Picturebooks – more than just a pretty picture? -10 picturebooks for Year 4 #picturebookpage


‘ You cannot write for children… They’re much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them.’

‘I have to accept my role. I will never kill myself like Vincent Van Gogh. Nor will I paint beautiful water lilies like Monet. I can’t do that. I’m in the idiot role of being a kiddie book person.’


‘There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.’

I don’t write for children. I write and someone says it’s for children.’

Maurice Sendak.
OK I admit I’m a bit of a stuck record, but I really do love picture books.

Wonderful, amazing, creative, challenging, funny, heart-breaking, tragic, unbelievable,  fabulous picture books. They are not just a vital stepping stone into higher level reading. They are the missing link. They can develop in all Learners the ability to explore, notice, question, predict, summarise, theorise and analyse. Mary Roche writes wonderfully on this in her book ‘Developing Children’s Critical Thinking through Picturebooks’

Picture book are often dismissed as being for younger children. They’re not! They are written off as easy. They’re not! There are some stunning picture books out there. Many offer us more than first appears. Many require us to bring in our own cultural understanding to truly make meaning of them.  People who dismiss them more often than not haven’t put the time in to understand and explore them.

So the aim of this post is to show  why I think picture books are blummin’ ace. The chosen books for Year 4 do all these things and more. Don’t miss a trick.

  1. They elicit emotion. (often in my case tears)
  2. They confuse and challenge
  3. They broach difficult issues in wonderful ways
  4. They open doors to other cultures.
  5. They provide leaps of imagination
  6. They are wild and playful
  7. They are quiet and thoughtful
  8. They require the reader to fill in the gaps



1 Arthur and the Golden Rope by Joe Todd Stanton

Arthur is not your typical hero. Norse myths, and wild adventure collide in this top-notch picturebook. So much to discover and explore. A fantastic fantastical story coupled with vivid detailed art gives us a book to savour. I blogged about how you might use it here.Digging Deeper… Reading with Picturebooks


Bonus book- Marcy and the Riddle of the Sphinx If  you’re studying the Egyptians this would be a great place to start. Another cracking book by Joe Todd Stanton

2 Flotsam by David Weisner

“A bright, science-minded boy goes to the beach equipped to collect and examine flotsam–anything floating that has been washed ashore. Bottles, lost toys, small objects of every description are among his usual finds. But there’s no way he could have prepared for one particular discovery: a barnacle-encrusted underwater camera, with its own secrets to share . . . and to keep.”

Wiesner’s amazing picturebook reveals the magical possibilities of ordinary things. In this Caldecott Medal winner, a day at the beach is the springboard into a wildly imaginative exploration of the mysteries of the deep, and of the qualities that enable us to witness these wonders and delight in them. An amazing book for leaping into art, science and poetry.

3 The Whale by Ethan and Vita Murrow

The Murrows’ create  a spectacular almost wordless (There are some rather great newspaper page snippets.) adventure is brought to life with stunning graphite drawings that convey the drama and haunting beauty of the ocean and capture the majesty of the awe-inspiring whale.  We get a story of wonder that comes full circle as we realise the children have seen the same whale their grandparents did.

4 Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman

“Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math…really good.”

In this beautifully illustrated picture book, we explore the story of four female African-American mathematicians at NASA, known as “colored computers,” and how they overcame gender and racial barriers to succeed in a highly challenging STEM-based career. Shetterly does a brilliant job of condensing her novel without losing any of the impact of the story. It would make a great starting point to explore Space exploration  in the context of modern history.

5 Mirror by Jeannie Baker

An innovative, two-in-one picture book follows a parallel day in the life of two families: one in a Western city and one in a North African village.

Somewhere in Sydney, Australia, a boy and his family wake up, eat breakfast, and head out for a busy day of shopping. Meanwhile, in a small village in Morocco, a boy and his family go through their own morning routines and set out to a bustling market. In this ingenious, wordless picture book, readers are invited to compare, page by page, the activities and surroundings of children in two different cultures. Their lives may at first seem quite un-alike, but a closer look reveals that there are many things, some unexpected, that connect them as well. Designed to be read side by side — one from the left and the other from the right —these intriguing stories are told entirely through richly detailed collage illustrations.

