Picture This! Picture Books For Older Kids
Gather ‘round everyone! It’s story time.
Last month, I was invited to a local school’s “Read Across America” event. The school librarian arranged for every grade to have a book read to them by special guest reader (one being yours truly!).
In true librarian-school-librarian-alliance form, we worked together to pick out books for those reading to the older grades. “Read out-louds” usually entail reading one chapter from a novel for older students. But could we find some “all ages” picture books that would work better for a one-off event?
Maybe ”storybook” has a less “babyish” connotation for the following books, which have full-bodied stories but also perfect for read-out-louds with their big, lavish illustrations. Here are a few personal favorites, organized by genre.
The Unicorn and the Dragon by Lynne Cherry. Two mystical creatures forgotten by time live in the secluded Ardet Forest, acting as guardian and friend to the other animals living there. Their life is peaceful, until one day a king starts knocking down the trees in the forest to expand his kingdom.
His daughter, the young Princess Arianna, quickly comes to love the forest - and the dragon and the unicorn that live within it. Can she convince her father to see the error of his ways? Detailed watercolor illustrations bring to life Cherry’s gentle fantasy world and memorable characters.
The King’s Equal by Katherine Patterson. From the author of Bridge to Terabithia comes an original fairy tale about a spoiled, haughty prince whose dying father’s final wish is that he not take his throne until he finds a queen who is his “equal” to share it with. Many girls in the kingdom are put to the test, and all fail to live up to the prince’s expectations. But when one wealthy, smart, beautiful woman strikes the prince’s fancy, he is determined to make her his.
But is she willing to make him hers? A feminist fairy tale, with a bit more flesh to it than The Paperbag Princess.
Dove Isabeau by Jane Yolen; pictures by Dennis Nolan. Kind and gentle Dove Isabeau is turned into a ferocious dragon by her evil stepmother. Her beloved works to break her curse - only to end up under one himself! Dove Isabeau must face off against her stepmother in order to stop her conniving ways once and for all. Dove Isabeau makes Disney princesses seem not up-to-snuff!
Historical Fiction and Biography
Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin A. Ramsey. Imagine after spending a long day on the road, you can’t find a hotel that will let you stay the night or a restaurant that will serve you any food. And it’s not because there aren’t any more rooms or tables - it’s because of the color of your skin. This was the reality for many Americans of color for many decades. When Ruth and her family travel across the country to visit her grandmother in Alabama, they quickly learn that some towns aren’t very friendly towards black people. Luckily, a gas station attendant gives them The Green Book, a guide for Black travelers on places where they will be welcome to eat and sleep.
A successful balance of storytelling and historical primer, Ruth and her family’s story paints one portrait of an injustice many families in America endured during a regrettable period in our nation’s social history. (The first time I heard this story was read out loud was to a group of rapt 7th graders - to give you an idea of its range of audience appeal.)
Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride by Pam Muñoz Ryan; pictures by Brian Selznick. What happens when the world’s most famous pilot and the First Lady meet over dinner? They grab a plane and fly over Washington, D.C., of course!
This true anecdote about two of the most influential women in America in the 1930s is charmingly capsulated by Ryan’s pithy prose and Selznick’s almost photograph-like pencil drawings. The story is particularly enjoyable as it shows a more “human” side of two women whose lofty accomplishments often make them seem sacrosanct in history books.
Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra by Andrea Davis Pinkney; pictures by Brian Pinkney There are a number of great “illustrated biographies” of famous people for kids, but the Pinkney’s work on Duke Ellington is to not be missed. David Pinkney’s illustrations - carved out from scratchboard and colored with paint - and Andrea Pinkney’s smooth, rhythmic prose rife with onomatopoeia capture the spirit of Ellington’s lively and colorful jazz music.
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka. All Jon Scieszka books are a romp, but The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is a laugh-a-page. This collection of zany stories not only parodies fairy tales most children grew up listening to (sometimes ad nauseam), but the entire book-reading experience. (“Who is this ISBN guy? Who will buy this book anyway?”)
The School for Cats by Esther Averill. You’ll find these in our chapter book section here at DCPL, but I think of them as slightly-longer Beatrix Potter-esque stories that can definitely be finished in a sitting. In this book, we join Jenny - a little black cat from the big city - during her first semester at the School for Cats. Even cats get nervous on their first day of class - and have to deal with bullies! Can Jenny and her friends stand up to Pickles, the fireman’s cat who chases all the little cats with his fire truck?