In response to the New York Times article declaring that parents see picture books as primarily for very young children, I’ve made an off the top of my head list of picture books that are not for for the preschool set, or at least, not best appreciated by them. For more titles, the blog Tinderbox wrote an excellent defense of picture books through the lens of the homeschool curriculum Five in a Row, which creates entire units of study based on picture books. Here’s a list of the Five in a Row books. And here’s the books I thought of:
Grandfather’s Journey by Allan Say
This book is the perfect example of how a picture book can convey complex themes and ideas through a very simple story. It’s the story of immigration on a personal level. While younger children might get something out of it, the emotions shown aren’t something that younger children can easily connect with. I found it useful when I was teaching middle schoolers. Allan Say’s brilliant art enhances the story and keeps the very adult feel to the book.
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Weatherford
Like Grandfather’s Journey, this is another example of a beautiful nonfiction picture book that’s not for younger readers. The story is a detailed one and beautifully told by Weatherford, who is also a poet. I could go on and on listing picture book nonfiction and biographies. Especially in the last decade, there have been many amazing ones released.
The Three Golden Keys by Peter Sis
Sis has written board books for young children, but his most amazing works are books that don’t seem to be for children at all. This book, which brings together the legends of Prague as well as Sis’s own personal history with the city, is incredibly complex, in both the artistic style and the language. Sis has several other mind-blowing autobiographical picture books that aren’t for young children, including his book of intricate mandalas, Tibet Through the Red Box, and the more recent memoir of communism, The Wall. He’s also the author of a number of picture book biographies.
The Stinky Cheese Man (and Other Fairly Stupid Tales) by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Most of the Scieszka and Smith ourve can be enjoyed by younger children, but is really best for children in the elementary school years. My boys thought this book was interesting when they were younger and found it on the shelf, but it wasn’t until they got to kindergarten that I heard them suddenly start laughing when we read it. Like many of the great fairy tell retellings (I almost put David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs on this list too), these stories aren’t enjoyable until you’re old enough that you really know the original story and can get the jokes.
The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups by David Wisniewski
Does this book even make sense to very young children? The art style is silly and light to match the text, but it’s not for preschoolers. The jokes are the sort of things that only children sophisticated enough to have observed grown-ups a little longer would get. Wisniewski has several other titles, including the radically different Golem, which is appropriate for older children as well.
The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base
This intricate tale was so popular when it was released that even adults enjoyed puzzling out the mystery. I can’t imagine many kids could figure it out before first or second grade, at least not without a great deal of help. Base has another book, Enigma, which is perhaps even more difficult.
Zen Shorts by Jon Muth
This beautifully illustrated philosophical tale has been thought-provoking for adults and children alike. The story isn’t short either. It’s one of the few very popular books of recent years that I would say is clearly not for preschoolers.