This is my third list of picturebooks for Year 6.
I still believe it is a massively untapped resource for inspiring children especially as they get older. They inspire discussion, question, thought and inference. They are key tools in inspiring writing and helping children understand narrative structures. They are complex and creative yet all children can enter.
This selection of books have all been released in the last two years and appeared on my Favourite book lists.
I’ve broken the books down into the year groups I feel they would work best in. (lists for other year groups will drip out over the summer). They are however usable in other year groups.
- What is a River? By Monika Viacenaviciene
“Rivers have many powers: they carry sediments and sentiments, revive lands and minds, connect places and times. They are sources of life and of conflict; paths of stories travelling the Earth. Their flow continually reminds us – we all live downstream, or upstream, from someone, we are all neighbours.
“What Is a River?” is a picture book is about rivers and the plentiful connections they have with us, humans. It follows a child and her grandma as they look for answers to a question – what is a river? In their imaginary expedition, they discover rivers flowing in the sky and living organisms; meet pilgrims and conquistadores, magical shape-shifting river dolphins and older-than-dinosaurs species of sturgeons; fish and bathe; and explore many other things.
Drawing on geographical, historical, mythological references, and personal observations, the book brings together both factually accurate and poetic storytelling to create a story of interconnectedness and wonder.”Monika Viacenaviciene website
“What is a River?” is a beautiful, complex and poetic non-fiction book. Full of detail but equally profound and thoughtful, it is completely a book to get lost in. Wonderful for inspiring conversation and discussion about the importance of Rivers in our lives. It’s a wonderful book for Year 6. Full of prompts for questions and discussion. Fact-packed but philosophical. It will inspire writing, poetry and art as well as making children think differently about the world around them. (Geography/Science/PSCHE links)
2. Starcrossed by Julia Denos
“She was made of blood and bones, and he was made of space and stars.from Goodreads
Back in a time when there were still students of the stars, there were two friends, Acamar and Eridani.
Eridani was a star pupil studying the night skies, and Acamar . . . well, he was made of the stuff she studied.
In a star-crossed twist of fate, these long-distance friends find they’ve wished themselves into unexpected new worlds.”
“Starcrossed” is an utterly astounding story of intergalactic friendship and love. The utterly sublime illustrations (They almost sparkle) take us on a journey across the stars. It’s a complex and fascinating story about appreciating the things we have, understanding others and dreaming big. It’s full of science and art. A book that will take you to different places and open your eyes to the stars. (Science/PSCHE links)
3. House by the lake by Thomas Hardy and Britta Teckantrup
“History comes home in a deeply moving, exquisitely illustrated tale of a small house, taken by the Nazis, that harbors a succession of families–and becomes a quiet witness to a tumultuous century.Goodreads blurb
The days went around like a wheel.
The sun rose, warming the walls of the house.
On the outskirts of Berlin, Germany, a wooden cottage stands on the shore of a lake. Over the course of a hundred years, this little house played host to a kind Jewish doctor and his family, a successful Nazi composer, wartime refugees, and a secret-police informant. During that time, as a world war came and went and the Berlin Wall arose just a stone’s throw from the back door, the house filled up with myriad everyday moments. And when that time was over, and the dwelling was empty and derelict, the great-grandson of the man who built the house felt compelled to bring it back to life and listen to the story it had to tell. Illuminated by Britta Teckentrup’s magnificent illustrations, Thomas Harding’s narration reads like a haunting fairy tale–a lyrical picture-book rendering of the story he first shared in an acclaimed personal history for adult readers.”
A clever journey through a period of time. This historical picture book offers a glimpse of different times in history, but all at the same location: at a little, wooden house by the side of a lake. History happens around the house, and the house plays a vital role in many peoples lives. The book encourages questions and follow-up. It doesn’t give all the answers and is all the better for that. What it does however is allow us to see the passage of time in what was a tumultuous period of history. (History links 1920-now)
I’d also recommend exploring “The House” by J P Lewis and Roberto Innocenti and The Apartment by Alexandra Litvina and Anna Desnitskaya which do similar looks at history.
