on many levels, perhaps discuss rabbits in Australia and the impact that they had. With even older children (particularly those in secondary school) it may be interesting to discuss the book with regards to history – specifically colonisation and imperialism.
The Wolves in the Walls – Neil Gaiman
This is a delightfully creepy book which really encapsulates Neil Gaiman’s whole style. It has a very similar feel to Coraline (which is a book I’d give to children after reading this one). Lucy is convinced that there are wolves living in the walls of her house. Her family, however, are sure she’s just imagining it. After all – if the wolves start coming out of the walls then it’s all over. Possibly not the best book for bedtime reading, but a brilliant one for any children who like their stories on the scary side.
Rose Blanche – Christophe Gallaz and Roberto Innocenti
Rose Blanche (or The White Rose), for those who are unfamiliar, was the name of a group who resisted the Nazis in World War 2. The Rose of this story is a little girl who observes the changes in her town as World War 2 occurs. She watches as people are taken away in vans to a concentration camp outside of her town and talks to the children through the barbed-wire fence. She brings them food in secret until the soldiers from the east arrive, after which they all disappear forever. This book is quite a haunting read, but an important one nonetheless. It’s perfect for studying World War 2 and the Holocaust in Year 6.
Shackleton’s Journey – William Grill
I’m actually going to discuss this book in a little more depth next week, so I’ll keep this brief.
Shackleton’s Journey is a stunning book. The pencil drawings, the presentation of the facts of the journey, the use of white space and the overall presentation of the book make it a really visually stunning work of art.
It has also previously won the Kate Greenaway Medal, as well as a raft of other prizes, all of which were definitely well deserved, this book would be at home on the bookshelf of a child of just about any age.
Leon and the Place Between – Graham Baker-Smith
One of the year 5 teachers at my school told me about this book, and I instantly fell in love with it. At its most basic, this is a story about a boy who wants his siblings to believe in magic in the way that he believes. Leon is magically transported to a strange world full of playing cards and rabbits in a fantastic story that will convince even the hardiest of sceptics that magic is real.
The illustration in this book is really the star of the show: the decadent purples and glittering golds are exquisite, and it really is such a treat to read.
Just Imagine have also produced a guide for teachers for this book as well, with all sorts of ideas on how to best present this text to your class. I’d agree with them that it is best suited for Year 4 upwards as it has a few darker themes, but it really is worth a look.
The books mentioned here are just a few examples of the fantastic picture books on offer for older kids. In many cases they are some of the best books out there at fully encapsulating particular emotions and difficult situations that words perhaps can’t truly describe, but that are important nonetheless.
Why not pick one up next time you’re unsure what to read next?