6 Zoo by Anthony Browne

A book that definitely divides opinions, but an amazing thought-provoking book none-the-less. Zoo is sublimely illustrated and all the more powerful for it.  Do I like the book, probably not. Do I think it should be read and talked about, definitely yes.

7 Leon and the place between by Angela McAllister and Grahame Barker Smith

Leon and his brothers and sister go to a magic show, but this is no ordinary show and Abdul Kazam is no ordinary magician. Take a journey right through the die-cut pages of this book into the Place Between, where magic becomes truly real. Angela McAllister has conjured a spellbinding story that unfolds in the mysterious world of Grahame Baker-Smith’s stunning illustrations. Truly a stunning book.

8 Greenling by Levi Pinfold

“What is this growing on Barleycorn land, and is it intended for Barleycorn hands?”

Mr. and Mrs. Barleycorn live a quiet life, alone and forgotten by the world. But something is growing on Barleycorn land, something that Mr. Barleycorn decides it would be best to take. And with this, for better or worse, he brings the outside…inside.

Mr. Barleycorn picks a green baby growing on his land, unleashing the incredible power of nature. When zucchinis flower in the kitchen and carrots sprout out of their television, Mr. Barleycorn’s wife insists that the Greenling has to go. But the bounty and beauty of nature have a strange power — the power to bring a whole community together. Pinfold’s stunning art creates an other-timely place, drawing echoes of depression era America. In this place he weaves a tale where nature heals all.

9 Wolves by Emily Gravett

Subversive and more than a little dark. Gravett creates an almost perfect picture book. A non-fiction text leads us through the story while the pictures carry the narrative and let us inside the story. Very much as  we did in Rosie’s Walk, we  always know more than the protagonist. This both creates tension and humour. The way the readers are played with at the end of the book just shows an author at the top of their creative game.


10 Mrs Noah’s Pockets by Jackie Morris and James Mayhew

“At last all were gathered inside the ark. It heaved with animals, large and small. Mrs Noah wore a brand-new coat, with a hood and a cape – and very deep pockets. Lots of pockets.”

When Mr Noah builds the ark, he makes two lists – one for all the animals who will come on board and one for those troublesome creatures he will leave behind. Meanwhile, Mrs Noah gets out her sewing machine and makes a coat with very deep pockets. Lots of pockets. Mayhew’s stunning illustrations compliment a story of mild subversion and inner strength. Mrs Noah is my new hero.

Year 3 coming soon…

see also…

10 picturebooks for Year 5

10 picturebooks for Year 6



Find the space to talk… 10 picturebooks for Year 5 #picturebookpage

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Using Picturebooks only works if you give children the room to talk and discuss. With that in mind I have some key questions.

KEY QUESTION 1 What knowledge would help the children explore the book better?

KEY QUESTION 2 Do you give children room to ask questions about what they are reading?

KEY QUESTION 3 Do you know the book well enough to dig deeper into it with the children?

Having  a range of techniques to dig in is really helpful as well… Here are a couple I use regularly. I’ll add some more to the posts for other year groups.

1)  Chambers ‘Tell me Grid’ is really useful for the initial exploration into a picture but also they are great for revisiting later in the process.



2) Freeze-framing and thought-tracking. Simple but highly effective technique in exploring the difference between thought and word.


Anyway here are the books…

10 brilliant picturebooks for Year 5


1 The Journey by Francesca Sanna

Just one of the most brilliant picturebooks. It completely earns all the plaudits it has recieved. The book carries haunting echoes of the current refugee crisis, it explores the unimaginable decisions made as a family leave their home and everything they know to escape the turmoil and tragedy brought by war. This book will stay with you long after the last page is turned. I have previously blogged on this one

Bookblog No4 The Journey by Francesca Sanna

There is also a great teaching pack from Amnesty UK exploring_the_journey_together

2 Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

In turns surreal, scary, bizarre and brilliant. Gaiman and McKean are a dream team here.  It is in turns exhuberant, wild, intense and striking. A great book for exploring fears and the idea that grown-ups don’t listen to children.

