‘ 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.’
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.
- They elicit emotion. (often in my case tears)
- They confuse and challenge
- They broach difficult issues in wonderful ways
- They open doors to other cultures.
- They provide leaps of imagination
- They are wild and playful
- They are quiet and thoughtful
- 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…
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Hi, could you recommend a book to use for a city topic? Year 4
Hi, could you recommend a book for year 4 I could link to a topic about living in a city?
Thanks in advance
Jeannie Baker Home and Belonging are really good for looking at the build up of a community/city. Home has a view from a window once a year for 16 years we watch the countryside morph into a city. Great for comparison work. Will post some other ideas soon.
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The Secret Life of Squirrels (4 books in series) offers real photos of squirrels in creative homemade scenes..have you seen these books?
No…looking for them now
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Brilliant stuff! Thank you Simon 🙂
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