4. Story of Bodri by Hedi Fried and Stina Wirsen
“Hédi spends her days playing with her dog Bodri in the park, but her quiet world starts to crumble the day she hears Adolf Hitler on the radio. Germany’s leader hates her and her family, just because they are Jewish. And Hitler doesn’t even know them—it doesn’t make any sense. Soon Nazi Germany invades Hédi’s country, and her life changes forever.Goodreads blurb
Inspired by the author’s experiences.”
“The Story of Bodri” is a true and powerful story, simply told. The illustrations perfectly give it feel of a timeless story and evoke a bygone era. The story is ultimately hopeful, but reminds us that this is a story not to be repeated. Never Again. (History/Holocaust links)
5. Nicky and Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued by Peter Sis
In 1938, twenty-nine-year-old Nicholas Winton saved the lives of almost 700 children trapped in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia—a story he never told and that remained unknown until an unforgettable TV appearance in the 1980s reunited him with some of the children he saved.Goodreads blurb
Czech-American artist, MacArthur Fellow, and Andersen Award winner Peter Sís dramatizes Winton’s story in this distinctive and deeply personal picture book. He intertwines Nicky’s efforts with the story of one of the children he saved—a young girl named Vera, whose family enlisted Nicky’s aid when the Germans occupied their country. As the war passes and Vera grows up, she must find balance in her dual identities—one her birthright, the other her choice.
Nicky Vera is a masterful tribute to a humble man’s courageous efforts to protect Europe’s most vulnerable, and a timely portrayal of the hopes and fears of those forced to leave their homes and create new lives.
A brilliant true story of how small acts of defiance can make a real difference. Peter Sis has long been one of my favourite picturebook creators and this is possibly his finest yet. It is a quiet story of rebellion and bravery and about doing the right thing. Sis’s illustrations are wonderful and he just inspires exploration into the detail. Inspiring stuff. It also has one of the greatest television clips ever see below. (History/Holocaust links)
6. Bowl full of Peace by Caren Stelson and Sachiko Yasui
Caren Stelson brings Sachiko Yasui’s story of surviving the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and her message of peace to a young audience.Goodreads blurb
Sachiko’s family home was about half a mile from where the atomic bomb fell on August 9, 1945. Her family experienced devastating loss. When they returned to the rubble where their home once stood, her father miraculously found their serving bowl fully intact. This delicate, green, leaf-shaped bowl–which once held their daily meals–now holds memories of the past and serves as a vessel of hope, peace, and new traditions for Sachiko and the surviving members of her family.
I cannot recommend this true story of the bombing of Nagasaki and its impact on one small girl and her family enough. The story doesn’t shy away from the impact of war on the people involved. It provides a very different perspective on the end of the second World War and highlights the human impact of the actions taken. The story is a beautifully told true story and completely need wider sharing (History links)
7. Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Michele Wood
“In a moving, lyrical tale about the cost and fragility of freedom, a New York Times best-selling author and an acclaimed artist follow the life of a man who courageously shipped himself out of slavery.Goodreads blurb
What have I to fear?
My master broke every promise to me.
I lost my beloved wife and our dear children.
All, sold South. Neither my time nor my body is mine.
The breath of life is all I have to lose.
And bondage is suffocating me.
Henry Brown wrote that long before he came to be known as Box, he “entered the world a slave.” He was put to work as a child and passed down from one generation to the next — as property. When he was an adult, his wife and children were sold away from him out of spite. Henry Brown watched as his family left bound in chains, headed to the deeper South. What more could be taken from him? But then hope — and help — came in the form of the Underground Railroad. Escape!
In stanzas of six lines each, each line representing one side of a box, celebrated poet Carole Boston Weatherford powerfully narrates Henry Brown’s story of how he came to send himself in a box from slavery to freedom. Strikingly illustrated in rich hues and patterns by artist Michele Wood, Box is augmented with historical records and an introductory excerpt from Henry’s own writing as well as a time line,
This is a powerful retelling of the story of Henry Brown, who traveled to freedom inside a box. .
