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Picture Books: Not Just for Kids

November is Picture Book Month. You might be surprised at how many aren’t just for children. In fact I think many are really for us older folks who may be reading them with children. For any of you who might not have read one in years, except maybe to younger kids, check out some of these books that have a lot of appeal for anyone 12 and older.

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moletownMoletown by Torben Kuhlmann (2015)

In this nearly wordless picture book, the author depicts the rise and fall of a civilization of moles in 15 cutaway spreads of life underground. A single mole settles under an idyllic daisy-studded meadow and digs for coal. The coal-mining operation takes off, attracting mole immigrants who arrive with suitcases and headscarves and live in tenements illuminated with bare light bulbs. Massive industrial growth with ever-larger mining machinery culminates in a metropolis glittering with lights and choked with traffic. “Many generations later,” Kuhlmann concludes, “the moles’ green meadow had completely disappeared. Almost.” The final page hints at a solution. There’s so much detail in this book to look at and it’s a great opportunity for anyone to discuss the issue of the threat of progress to our natural environment. (You might want to then read the similar allegory of colonization in The Rabbits by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan or Tan’s wordless book The Arrival about immigration)

Tea Party in the WoodsThe Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi (2015)

This beautifully illustrated story by Japanese artist Miyakoshi weaves fairy-tale elements into a dreamy and sometimes haunting story reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” “Goldilocks” and the less-known tale of the “Twelve Months.” Perfect to read during the holiday season – or any time. Kikko sets off through the snowy woods to her grandmother’s with the pie her father has forgotten; she spies him walking far ahead of her and follows him to a house she’s never seen before and discovers it’s not her father at all, but a bear in a suit and hat. She’s invited inside by a well-dressed lamb and is surprised to find many more formally dressed animals—a boar, two stags, and many more seated around the table, who invite her to tea. Kikko realizes her trip through the woods has turned into something magical.

day crayons came homeThe Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (2015)

This companion to the hilarious The Day the Crayons Quit is my personal favorite of all the books mentioned here. Just as funny as the first one, here the crayons are in need of rescue as they send postcards instead of letters to Duncan. Directionally challenged Neon Red is on a cross-country trip back to Duncan’s house after having been left behind on a family vacation; Big Chunky Toddler Crayon is desperate to escape from Duncan’s baby brother; and Glow in the Dark needs rescuing from the sinister basement. Turn out the lights while looking at Glow in the Dark’s postcard and get a surprise. If you like Jeffers’s other books, you’ll be happy to see characters from his previous works hidden in the postcards’ stamps. So much fun for every one of all ages!

Death of the HatThe Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Chris Raschka (2015)

A celebrated duo reunites for a look at 50 poems through history inspired by objects—earthly and celestial—reflecting the time in which each poet lived, from the Middle Ages to the present day. It includes everything from snowflakes, a rose, and clouds to street lanterns, a cat, manhole covers, and more in-between from such noted adult poets as Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Pablo Neruda, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and others. Raschka’s striking watercolor illustrations accompany their poems.

Right WordThe Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (2014)

This is a beautifully illustrated and written picture book biography of Peter Mark Roget, creator of Roget’s Thesaurus, a reference that I know all of us have used to find the perfect word when writing. The pages are filled with vintage typography and fascinating images of wonders of the natural world that invite the reader to really savor them. Roget’s curiosity and love of words is really brought to life in this 2015 Caldecott Honor Book and 2015 Sibert Medal Winner.

Mr WufflesMr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner (2013)

Mr. Wuffles, a big black cat, has no time for the inane toys his pet owners try to make him play with. Instead, he turns his attention to a small object which turns out to be an interstellar alien spacecraft occupied by Lilliputian aliens. Swatting at the ship, Mr. Wuffles manages to damage it, forcing the aliens to escape it and seek shelter under a nearby radiator. There, against all expectations, they form an alliance with some equally embattled ants and ladybugs. This is an amusing exploration of cooperation between aliens and insects, and of the universal nature of communication involving symbols, “cave” paintings, and gestures of friendship. 2014 Caldecott Honor Book

MischievansThe Mischievians by William Joyce (2013)

Missing a sock? Just can’t reach that itch? Homework vanished into the ether? These and other woes are caused by imp like creatures known as Mischievians, as two siblings learn courtesy of one Dr. Maximilian Zooper. This fun book for all ages uses a funny Q&A format to unmask the culprits behind all the most annoying things you have to put up with such as the Homework Eater: the fiend who steals your homework. Or, the Endroller: the villain who uses up ALL the toilet paper! Or, the Yawn Mower: the creature who makes you yawn at the worst possible time! – And many, many more.

day crayons quitThe Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (2013)

Duncan just wants to color but when he opens his box of crayons, he finds letters telling him that they all quit! Each crayon writes a funny letter about why they can’t take it anymore. Blue’s tired of coloring all that water and red’s worn out coloring all the fire engines, apples, strawberries and everything else that’s red – and even works on holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Yellow and Orange are fighting and aren’t speaking to one another because each believes it is the color of the sun and Pink just wants to be used, among others. You will laugh-out-loud at their hysterically funny letters that are very persuasive in their complaints. Jeffers’s crayon-made illustrations perfectly compliment the crayon written letters. Lots of fun, no matter how many times you read it.

These are just a few of the picture books that I recommend. What are your favorite picture books for all ages?

— Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman and listening to Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan