Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Spark the Imagination: Picture Books for Older Kids

One of my favorite parts of being a parent is reading books to my kids, especially picture books. Despite their simple structure, good children's books often offer beautiful illustrations, captivating stories and subtle lessons that even the most complex adults books often miss.

Unfortunately, in recent years as the drive to make childhood more academic has taken hold, the value of picture books is becoming lost, at least in some areas. Based on this New York Times article, it seems this disturbing trend started several years ago. Booksellers and publishers are seeing parents pushing their children out of reading picture books as early as 4 years old. Some parents feel picture books are not academically challenging enough or are too "babyish" for their preschoolers.


picture books elementary kids imagination

What a sad state of affairs! What these folks are missing is that picture books actually require quite a lot of brain power and can actually help children develop their reading skills. As librarian Lisa Von Drasek points out, picture books can provide wonderful training for future (or current) reading:
  • Picture books give children practice in visual literacy. Children learn critical thinking skills as they study the book's art, looking for contradicting evidence of the verbal story.
  • The text of picture books is often written at a higher reading level. Children need to hear this higher vocabulary to acquire language before they can read it.
  • On the other hand, while series chapter books are great for reading practice, their vocabulary and sentence structure are simplistic and their plots formulaic.
  • Picture books for older children give a window into history, cultures and communities other than our own with sophisticated artistic representation. 
  • Rhythm, rhyme, and repetition of early picture books support the learning of reading skills like phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension and fluency.
This idea was brought home to me lately in a very real-life way. My second-grade son came home from school and was fascinated with Harold and the Purple Crayon. If you are not familiar with this book, it's a class from 1955 about a little 4-year-old boy who uses a purple crayon to draw all sort of adventures. It's a wonderful book that really inspires a child's imagination. I was actually really surprised my 7-year-old was interested in this book. I thought he would think it was too babyish. I mean Harold wears a footed sleeper like a baby in the book. However, my son loved it! He walked around the house with a purple crayon for days pretending to be Harold. Thankfully, his teachers at school obviously know well the magic picture books can hold, even to second-graders who think they are such "big kids."

With that in mind, I've pooled together a list of picture books that should appeal to older kids (ages 6+). Even if your children are reading at or above their grade level, it doesn't hurt to throw in some picture books from time to time. If nothing else, it might prompt some imaginative thinking or good conversations between you and your child. Don't allow these picture books to fade into history!

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Thank You, Mr. Falker: the story of a girl with dyslexia and a special teacher who helped her

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Flotsam: a boy finds some interesting and surprising items washed up on a beach

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The Three Questions: who says picture books are just fluff? You can spend a lifetime trying to answer these three questions


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Journey: I must have been hiding under a rock the last few years because I just heard about this book and it's two related titles Quest and Return. I just checked it out from the library and it is beautiful! Ironically it has some elements that remind me of Harold and the Purple Crayon.


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The Mysteries of Harris Burdick: need some ideas for a creative writing assignment? This is the book for you. Pictures to evoke the imagination of any child.

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One Giant Leap: have a child who loves space? This book shows the moon walk in vivid illustrations.

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Henry's Map: is your elementary child learning about maps or directions. This one is a perfect fit.




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