Picture Books for Adults

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Picture Books for Adults

Who Says Picture Books Are Just for Kids?

Picture books are generally marketed for ages 8 and under. However, some picture books are truly works of art that are arguably better appreciated by a more sophisticated eye. Here is a list of 10 picture books that are meant to be cherished well beyond childhood.

This Is Our House by Hyewon Yum
Each page of this gorgeously illustrated book takes the reader through a snapshot of time in front of the same townhouse on a tree-lined street. A baby is born here, and she grows up to learn how to ride a bike, graduate college, get married, and start a family of her own, all with the house as her constant backdrop. Paging through this book evokes the feeling of thumbing through a family scrapbook. This would be a great coffee table book or even a creative housewarming, wedding, or new baby present.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
This book is told from a young boy’s perspective as he follows his great-grandfather around a garden. The garden is filled with topiaries that depict the great-grandfather’s life: scenes from childhood, a world war, and his wedding. The boy explains that his great-grandfather is prone to forgetting things, but the garden remembers the important things for him. This is a great book for adults with aging parents. Lane Smith is a Caldecott-winning illustrator, and the illustrations in this book do not disappoint. Smith fittingly uses green as his primary palette with touches of red for contrast.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Who doesn't have fond memories of this book from childhood? This is truly a book for all ages; children love the whimsical depictions of Max, the king of all wild things, and the monsters he rules over.  However, the illustrations are just as interesting to an adult eye: the interplay between the text and pictures is what makes this one of the most iconic picture books of all time. And its simple parting message, that home is always waiting after a wild adventure far away, is one worth reading over and over again. 

Miss Rumphius by Barabara Cooney
A girl named Alice, who lives in a city by the sea, listens to her grandfather tell her stories of faraway places. She tells him, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.” Her grandfather tells her, “There is a third thing you must do…you must do something to make the world more beautiful.” Alice grows up and goes by Miss Rumphius. She travels to tropical islands, climbs tall mountains, and visits jungles and deserts until she decides it’s time to live beside the sea and complete the promise to her grandfather. This is a wonderful book to read as an adult and would make for a great graduation present.

Pezzettino by Leo Lionni
Pezzettino, which translates to “little piece” in Italian, is a small orange square piece. All the Others are big, so he assumes he must be a part of somebody else, and sets out one day to find out. He asks the Others if they have a piece missing, but they all insist that they do not. Pezzettino finally realizes that he belongs to no one but himself, and he proclaims to his friends in a Whitman-esque moment: “I am myself!” This book is a celebration of individuality that can be appreciated at any age. Lionni used a collage technique to masterfully create the graphically simple but symbolically complex illustrations. 

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus 
“Leo couldn’t do anything right.” That is how this picture book, about a young tiger named Leo who is waiting to “bloom,” begins. Leo doesn’t read or write or talk, and his dad waits every day for signs that his son is finally blooming. Then one day, when Leo feels good and ready, he blooms and can do everything! This is a short and sweet book that young kids can relate to, especially when their peers are accomplishing milestones before them. The thing is, the feeling of being a late bloomer is one that can persist into adulthood, so when everyone around you is married with children and a mortgage, this book can serve as a reminder than everyone blooms in their own time and in their own way.

Abuela by Arthur Dorros
This picture book is about a young girl named Rosalba who spends a day with her abuela in New York City. As they walk through Central Park together, Rosalba imagines that she and her abuela can fly.  The book depicts them flying over the city, to the harbor, and around the Statue of Liberty.  Rosalba loves going on adventures with her abuela, and flying through Elisa Kleven’s dreamy and lovingly detailed illustrations will make you nostalgic for days spent on adventures with grandparents and other older loved ones.  

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
Elizabeth is a beautiful princess with beautiful clothes who is going to marry a beautiful prince named Ronald... until a dragon comes ones day and destroys the castle, burns her clothes, and kidnaps the prince. Elizabeth dons a paper bag and sets out to outsmart the dragon and saves her dude in distress. In the moment of happy reunion with her prince, Ronald tells Elizabeth to come back “when  you are dressed like a princess again.” Elizabeth decides not to marry Ronald after all. This book is a witty twist on age-old fairy tale archetypes, which is perfect for any parent who is sick of reading “princess books.” Further, it is a reminder that if a person does not appreciate you for who you are, you are probably better off without them anyway.

Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups by Kay Thompson
The very title of this book hints at the fact that this book is one that is enjoyable to both children and adults. Six-year-old Eloise, who lives on the top floor of the Plaza Hotel in New York City, is still as precocious as ever. She tortures the hotel manager, orders room service for her dog, and attends parties she is not invited to in the hotel’s ballroom. Hilary Knight’s black, white, and pink illustrations were arguably ahead of their time; children’s book drawings mostly adopted a traditional “one picture per page” storytelling approach before the 1950s. The text itself ages well: Eloise is fiercely independent and hilarious to read about—she is the child we all looked up to when we were younger and every babysitter’s worst nightmare. 

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
This black-and-white picture book, initially published in 1936 and translated into over 60 languages, is as timeless as they come.  It’s about a little bull named Ferdinand who lives in Spain. Ferdinand is not like the other bulls who like to fight: His favorite pastime is sitting quietly and smelling the flowers. One day, five men come to pick out the fiercest bull to fight in Madrid. A bee stings Ferdinand, which causes him to jump around like crazy, making the men mistake Ferdinand as the fiercest bull of all. When Ferdinand is brought to Madrid he refuses to fight and sits quietly in the ring: a quiet, peaceful hero who is just as admirable now as he was decades ago.