3 Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

This year’s summer vacation will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. But a wistful walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, she uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth. Aaron Becker achieves a tremendous feat, connecting the private, personal loss of one child to a cycle spanning millennia — and delivering a stunningly layered tale that demands to be pored over again and again.

4 The River by Allesandro Sanna

Surprising, original, and gorgeous, The River is a book about the seasons and the different kinds of experiences and stories that each season brings. Almost entirely wordless, The River presents each of the four seasons as its own chapter and story. A few sentences at the start of each chapter set the stage and provide clues for following each story. Beginning in autumn and ending in summer, The River is about our connection to place, as well as about the connections between geography, setting, and the stories we tell. The River is also about the flow of time, which flows like the river, and carries us. Just profound and beautiful. It is a stunner.

5 Shackletons Journey by William Grill

William Grill brings us a detailed visual narrative of Shackleton’s epic journey to Antarctica. Grill  cataloges of every  detail of the expedition and in doing so creates a truly human story.. He manages to evoke the atmosphere and intrepid excitement that would have surrounded the expedition with his impeccably researched, detailed and atmospheric drawings. This is an exciting, book which provides a true experience and reminds us that it is the people, not the journey, that truly matter.

We did some amazing work with this book this year. This letter of application gave us a different angle and led to work about the suffragette movement as well.


6 How to Live Forever by Colin Thompson

Thoughful and thought-provoking at the same time. Deliciously complex artwork that begs to be explored again and again, full of puns and references, it’s devine. The story is set in a fantastical library  and a quest fro the missing, mystical  book ‘How to live Forever’  it explores what we do if we were given the chance to live forever.

The artwork is so good we have it on our library door.

7 Way Home by Libby Hathorn and Gregory Rodgers

Exploring the idea of homeless,  Way Home provides a gritty evocation of life on the streets, darkly realistic visuals, in which the lights of cars or the glitter of showroom windows serve only to emphasize the shadows and grime of the pathways.  In the centre of this is a tale of care as Shane and his kitten must traverse the terrifying city. Tucking the cat inside his jacket, he maneuvers past a variety of dangers-bullies, traffic, a snarling dog-until they at last reach his home, itself no more than a corner in another alley.   A harsh, stark but redemptive picturebook.

8 House held up by Trees by Ted Kooser and Jon Klassen

A story that is just about the passing of time and how ultimately nature will reclaim all as a house is abandoned and time does its thing.  Kooser’s poetic story is accompanied by quiet, wistfully beautiful illustrations from Jon Klassen. This is a thoughtful and sophisticated picture book about the passage of time and the power of nature. This led to us looking at the reality of nature reclaiming


Would also add a bonus book that would work brilliantly alongside it…


A House that Once Was by Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith that beautifully explores memories that places hold.

9 Radiant Child (The story of Young Artist Jean Michel Basquiat) by Javaka Steptoe

Stunning, stylish picturebook biography of Jean Michel Basquiat. It doesn’t shy away from the troubled story but eequally it celebrates the creativity and bravery at the core of it. Javaka Steptoe’s vivid text and bold artwork echoing Basquiat’s own introduce young readers to the powerful message that art doesn’t always have to be neat or clean–and definitely not inside the lines–to be beautiful. Just a stunning book.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

No picturebook would be complete or believable if this book were not part of it. The Arrival is a stunning achievement. Completely wordless but weaving a complex narrative about migration through its stunning artwork. It is an absolute masterpiece.


I know there are lots of other books people would include please share them here or on twitter I’d love to hear your suggestions.


Try a little Tenderness (7 steps to being a Compassionate Leader)


“It’s not just sentimental, no, no, no
She has her grief and care, yeah yeah yeah
But the soft words, they are spoke so gentle, yeah
It makes it easier, easier to bear, yeah”

                                                                                                         Otis Reading

I posted a tweet today then I went out with my boys. We had some swinging in trees to do. I came back to find that my rather old and outdated phone was in some kind of meltdown.

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I’ll be honest it was meant to be in response to this tweet from @FloraBarton I had just had a tagging failure. It happens I am getting on a bit.


