Since reading “Slow Down and Look at the Pictures” by Debra Pope a year ago, I have been recommending it at least once a month. “Slow Down” is Pope’s response to the New York Times “Room for Debate” on, “What’s ‘Just Right’ for the Young Reader”.
Pope defends something that I feel strongly about: picture books have real value for kids of all ages but are often left behind after kids move on to chapter books.
“Children learn certain critical comprehension skills from picture books that cannot be taught through chapter books: interpreting imagery based on the information given in the text; understanding that there is more to a story than what the words alone convey; and visualizing a story in their own mind’s eye. Mastering visual literacy is fundamental to success with more advanced material.”
Additionally, picture books for older kids have more detailed plots as well as sophisticated shifts in tone and style. I like everything she has to say and would add that sharing picture books can continue to be an enjoyable ritual between kids and adults in addition to novels and chapter books.
The Picture books below offer a nuanced introduction to ethics, grief, compassion, cultural understanding, and various historical time periods.
The Babe and I by David Adler In 1932 Bronx, a boy discovers that although his father leaves the house each morning with his briefcase in hand, he has lost his job and is making a meager living selling apples in the street. Ages 6 and up.
Mr. Maxwell’s Mouse by Frank Asch After getting a promotion, Mr. Maxwell goes to his favorite restaurant, the Paw and Claw, and orders the House Special of live mouse. Normally dinner politely awaits its fate, but this sly mouse is determined to escape against all odds—and the restaurant is full of cats! Although Mr. Maxwell’s conscience is unfazed by a live dinner, readers will find this story an ethical dilemma. Ages 6 and up.
Tonio’s Cat by Mary Calhoun Tonio must leave his dog behind in Mexico when his family moves to California. He befriends a lonely stray cat.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi After Unhei moves from Korea to the United States, she worries that no one will be able to pronounce her name. Her classmates find a clever way to help her choose a new name. Ages 5 and up.
Video Shop Sparrow by Joy Cowley Two boys notice that a sparrow is trapped in a video store and the store’s owners are on a two week vacation! The boys look to adults in the town for help rescuing the bird, but are told, “it’s only a sparrow, plenty more where that came from.” The bird has a special trusting look that the kids just can’t ignore. How can they convince the adults to help? Ages 6 and up.
Weslandia by Paul Fleischman Wesley doesn’t have many friends until he plants a strange and amazing garden. He produces a crop of huge, unusual plants that provide him with clothing, shelter, food, and drink, thus helping him create his own civilization and changing his life. Ages 6 and up.
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki A Japanese American boy learns to play baseball when he and his family are forced to live in an internment camp during World War II. His ability to play helps him after the war is over. Ages 6 and up.
Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco At first, Trisha loves school, but her difficulty learning to read makes her feel dumb, until, in the fifth grade, a new teacher helps her understand that she is dyslexic and helps her learn to read. Ages 8 and up.
Bluebird by Bob Staake Exploring themes of loneliness, bullying, friendship and grief, this wordless picture book centers on the friendship that develops between a young boy and a bluebird. Ages 6 and up.
My Name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams
As a refugee from Sudan to the United States, Sangoel is frustrated that no one can pronounce his name correctly until he finds a clever way to solve the problem.
Wendy L., Youth Services.