Mushroom and BalletBoy, in the last few months, have rediscovered picture books as independent reads. We have never totally left picture books behind us. We kept reading them aloud occasionally for fun, as well as many that tied into history and science. When we did our unit on Africa last spring, the kids read the picture books independently and we have done many US history picture books as independent reads as well. I think a lot of parents these days shuffle their kids toward chapter books too quickly and try to pass this stage of reading by.
Over the summer, something suddenly clicked where both boys have been reading and checking out picture books more of their own accord. I think part of it is that they’re now easy enough and both boys have been gratified by many of the history picture books they’ve read for school. Many picture books have a higher reading level than the early chapter books that kids read, so even though they’re short, they can be challenging for many kids. But more than the reading level, I think it’s that neither of them feels they have anything to prove anymore about reading. It’s just something they do, so there’s no stake in trying to read a longer book. They’ve both done that many times, so they feel free to read a short story now as well. I think they like finishing a book in a single sitting.
While most picture books are sadly being pigeonholed as for younger kids these days, it hasn’t always been so, and there are many amazing longer picture books for kids to read and enjoy out there or picture books whose humor or style appeal to older kids. Many of the best books for kids to read in elementary school are picture books. They have a richer vocabulary and plots than easy readers or series chapter books and are even more sophisticated than many popular middle grades books. I had a post ages ago about a few picture books that aren’t for babies. Here are a few more of varying length and difficulty, many of which have recently been read and enjoyed here.
Zathura by Chris Van Allsburg
Most of Van Allsburg’s books are like perfect little short stories for this age group. He’s a great illustrator, obviously, with extremely detailed black and white illustrations in most of his books. He’s also an imaginative storyteller. This is a perfect example of one of his more appealing books. We had not read it in a long time and the boys suddenly found it again and reread it with excitement.
Weslandia by Paul Fleischman
I just love this little book about a misfit boy who spends summer creating his own culture, complete with language, staple crop, sports and clothes. The illustrations are bright and colorful. The plot, with its themes of bullying and detailed imagination, seems perfect for slightly older kids who aren’t ready to leave playing pretend behind yet.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
This is one of those classic stories. Many of Steig’s animal tales have an almost disturbing element to them. The predators are actually all cruel predators in his tales, after the sweet donkeys, mice, and so forth. We’ve been reading this one aloud since the kids were very young, but it’s now the sort of story they like to read on their own.
Diary of a Spider by Doreen Cronin
This series of sweet bug tales is practically an easy reader series in picture book format, but I’ve seen my kids keep going back to it, chuckling at the jokes and enjoying the story. Unlike some of the others on this list, they could probably read several all at once, but they still enjoy them. The illustrations are cartoony and the format of the diary makes them perfect for independent reading.
Meanwhile by Jules Feiffer
This is another very short picture book, but like other “meta” stories about books, such as Interrupting Chicken and David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs, my kids keep going back to this one as an amusing little tale. Feiffer brings his frantic cartoon style to this story of a boy who keeps changing the story by jumping from one panel to the next via a “Meanwhile…” in order to get out of chores.
Dear Mrs. LaRue by Mark Teague
This series, about a smug dog, is a perfect quick independent read for this age. I’ve always been a huge fan of Mark Teague’s. He’s one of the great illustrators in my mind and his stories are always excellent. One of the best things about this series is the way that the dog is betrayed as a terrible liar by the illustrations.
Pirate Diary by Richard Platt
This oversized picture book series, which also includes one about a castle and one about ancient Rome, is nearly as long as a short chapter book, but packaged with great illustrations, including two page spreads throughout. It’s incredibly detailed and historically useful, so they make good history tie ins. However, they’re also just fun reads, especially for any child interested in history.
Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco
Polacco is one of those authors, along with Eve Bunting, who write picture books so detailed and deep that they can be touching reads even for adults. We’ve used Polacco’s book Pink and Say for school recently and I took this one out as well. In both, she mines her own family history to create stories with layered characters and plots. She tackles cross-cultural friendships and issues in ways that are just right for kids. Hers are the sort of picture books that no one can say are for toddlers.