I have received loads of responses to the tweet, some talk about how brilliant their Heads and SLT are and how they have created a climate that treats people as people and supports them when it’s needed. Others meanwhile have shared horror stories similar to mine, where school is put before life and the priorities are completely wrong. I was shocked by the number of people who have been shown a complete lack of compassion.

Now don’t get me wrong I know how difficult it can be when people are off. Filling those gaps, covering those classes can drive you to distraction. That doesn’t mean we should lose sight of the people who need that time and the reasons they need it. The first thing I want to say is that it is just a job. A great job, an important job but ultimately just a job. We should never put it before life, and we should never expect our teachers to do that either. As leaders we need to remember that. At the end of the day as Vic Goddard put it just now…

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Personally I have always been the kind of person who commits fully to the place they work in. I will be there on the Bingo nights. I’ll be the person who takes children to sports events on a Saturday. Residentials..count me in. That’s the nature of me I suppose. Not everybody can be that person or is that person. Sometimes I probably should have been more selfish. However when the incident with my son occurred I became a different person in that school, my goodwill was lost, If I’m honest there is no way I could have taught on that day anyway. My relationship with that head and the respect I had for them was forever damaged by her actions.

At the end of the day people come in to teach, we all know school is often more but I would totally say it’s an unfair expectation to expect the same commitment from everyone. At different points we can offer more or less of ourselves to the place where we work and that is OK.

Equally Leadership needs to be compassionate. It needs to give back and it needs to trust. I have spoken with a number of teachers who feel completely un-trusted. For me trust is key and most of the time is always paid back. If you are compassionate and support them I guarantee at some point they will repay it back to you.

7 tips for Leaders

  1. Know your staff and what is going on with them.
  2. Listen.
  3. Put yourself in their shoes, (step back and ask the question  “What if that were me?”)
  4. Don’t just take but give back. (we give days in lieu for residential stays…I am the person who gets in class and covers it.)
  5. Let them know that their life and family is important. (performances, sports days, graduations etc. these things only happen once, be flexible, let staff know their life is valued. There should only be one answer to the question “Can I go…?)
  6. Step outside the inconvenience and be human
  7. Value their lives as much as you do the lives of the children in your school (As a head they are really your class)

Anyway back to my important bit…


Why Picturebooks? -10 picturebooks forYear 6 #picturebookpage


I firmly believe that if we can truly get reading cracked in our primary schools we will go a long way in getting other subjects cracked as well. I would love to say we can get kids to love reading but I know that for some that will never be the case however much we try.  As a minimum we should aim that all the children in our schools can read but the aspiration must surely be that we try to get children to enjoy it as well.

If we want  to create readers in our school we need

  •    Talk with children about books. (we need to be careful that we don’t see reading as comprehension… its way more than that)
  •    read to children everyday. (Its great, you don’t really have to plan it, pick something that challenges)
  •   Provide a language rich environment
  •   Explicitly teach vocabulary in the context of great books (If we want children to understand words then the context is king)
  •   Enable children to learn a range of stories, poems and rhymes. (this starts right down in our Early Years, knowledge of language patterns and structures)
  •   Use a variety of strategies to explore texts including drama. (Make room to dig in and explore a book)
  •   Access to books. (Giving children a voice in the choice is important as well)
  •   Provide a full reading curriculum.
  • Teacher Readers/ Teachers who are knowledgeable about book. (If we know books we can perhaps find that gateway book for a child or expand their reading horizons) or in other words “The better we know the  books we are using.The more effectively we will be able to help children explore them.”

Why should picturebooks part of that?

I firmly believe that picturebooks should form a part of that full reading curriculum. The key bit about picturebooks is the talk we generate with them. Creating time to explore /discuss/ challenge our interpretations and helps us understand that there are many ways to interpret a text. The discussion part is one of the key elements in creating enjoyment around books. Finding there is more that one answer or interpretation can be a profound revelation for children.

as Margaret Meek (1988) says

“Compare the textual variety of children’s picture books with that of reading schemes. You will see how the interactions made possible by skilled artists and writers far outweigh what can be learned from books made up by those who offer readers no excitement, no challenge, no real help… What texts teach is a process of discovery for readers, not a programme of instruction for teachers.”

Thanks Mat for the quote.

