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Picture Books for Young Adults

Guest post by Jessica Ormonde

Picture books aren’t just for kids anymore. They can be for all ages. Even a graphic novel is a picture book if you think about it.

There are quite a few titles that while packaged in the traditional picture book format feature twisted humor or complex themes that will appeal to young adults.  

At the last meeting of YALSA’s Picture Books For Young Adults Interest Group, members discussed how they use picture books with their young adults. Here are some ways you can incorporate picture books into your teen programming and collections.

  • Read a picture book before and/or after book talks.
  • Incorporate picture books into book club. Try passing a picture book with YA appeal around the book group, having each person read a page. Be sure to offer the option to pass if they’re uncomfortable reading aloud.
  • Use them as an ESL teaching tool. Picture books have fewer words and more visual context clues than chapter books, and can help build confidence with language for ESL students.
  • Encourage young adults to check out picture books for younger siblings or children they babysit.

Ready to try out picture books with young adults? Here are some picture books with YA appeal.

A Hungry Lion, or, A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummin
Members of a large group of animals, including a penguin, two rabbits, and a koala, disappear at an alarming rate but the hungry lion remains. Hmmm… I wonder what could be happening to them? Young Adults will enjoy the situational irony and twist on the typically sweet picture book ending.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
A bear almost gives up his search for his missing hat until he remembers something important. A darkly funny ending. Older readers are more likely to appreciate the awkward stares and subtle humor in this story.

Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis
When a caterpillar meets her perfect love, a tadpole, she begs him never to change, but their relationship is doomed. Another darkly funny twisted ending that teens will love.

Mr. Maxwell’s Mouse by Frank Asch
While celebrating his new promotion at his favorite restaurant, Paw and Claw, Mr. Maxwell orders the “live” mouse special and gets more than he bargained for when his dinner arrives with a little garnish–and quite an attitude! The juxtaposition between such a fancy restaurant setting and anthropomorphic cats is humorous enough. But the way the mouse eloquently and apologetically talks himself out of being eaten is humor older readers will appreciate.

The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman
Lucy is sure there are wolves living in the walls of her house, although others in her family disagree, and when the wolves come out, the adventure begins. Effectively creepy illustrations, paired with an unsettling premise make for a great picture book with YA appeal. This is another one with a bit of a twist on the expected ending.

It’s a Book by Lane Smith
Two readers compare a print to digital media, and learn books are still valuable. Older readers will relate to and/or understand the humorous depiction of a device obsessed individual, and there’s also a play on words using the word “jackass” which often makes teens giggle.

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Diane Colson

I have been a librarian working with youth since 1998, beginning at the Alachua County Library District, and later at Palm Harbor Library and Nashville Public Library. Possibly because of the edgy nature of teen literature, or possibly because my maturation process crashed at the age of fifteen years-old, I love YA books. And I enjoy working with YAs as well, although I'm just as happy doing Toddler Time. By some good fortune, I have served on a number of YALSA selection committees (Outstanding Books for the College Bound, Popular Paperbacks, Alex Award, Odyssey Award, Nonfiction Award, Morris Award, and Printz) as well as a smattering of process committees. Currently I am serving on the YALSA Board. .I also review books for VOYA, School Library Journal's Adult4Teen Blog, BookPage, and Booklist.