I just have to say it: picture books are pretty amazing. My opinion on the matter might have been pretty clear already, considering storytime takes up about 80% of my time at both of my library jobs, and most of the posts on this blog already are about the books and extension activities I use. But there are a lot of other really fantastic picture books out there, and these picture books are definitely not for storytime.
Sometimes there can be a misconception that picture books are just for preschoolers, just for storytime. But picture books are great for all ages. Fundamentally, they provide an opportunity for readers to read aloud together, share an experience, and stimulate the imagination in unexpected ways. Reading aloud together is also an easy way to build relationships between readers, whether they are peer-to-peer or adult-to-child.
But that’s a blog post for another time.
Below are five picture books that make awesome read alouds to the first through third grade crowd.
Anderson, Giles. Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: Missing Treasure. Illus. Russell Ayto. Margaret K. McEdlerry Books, 2008.
While on a trip to the museum, Flinn and his friends tumble through a magical closet and find themselves on the deck of a pirate ship. They rescue a pirate captain, and quickly embark on a quest to retrieve his stolen gold from pirate dinosaurs. Illustrations in water color and ink, cut and jagged framing, and dramatic staging work together to create an exciting adventure for young readers.
There are many reasons I love this book, the first of them being pirate dinosaurs. After those two words, this books spirals into the delightfully ridiculous. Flinn and his friends tumble through a closet into another world–Narnia-style–and immediately take charge of the situation. When faced with pirates and pirate dinosaurs way bigger than him, Flinn doesn’t bat an eye. The name of the pirate, Gurgleguts, is sure to make kids laugh. To top it all off, the big bad dinosaur is afraid of spiders! I wouldn’t read this to preschoolers because it’s too long and the text is too complex, but this is one of the most exciting books I have ever read to third graders, and they love it. Even with all the entertainment, this is a great book for teaching vocabulary in a way that just makes sense. This is actually the second pirate dinosaur book Anderson and Ayto have done together, but I like this one better than the first. It’s sillier and more dramatic, and the end really zings.
Barnett, Mac. Extra Yarn. Illus. Jon Klassen. Blazer + Bray, 2012.
A young girl named Annabelle finds a box filled with yard and begins to knit things for everyone in town, and then knits for actual things in the town. People start coming from all over to meet her, until an Archduke tries to buy her box of never-ending yarn. When Annabelle refuses to sell, he steals her box only to discover that the box is mysteriously empty. He hurls the box into the sea, cursing her to never be happy again, but…”it turned out she was.” Klassen’s reserved and delicate illustrations rendered ink, gouache, and digital perfectly compliment Barnett’s tongue-in-cheek language and story.
Number one reason I love this story: it was created by dynamic duo Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett. Yes, the same team that brought us Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. This one is just as imaginative and thought provoking. In a nutshell, this is a story about a girls who changes the world around her through the power of knitting. The visual effect is powerful, as Klassen’s illustrations begin in monochrome black, white, and gray until the little girl’s yarn fills the pages with color. And every time you think a bully is going to dampen her spirit, it turns out all he needed was a knitted sweater. There are an assortment of characters included–humans and animals of all shapes and sizes, a little person, and even the bear from I Want My Hat Back. In truth, the actual storyline is relatively simple, but it takes long enough to build to the climax that I think this would appeal to first through third graders rather than preschoolers. I would also love to feature this book in conjunction with a knitting program in the library for kids.
Barnett, Mac. Oh No! (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) Illus. Dan Santat. Disney Hyperion Books, 2010.
A girl creates a robot for her science fair project, but things quickly escalate when a “rampage” starts. The robot terrorizes the town with his superclaw, laser eye, and ability to control dog’s minds. The girl tries to stop her invention-gone-wrong, but unfortunately forgot to program the robot to communicate. To rectify things, she goes back to her lab and creates a giant toad to fight her robot. She saves the day, only to realize that she may have created another monster.
