What’s in a picture? (Picture books for Older Children)

I love children’s picture books.

I also think we sometimes miss a trick. We tend to dismiss picture books as children get older. I have like lots of people read the words and not seen the picture as telling the story. In a race for thicker bigger texts I have dismissed the power of picture for developing higher order reading skills. Equally I have in my time dismissed picture books as being ‘You know, for kids!’ (That’s a Hudsucker Proxy quote. I like the film but know lots hate it.)

So the aim of this post and the next few posts is to share some awesome picture books that are definitely aimed at older children.

1 The Journey by Francesca Sanna


This book is stunning, heartbreaking and challenging. It is an immigration story from the eyes of the child, however the picture and art tell us so much more. In the picture below the use of scale  evocatively displays the level of threat. The book is easy to explore and question, but due to the theme the book  it could and should open up a wide ranging discussion about immigation, very pertinant in the current climate.FullSizeRender-5-1024x768

In the sample below the juxtoposition between text and and art creates a harrowing picture. The childs faith in their parent in the text is starkly drawn against the hopelessness felt by the mother. It is both beautiful and upsetting.


Don’t want to say more about it just to say I would firmly recommend you seek out The Journey. It is a story definitely of our time is a fantastic way to open up discussion about a challenging topic.

2 The Arrival by Shaun Tan

This stunning wordless graphic novel also explores the theme of migration this time from an economic and political perspective. I have spent weeks poring over the sublime artwork.

The story again opens itself up to create genuine discussion around the issues. It may also help provide the balanced perspective that is so evidently lacking from many current discussions regarding immigration.

Both texts lend themselves well to the exploration through question but also the use of a range of drama techniques to dig deeper inside the text.

Both texts I would use with Upper KS2 as the argument are nuanced and challenging.


Coming soon Varmints by Helen Ward and The Island by Armin Greder


Have included drama techniques appendix as the can be useful in exploring text.

Drama Techniques Appendix


What is it?

A quick fire discussion process in which children express their immediate thoughts about a specific word, issue or subject. Thoughts should be recorded and can be used as a point of reference later on.


Children sit in small groups with a large sheet  of paper and a marker and write their responses. They should record the thoughts, words, phrases and images which immediately come into their mind. All ideas are valid.


Paper and Markers.


 Collective Drawing.

What and Why?

A small group or a whole class can create an environment by drawing a picture. This can be as simple or as complex as the you wish. This can be a useful technique in letting children have ownership of the drama they are doing.


Children represent thoughts and ideas about the drama’s themes or issues, for example by drawing  a picture of work in a mine in the 1880’s showing their interpretations of what conditions were like.


Paper, card, pens and pencils.


Conscience Alley

What and Why?

The class form two parallel facing lines (the “alley”). Each line has a contrasting viewpoint. A main character in the drama who has to make a decision, walks down between the lines and each child has the opportunity to persuade him or her to their point of view. Teacher may set viewpoint?


A child in role has just seen a child being bullied . The two lines in the alley give advice on whether or not the child should tell the teacher.

 Glass Tunnel.

What and why?

Set up alley as above. This time explain that it is a glass tunnel and that the person walking down can’t hear you. Main character in drama walks down tunnel, first all children talk at the same time (allows children to rehearse and compose thoughts.). Then repeat this time children only talk as the person walks by.

Then explain to the children that the glass has been removed and the person can hear, repeat the exercise.


A Roman general walks down the tunnel, the children are invaded Celts.

How do they really feel about the invasion? What would they actually say to a Roman?


Hot Seating

What and Why?

A group (as themselves.) question or interview a teacher or child in role. This can happen at the start of a drama , or at a frozen point within the drama.


In a drama about bullying, the action is frozen in the middle of the playground scene. The school bully is hot-seated, answering questions from the class, in order to explore his or her motives.


A chair.


Role on the Wall

What and Why?

A simple drawing or a photograph of a character placed on a wall so that children are aware of the characters presence. The outline becomes central focus of discussion.  Best method is to draw round a child. On the inside write characters feelings, emotions and actions. On the outside write external influences.


To begin a drama about A young girl who doesn’t want a birthday party, draw outline, and in discussion add information a bout the girl.


Large pieces of paper, felt pens.


Freeze Frame.

What and Why?

An image of a role, moment or idea is created, children using their bodies to create a likeness. Can be used to show a particular scene or moment from a story they have explored.


Ideas are explored in which children can express their creative thoughts, by creating a still image to represent a theme.


Thought tracking

What and Why?

Children in role speak inner thoughts.  Drama is frozen as above. Teacher then taps children on shoulder, when tapped children should speak their thoughts, feelings in role. Slows drama allows time for reflection, characters may voice feelings that may not reflect what they have been saying out loud.


Invasion drama, children preparing for battle, Romans are arriving.

Outward drama signs bravery, wanting to fight. Freeze drama. Thought tracking may show other character feelings.


Defining the space

What and Why?

Children arrange school furniture, PE equipment etc, to represent fictional places in drama. Eg setting out chairs for a village meeting, can help create the right atmosphere.


Children use mats to represent rising flood water, slowly close in the mats to raise tension, increase pressure and set time limits.


Furniture etc.