#RaisingReaders Monday: Picture Books for Bigger Kids

There seems to be such a rush these days for kids to read more, better, faster. Under pressure from parents, teachers and peers, kids as young as first grade have declared picture books to be “for babies” and would much rather be seen checking out early chapter books and graphic novels.

image courtesy of dexielkayromiscal.wordpress.com

image courtesy of dexielkayromiscal.wordpress.com

I personally LOVE that there are many (and more coming!) early chapter books that engage young readers at their level, and an increasing influx of illustrated middle-grade novels and graphic novels with compelling plots and amazing storytelling. But at the same time, I can’t stand seeing picture books relegated to preschool classrooms, read-aloud time, and “babies.” Picture books are such an incredible art form – and many are much more complex and intricate than a 4 year old can appreciate. That’s why I encourage kids (and PARENTS, and TEACHERS!) to keep reading, exploring, and celebrating picture books long after kindergarten!

My rising 5th grader is a prolific reader with a love of mythology, fantasy, and historical fiction. She is undaunted by 400 page novels, as long as they promise Pegasi (is that the plural of pegasus?), mystical visions, and evil magi. But she also goes back to our picture book shelves to immerse herself in the gorgeous art and folklore of books such as The Legend of Leelanau (Sleeping Bear Press, 2003)  or to roll with laughter at the wordplay and wit of There’s A Party At Mona’s Tonight by Harry Allard and James Marshall.

Party at MonasLegend of Leelanau

The language in these books would have been much too difficult for her to read to herself when she was 5 or 6, yet she enjoyed having them read aloud to her. And now that she is capable of managing “bamboozled” without my help, re-reading these gives her both a sense of nostalgia and of accomplishment. Add to that her greater appreciation of dry humor, conflicting emotions, lyrical language, and the power of illustration, and suddenly these books are a whole new experience! And one that fits into her busy summer schedule of irritating her sisters and begging me for ice cream quite easily.

I have brought up the THREE BEARS RULE in previous posts, and I’ll remind you of it now. Kids should always have books available to them that are3 bears

–too easy

— too hard

–and just right.

This lets them practice the literacy skills they have mastered, develop new skill sets, and simply enjoy the experience of reading without challenge – all important parts of growing to love books. Picture books that don’t seem “babyish” help reinforce this for older readers.  As a parent or teacher, you can give your older reader this opportunity by

1. Never belittle a reader’s choices. Don’t say “isn’t that book too easy for you?” or “why are you reading a little kids’ book?”

2.Provide opportunities to explore picture books with big kid appeal. At the library or book store, be on the look out for picture books with themes your child enjoys, higher word counts, and more complicated stories. Books of legends and folklore, traditional fairy tales, picture book biographies, history and other nonfiction often fall into these categories. What Do We Do All Day maintains great booklists for folktales from many cultures and countries. Also check out this great Nerdy Book Club post Top 10 Picture Books for the Secondary Classroom.

3. Let big kids read aloud to younger kids: Using their voices in fun ways to make a book more interesting to their audience also makes it more fun for them – and improves their understanding of the text. Read more ideas in my Partner Up post.

4. Check out books that have won prizes for illustration: Your budding artist will appreciate the different styles and techniques more now than (s)he did as a preschooler – and might just be inspired to try some illustrating of his own. (Leaving you with peace and quiet for a few minutes). The American Library Association has a complete list of the Caldecott Winners and honor books from 1938 to present day here.

Thanks for coming by the blog – and I promise some exciting news very soon. In the meantime, please comment below with your thoughts on reading picture books with older kids – do you have favorites? are your kids embarrassed to read PBs? Or do they love them still? Can’t wait to hear from you!

18 thoughts on “#RaisingReaders Monday: Picture Books for Bigger Kids

  1. Great post, Katey! I’m going to look for the books mentioned 🙂 My oldest has been transitioning towards chapter books this year but still loves picture books. At the library, she probably gets half CB and half PB. I love reading both with her 🙂


    • We’re heading to the library today. My middle daughter is in that half PB, half CB place, too. We love everything Sleeping Bear Press comes out with. Oh, and the new PB from Creston books In a Village by The Sea is gorgeous!


  2. I’ve noticed (and been thinking of a blog post about this) that my five year old, who mainly reads picture books but is dabbling in early readers and chapter books, actually gets things out of going back to her board book collection. She’ll count thing and look for patterns in a much more purposeful way than she did when she was actually at the presumed target age for the books. Of course this doesn’t work with all board books, but I think it illustrated your three bears theory. Thanks for this food for thought.


    • I was actually nitcing the same thing with my 7 year old today. She’s pretty comfy with Magic Treehouse, Magic Puppy, heck anything magic in 10-12 chapters – but she was also cracking up over Yummy Yucky by Leslie Patricelli today – much more so than she did at 3 or 4. They enjoy things differently at new ages, and come at them with new eyes and world views (just like when I read Wuthering Heights at age 12 – and then at 22 found it to be an entirely different book!)


  3. I think there is sometimes a pernicious agenda to get kids ‘off’ picture books ‘onto’ chapter books etc. that deprives them of a whole gamut of reading experiences, ranging from sheer enjoyment to increased visual literacy – I love your post and your three bears rules – a wonderful image! My teens will still often pick up a picture book that’s lying around the house and I always have my antennae out for books that offer something to older readers… I can see a list in the making 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • So nice to hear that even teens will pick up a picture book from time to time. Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts – and I can’t wait for that list!


  4. I love the idea of a “three bears rule!” My 10yo still reads every picture book I check out from the library as well as long novels. I love that she does this, but I find myself frustrated when she picks up simple chapter books that are not as well written. But, since that’s not all she’s reading, I know the balance won’t hurt. Thanks, and I’m planning to share this! 🙂


    • Thanks, Carolyn! It frustrates me when my almost-10-year-old wants to read Barbie and Minions licensed books rather than “the good stuff” – both as a mom and as a writer. But as you say, it’s not all she reads, and I can’t blame her for being tempted by commercialism. it gets us all in one way or another.


  5. Great post! We love all sorts of books in our house, whether they are a very simple picture book or a full on story. We currently try and not let them be too long since Zach does get bored but we read to him as much as we can (while he’s not talking over us, I have a complete chatterbox!). At the moment, his favourite is we’re going on a bear hunt. Literally reading it every night and he now knows it off by heart! Thanks for sharing your reading tips 🙂 Thanks so much for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My 12 yr old knows she’ll find me in the PB section whether we are at the bookstore or the library, so she’s free to browse what she likes. When she caught me giggling at I DON’T LIKE KOALA she insisted I go back to the beginning so we could read it together. The silly, semi-subversive PB’s are still much loved even at 12. And we ALWAYS love old favorites from Sandra Boynton.


    • Oh, yes, I DON’T LIKE KOALA has just the right kind of humor to get the big kids laughing – even against their will. We also found THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES to be a laugh riot – no matter how old the audience. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Obviously, we picture book writers/illustrators LOVE picture books 🙂 But seriously, I’ve never understood the “you’re too old for picture books” the same way I don’t understand why adults can be snobbish about adults reading MG and YA. As children improve their reading skills and tastes, they should be told that now they can ADD more books to what they can read 😀 —EXPAND, not eliminate an entire group.


  8. Pingback: Board Books: Building Blocks of Early Literacy with Guest Orli Zuravicky | kateywrites

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