Another book by Mac Barnett, this time teaming up with Dan Santat (who made Sidekicks). This book is short and sweet, and while the language would be easily understood by preschoolers, I think the action and content gears it toward a slightly older crowd. Elementary students will easily identify with making a project for a school science fair, and the whole mad scientist trope is more easily recognizable for older kids. Santat’s illustrations in full spread and various panels evoke a comic book feel and format, which makes this book a great way to teach kids how to read longer graphic novels. I’d segue into the literacy value of graphic novels, but that’s yet another blog post for another time. Oh No! is completely narrated by the main character, in almost voice-over fashion, which really helps lend some drama to the story. This is also a great book to use to talk about how story progresses, and even how kids can create their own stories.
Cannon, Janell. Stellaluna. Harcourt, Inc, 1993.
Stellaluna, a baby bat, gets separated from her mother and lands in a nest of baby birds. She tries and struggles to be like the birds, eating bugs, sleeping right side up, and flying during the day. One day, she happens along some other bats and learns that bats can eat fruit, sleep upside down, and fly best at night. The best part of all–she finds her mother. Stellaluna hurries to tell her bird friends about all she’s discovered. Cannon’s beautiful Liquitex acrylic and Prismacolor pencil illustrations add to the sweet tone of the story, perfectly capturing the calm, natural glow of both dusk (for bats) and dawn (for birds).
Stellaluna will never go out of style. I was read this book when I was in elementary school, and elementary students still love this book. The story itself is timeless, but I also think some credit should be attributed to the near-realistic illustrations that are so beautiful and striking to look at. They really help to convey Stellaluna’s emotions. I also love the way this book talks about being different and fitting in. Stellaluna tries to fit in with the baby birds, and they easily accept her; but when they copy her bat-like ways it’s the mother bird who forces her to assimilate. Even when Stellaluna has rejoined the bats, she goes back to her bird friends, and they, in turn, try to act like her. Though the friends realize how different they are, they can admit that being different is not bad and that they will always be friends. This, I think, is the message that makes this story so timeless and wonderful, and the complexity of this idea is best appreciated by elementary students. Finally, Cannon includes notes about bats in the back of her book, which would makes this a great pairing with a school unit or a library program on bats. I really love how this helps to generate interest and compassion about an animal that is sometimes seen as scary.
Thurber, James. Many Moons. Illus. Louis Slobodkin. Harcourt, Inc, 1943.
When Princess Lenore falls ill from eating too many raspberry tarts, she claims ones things will make her better: the moon. Accordingly, the king calls in his advisors to discover how to get him the moon. But the Lord High Chamberlain, the Royal Wizard, and the Royal Mathematician, tell him that such a task is impossible, though they do not seem to agree on how far away the moon is or what it is made of. At last, the jester simply suggests that they are all right and all there is to do is ask the princess how far away she thinks the moon is. When he learns that it is no bigger than her thumb, he has a necklace with a tiny gold pendant made. But what will happen when Princess Lenore finds the moon in the sky? The Lord High Chamberlain, the Royal Wizard, and the Royal Mathematician, each have different answers, none to the king’s satisfaction, but once more the jester comes up with the solution of simply asking the princess. Her answer…as everything in nature grows back when you pick it away, so it makes sense that another moon would grow in the night sky.
As a Caldecott Winner, you can’t go wrong with this book. One of the reasons I really like this story is that it feels so much like a fairy tale, especially with the way things happen in threes. But rather than focusing on heroic quests and daring feasts, this story places wisdom in a simple court jester and the innocence of a little girl. There’s also a lot of humor to be had. As each advisor is called before the king, they begin listing all the things they have done or gotten for him, much to the king’s annoyance. The back-and-fort banter is silly enough to delight young children. This isn’t a great story for preschool storytime–due to the fact that it’s longer and has more advanced vocabulary–but it would make an enchanting, imaginative read for slightly older first, second, and third graders. It may even be an ideal book for bedtime.