Not Just for Babies: The Hidden Power of 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 adult 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.

Benefits of Picture Books

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. These are just a few of the benefits of pictures books for older students:
  • Visual literacy. "Reading" pictures is often a crucial first piece to comprehension. In pictures books kids look at the illustrations and use critical thinking skills to see how they fit with the story.
  • Higher reading level. Although simple, picture books often include vocabulary at a higher reading level. Children need to hear this vocabulary before they can read it. In contrast, chapter books contain fewer pictures, but the vocabulary is often simple and the plots are predictable.
  • Expand horizons. Picture books open the world to kids by exposing them to vivid illustrations of other lands and cultures (fiction and non-fiction).
  • The Reason behind the Rhyme. Those rhymes may seem simplistic to us but this focus on sounds helps kids learn letter sounds and blending.
child reading

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.

Related reading: Classic Baby Books that Boost Brain Development

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."

Related reading: Surprisingly Helpful Calming Activities for Super-Active 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

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

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

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.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

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.

One Giant Leap

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

Henry's Map

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

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Not Just for Babies: The Hidden Power of Picture Books for Older Kids

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