Or as better people than I have suggested about picturebooks…

  • “They provide a swift democracy, a shared world and experience that can mitigate and compensate for varying levels of experience of the world.” Martin Galway.
  • “There is an accessibility to picture books that the written word cannot offer,” Matt Tobin.
  • They are an amazing resource to enable children to “make meaning through thinking and discussion“ Mary Roche

Key to this therefore we need to see the illustrator as an author and therefore understand that there is intent in the way an image is presented this is a vital part of the process.

Key Questions

  • Why has the illustrator put that there?

  • What do they want us to think at this point?

  • How does the word and image work together?

With that in mind I’ve been sharing amazing picturebooks on twitter using the hashtag #picturebookpage. Firstly to help people see the huge variety and brilliance of books out there but also to hopefully help people see that they are not just for younger children but are a resource that can kick start our reading and exploration at any age.

Not sure I’ve achieved that but I think I’ve cost people lots of money.

So the aim of this #picturebookpage blog is to provide some picturebooks that may help in Year 6. I don’t normally do lists but these would be a great start point for Y6 picturebooks. Some here would work with younger, thematically however I believe that greater nuanced conversation would happen with older children around these books.

1 The Water-tower by Gary Crew and Steven Woolman.

In the finest tradition of Sci-fi b-movies, a fantastic body-snatcher-esque tale, with an ending that is completely open to interpretation. Just brilliant. A gateway book for the fab sci-fi. I’d follow it with The Boy in The Tower by Polly Ho-Yen or the Stepford-esque Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan or if I were feeling daring I’d dig out the John Wyndham.

2 The Lizsts by Kyo Maclear and Julia Sarda

A delightfully quirky, stylish picture book about a most unusual family – think The Royal Tenenbaums meets The Addams Family – and their growing list obsession. The devil truly is in the detail.

3 The Wall by Peter Sis

A fantastic picturebook biography in which Sis through annotated illustrations, journals, maps, and dreamscapes, shows what life was like for a child growing up behind the iron curtain. Fantastic for comparing to our life.

4 The Island by Armin Greder

Poignant and chilling, this allegory is an astonishing, powerful, and timely story about refugees, xenophobia, racism, multiculturalism, social politics, and human rights. Challenging and hard-hitting. Use with caution

5 Small Things by Mel Tregonning

Fantastic, powerful wordless picturebook exploring depression and mental-health. Small Things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with worries but who learns that help is always close by.  AS a starting point for discussion on challenging issues there aren’t many better.

6 Enormous Smallness A Story of E.E.Cummings by Matthew Burgess and Kris Li Giacomo

Delightful Nonfiction picture book about the poet E.E. cummings. Here E.E.’s life is presented in a way that will make children curious about him and will lead them to play with words and ask plenty of questions as well. Could be used with younger children. We found the most impact was in getting older children to really play with language.

7 Can I build Another Me by Shinsuke Yoshitake

A truly profound picturebook that dares to explore big, philosophical concepts in an hilarious and inventive way, it explores notions of existentialism, individuality, selfhood and life experience. Amazing book.

8 Varmints by Helen Ward and Marc Craste

The most overlooked threat in the world is that of the loss of peace and quiet. The Varmints come and build their city where once was grass. Before they realise what they have done, there is nothing but a huge dark city. Can someone find the time and space to stop, think and plant seeds of change? A wonderful book about the environment  and the challenge we have in preserving it. There is a rather lovely animation as well.

9 Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith

This beautifully understated and haunting story brings a piece of Canadian history to life. The ever-present ocean and inevitable pattern of life in a Cape Breton mining town. Cyclical patterns, lack of aspiration lead to a stunning picturebook about how our communities create barriers. Here’s a blog I did earlier.

Book blog No 5. Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith.

10 Death, Duck and the Tulip by Wolf ErlBruch

In a strangely heart-warming story, a duck strikes up an unlikely friendship with Death. Death, Duck and the Tulip will intrigue, haunt and enchant readers of all ages. Simple, unusual, warm and witty, this book deals with a difficult subject in a way that is elegant, straightforward, and thought-provoking. Amazing discussions come from this book. Beautiful and profound

I will add another 10 soon… Hope it helps.