I vividly remember the pride I felt when I graduated from reading picture books to chapter books. Sure, chapter books had a few illustrations here and there but they were inky, black scratches, nothing like the full-page, color illustrations in picture books. The absence of these gorgeous illustrations seemed to signify that I was on the cusp of adulthood. Soon, I’d be reading hard-hitting investigative literature like Harriet the Spy.
One I graduated from picture books, I never looked back….until library school. There, I took a Picture Books for Older Readers (PBOR) class. These weren’t just books that could be appreciated by a third-grade class as well as a kindergarten class, these were books that could have a profound effect on adults as well as children. Ever since that class, I’ve changed my perception of picture books and found some real gems along the way.
The Enemy by David Cali
I’m not usually a weepy gal, but I challenge you to read David Cali’s The Enemy without welling up. The Enemy accomplishes what the best PBORs do: it uses the simplicity of the picture book format to offer understanding about seemingly complex issues. The book depicts two soldiers, each hiding in their respective foxholes. Each soldier has a manual describing why the other soldier is The Enemy. The manual says that The Enemy hates the soldier; it says that if the soldier does not kill The Enemy, The Enemy will kill the soldier. Every day, the soldier shoots at The Enemy and The Enemy shoots at the soldier. Then, they go back to the foxholes to hide. I’ll leave the description there but if you want to see how the story turns out, watch this Youtube video. Share this book widely; it’s a lesson we could all use.
The Rainbow Goblins by Ul De Rico
If you read The Rainbow Goblins as a child (or at any time in your life), you remember it. It’s possible that, over time, the plot will have faded from your memory, but you’ll likely remember the illustrations. Each of the 18 illustrations is so exquisitely vivid you might expect them to be a series of paintings (which, in a way they are). The Rainbow Goblins steal rainbows by lassoing them and filling their bellies with the bright colors. This sneaky Goblin crew have wreaked havoc everywhere except for one hidden valley. Rainbow Valley is known to have the most beautiful (and delicious) rainbows, so the Rainbow Goblins begin their plot to invade. What follows is a deeply important lesson about preserving our natural resources. When I was writing this, I had my copy of The Rainbow Goblins on the table. My boyfriend was walking by and stopped short when he saw it. “Ohh, The Rainbow Goblins”, he sighed, touching the cover gently. “This book…” he trailed off. “I know,” I said. And I do. It’s a book you won’t soon forget.
Growing Up and Other Vices by Sara Midda
This charming picture book is sadly out of print so when I came across a copy in a used bookstore, I was delighted. Author if In and Out of the Garden, Midda gently satirizes the feelings of children as they navigate the world and, face the challenges of dealing with imperfect adults. Illustrations include “On Departure From The Womb No One Told Us About” (communal bathing, loss of constant food supply, irritation of baby talk and, of course, little undisturbed thinking time), “Behavior Towards Various Creatures,” and “Things You Are Supposed To Grow Out Of.” This book is sure to make the little ones giggle and the adults remember that it’s not always so easy being a little kid in a grown-up’s world.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
The first time I watched a movie with subtitles, I was sure I was going to be distracted by them for the duration of the film. As the film played, I began to get more and more comfortable with the subtitles, eventually barely noticing them at all. Tan’s The Arrival is similar–it’s really a picture book, there are no words at all–but once you’re a few pages in, you sort of forget that. Unlike foreign films, however, the distance from native language is deliberate–it’s part of the story. Under threat by some nebulous dark creatures/shapes, a man journeys to a new country. The land in which he finds himself is both unfamiliar and confusing. The reader journeys with the man as he tries to make his way in this strange land. His feelings of displacement and ultimately hope are illustrated through beautiful sepia-toned drawings. While younger readers might not completely grasp the nods to political oppression and challenges facing immigrants, the need to be among loved ones and desire to belong will be clear to readers of any age.