There’s a captivating power of a beautiful picture book. Children gaze at the pictures while listening to the story, absorbing the deeper layers of information they convey. Pictures can communicate so much more than words alone and most children learn to read visual images long before they learn to read the printed word.
Picture books are also universal. They let children engage both intelligently and emotionally with the story while still at an early stage of learning vocabulary. As research from the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education demonstrates, they teach children essential literacy skills including how to develop deep comprehension and learn about narrative structure and character development in an accessible way. Through stories, children learn empathy, acceptance and start to make sense of the world around them.
When reading to very young children, it’s so important that we make it a positive experience for them. Choose a time of day when children are relaxed, give them opportunities to look at the pictures carefully and time to talk about the book at the end. Picture books can be particularly thought-provoking and are an incredibly useful resource for promoting talk. Storytime is an enchanting experience and we need to give children time to savour every moment.
As headteacher Simon Smith highlights in his TES article, there are many benefits to embracing picture books in primary literacy teaching, however, you do need to be selective. Find books that give children the chance to explore rather than just giving them answers. Think carefully about the vocabulary used and the themes within the book, look at the illustrations – what do they bring to the story which makes the book extra special?
There are countless examples of beautiful picture books for all ages. Here are a few favourites for 4–7 year olds.
Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper
Beautiful vocabulary and a story about taking turns and sharing (a familiar argument for many children). The illustrations cleverly convey the characters’ feelings making this book absorbing, funny and absolutely timeless!
The Squirrels Who Squabbled by Rachel Bright and Jim Field
Drama, rhyme, beautiful vocabulary and a message about working together and the power of friendship. Vibrant illustrations bring a bit of slapstick humour to the tale.
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
A hilarious book where the pictures give the reader more insight into what’s really happening in the story than the characters themselves – children will squeal with disbelief and delight! While the vocabulary is easily accessible, the alternative story carried by the illustrations gives plenty of stimulation for rich and exciting book talk!
Here Comes Frankie by Tim Hopgood
A book bursting with colour as we follow the story of a boy who has synaesthesia: a condition where a person’s senses join up, allowing them to see sound or smell colour. The book celebrates the things that make us special through vivid patterns and joyful storytelling.
The Storm Whale by Benji Davies
The illustrations add so much depth to this powerful tale of a child’s need for friendship. The text is sparing but this book is so much more than the words on the page and is sure to resonate with everyone who reads or hears it.
Croc and Bird by Alexis Deacon
A heartwarming story that shows us we can feel closest to those who may be completely different to us, and that going against the grain can help us to find things that bring us together.
If All the World Were by Joseph Coelho
Incredible emotion is seen through character illustrations in this book about a girl’s relationship with her grandfather. The themes centre around loss, memories and family. Coelho sends a strong message to children to use writing and art to express their imaginations and how they are feeling.
The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton
Through the tale of a young child growing a seed in an urban landscape this book promotes hope for the future and the importance of caring for our natural world.
Underwater Farmyard by Carol Ann Duffy and Joel Stewart
Carol Ann Duffy takes children to a completely surreal underwater world where cows swim with dolphins, illustrated with corresponding dream-like paint strokes and colours. This poem is not just beautifully written but shows children that anything goes and that we really are only limited by our imaginations.
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
A completely enthralling book that embraces individuality with all its heart. A true celebration of the people we are inside and the love and acceptance we all deserve.
Look Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola
Each and every one of us can dream big. This story is not just about following our dreams, it’s also about the magnificence of our solar system. Switch off the screen, go outside and live in the moment!
The Day the Crayons Quit by Oliver Jeffers
A very funny book portraying the world view of a pack of crayons, it forces the reader to try to imagine a perspective they would never have considered before. Written with great imagination and humour, children will recognise a lot of the scenarios the crayons find themselves in and might go home to look at their own crayons a little differently!
If you are working with older children, do have a look at Charlotte Raby’s suggestion for fun books to read aloud for 7-9 year olds.