This nonfiction picture book tells the story in short, effective six-line poems. The book also covers significant parts of his life before and afterwards. It provides a stark window into the context and institution of slavery, rather than just focusing on his escape, and also covers some of his abolitionist activities afterwards. An important story well told. Carole Boston Weatherford is an important writer and the stories she tell need wider sharing (History/ Black History/ Civil rights links)
I’d also recommend Unspeakable:The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by the late Floyd Cooper
8. Watercress by Andrea Wang and Jason Chin
Gathering watercress by the side of the road brings a girl closer to her family’s Chinese Heritage.Goodreads blurb
Driving through Ohio in an old Pontiac, a young girl’s parents stop suddenly when they spot watercress growing wild in a ditch by the side of the road. Grabbing an old paper bag and some rusty scissors, the whole family wades into the muck to collect as much of the muddy, snail covered watercress as they can.
At first, she’s embarrassed. Why can’t her family get food from the grocery store? But when her mother shares a story of her family’s time in China, the girl learns to appreciate the fresh food they foraged. Together, they make a new memory of watercress.
Andrea Wang tells a moving autobiographical story of a child of immigrants discovering and connecting with her heritage, illustrated by award winning author and artist Jason Chin, working in an entirely new style, inspired by Chinese painting techniques. An author’s note in the back shares Andrea’s childhood experience with her parents.
This book is absolutely stunning. Wang’s poetic narrative and Chin’s watercolor paintings provide an emotional punch. The book at first is a family story and and end up being a Hi-story. It’s quiet and contemplative. The switch from colour to sepia is truly powerful.
This book looks at pain and poverty. But, it also centers how we, humans, and particularly this Chinese American family move through trauma by creating new memories of joy, family, and food. It explores the lived experiences of first generation Chinese American children, Chinese immigration, Chinese history, memory, food, family. It is a truly stunning picturebook. (family/History/PSCHE)
9. Fox by Isabel Thomas and Daniel Egneus
“In the frost-covered forest of early spring, fox is on a mission to find food for her three cubs. As they grow, she teaches them how to survive in the wild. Until one day, fox dies. Her body goes back to earth and grass and air, nourishing the world around her and bringing the forest to life. Death is not just an end, it’s also a beginning.goodreads blurb
Fox: A Circle of Life Story answers the big scientific question: What happens when we die?
Bringing together an evocative non-fiction narrative with breath-taking illustrations, this book will help parents and children to talk about life and death. It introduces the scientific concept that death leads to new life, and that this way of understanding the world is no less beautiful and awe-inspiring than traditional stories.
Fox: A Circle of Life Story unites story and science to explain this big concept to children who have lost a pet or a loved one, or who simply are curious about death and what happens after we die.”
“Fox” is an utterly brilliant science picturebook. It explains the circle of life without compromising on its message. It doesn’t shy away from the facts and Egneus’s art creates an uncompromising narrative with moments of high tension. It is wonderful for exploring concepts of life and death, but does it in almost matter of fact way, which leads to great conversations with children. Fantastic stuff. (Science/PSCHE links)
I’d also use “A last Goodbye” by Erin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim. A Fantastic, poetic and Science packed look at death in the animal world
10. The Wanderer by Peter Van Den Ende
“Without a word, van den Ende presents one little paper boat’s journey across the ocean, past reefs and between icebergs, through schools of fish, swaying water plants, and terrifying sea monsters. The little boat is all alone, and while its aloneness gives it the chance to wonder at the fairy-tale world above and below the waves uninterrupted, that also means it must save itself when it storms. And so it does.”
A complete wordless powerhouse. Complex and beautiful, full of layers of inter-connected story. Utterly astounding and completely dazzling, this is a stunning journey of a book.
For me “The Wanderer” is a natural successor to the Journey. Its a wild, creative, abstract tour de force. It’s illustrations are extraordinary and just inspire language and discussion. Its a book to inspire children to tell stories, every picture is an adventure. Totally stunning.
Bonus books Humpty Dumpty lived near a wall by Derek Hughes and Nathan Christopher
“Humpty Dumpty lived near a wall…” begins this well-known fable. But this time Humpty is ready for battle, with a secret mission and a touch of mischief. Can all the King’s horses and all the King’s men help put Humpty together again? Or maybe the mission, no matter how small, is simply to question the point of a wall.
I want to include it as its a fantastic story about rebellion and challenging the status quo. Is there a more valuable lesson we can teach our children.
Hope the list is useful.
Year 5 list 3 coming soon