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Picture Books for Middle Grade

Picture Books for Middle Grade

There are areas in my life in which I refuse to “grow up”. Sparkly pencils, smelly stickers, overdoing the Christmas decorations and twinkle lights, obsession with fairies, pretending vegetables taste good, anything glow-in-the-dark, and picture books.

Picture books are near and dear to my heart. Everyone can think back to their childhood and remember those special picture books, the ones that you can still visualize the pages, can still feel the experience of being read to or reading yourself. It is incredibly powerful.

Rediscovering picture books when I had my daughter 10 years ago was profound. It felt like coming home. I would pick up these books – Where the Wild Things Are, Eric Carle, Berenstein Bears, When The Relatives Came … and I was transported back, welcomed.

Picture Books for Middle Grade

Through my parenting journey in the last decade, I unfortunately noticed the strong pressure to move kids on and out of picture books as soon as their reading vocabulary increases. Picture books are relegated as “baby books”. It is incredibly heartbreaking to me because while I totally agree we need to continually graduate our children to more challenging reads to increase literacy, it doesn’t mean picture books should be altogether abandoned.

Picture Books for Middle Grade

In fact, I’d argue that older children (grades 4-6) can benefit MORE from picture books. Picture books resoundingly deal with big topics like self esteem, anxiety, fuelling creativity, grief & loss, inclusion, exposure to other cultures, experiences, emotions. While the visual medium itself is universal, and therefore benefiting younger children who cannot yet read, the words, the message, and the appreciation of the art itself, is most truly understood by an older child.

Picture Books for Middle Grade

Inspired by the OwlCrate Jr June newsletter and more so Colby Sharp (grade 5 teacher extraordinaire), I thought I’d share my favourite picture books for older children – grades 4-6.


Dreamers book coverWritten & illustrated by Yuyi Morales

Published by Neal Porter Books

This stunning picture book helps open the door to discussions on immigration and the treatment of immigrants as Yuyi describes her personal story of immigrating to the United States in the 1990s with her son. Told through gorgeous mixed media presentation, she brings us along on her journey of uncertainty, the confusion over not understanding the language, and her eventual discovery of the library. Through picture books she learned to speak English and, more powerfully, to use her voice. Absolutely fantastic imagery and texture, we continue to discover something new each time we open this gorgeous book.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Ocean Meets Sky

Ocean Meets Sky book coverWritten & illustrated by The Fan Brothers

Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

There are no words to describe the imagery in this picture book – I am left speechless each time I flip through it. In honour of what would be his grandfather’s 90th birthday, a young boy builds a ship to voyage to the place where “the ocean meets the sky”; a place his grandfather often spoke of in his stories. A gentle conversation of grief told through absolutely powerful, stunning imagery – a combination of fantasy and steam punk – this is truly one of my favourite picture books ever.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

What If…

What If book coverWritten by Samantha Berger

Illustrated by Mike Curato

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

While appearing quite simple for an older audience with its rhyming prose (but I argue rhyming prose is incredibly important at this age as they begin to learn about poetry, metaphors, similes, etc), What If bears such an incredibly important message regarding creativity. Upper Elementary is when children, especially girls, start to lose their creative confidence. When combined with school systems that continue to cut funding to the arts and a society that devalues creativity – it is important to provide older kids the opportunity to see creativity in its different forms. Remind them to see the world differently and hold on to their individual sparks. I love how powerful this seemingly simple story is.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

After the Fall

After the Fall book coverWritten & illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Roaring Brook Press

The world is going to kick the stuffing out of you, you got to get back up. This wonderful story reworks the classic story of Humpty Dumpty … what happened if all the kings men DID put him back together? What then? Talking about anxiety and the beautiful life that awaits when we can power through our fears, this is a simple picture book that will speak on a deeper level with the older crowd.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Journey Trilogy (Journey, Quest, Return)

Journey book coverWritten and illustrated by Aaron Becker

Published by Candlewick Press 

How do you pick a favourite in this brilliant trilogy? This collection of stunning, wordless picture books are modern classics for a reason – they are simply amazing. You have to experience them yourself: the wonder, the imagination, belonging, diversity. You will read through these many, many times.

You can find it here:

Journey – Bookshop.org
Quest – Bookshop.org
Return – Bookshop.org

Julia’s House for Lost Creatures

Julia's House for Lost Creatures book coverWritten and illustrated by Ben Hatke

Published by :01 First Second

This is a personal favourite of our family and just plain fun. For the fantasy loving crowd this book simply fires the imagination, combining dragons, mermaids, trolls, and more. Wonderful, full colour spreads and a delightful, heartwarming story of belonging and found family.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

The Antlered Ship

The Antlered Ship book coverWritten by Dashka Slater

Illustrated by The Fan Brothers

Published by Beach Lane Books

The second Fan Brothers book on this small list! Another visually stunning creation, this book speaks to those who are different, dare to see the world differently, the difficulty of that journey and the strength needed to persevere. And a plethora of adorable little animals … I mean, who doesn’t need that?

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

The Arrival

The Arrival book coverWritten and illustrated by Shaun Tan

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

This book. If you read one book with your middle grader, let it be THIS BOOK. While technically a wordless graphic novel, this incredibly arresting, heart-wrenching, achingly powerful story of immigration is a must have for every library. Definitely aimed for the older crowd, this story combines the reality of an immigrant experience with fantasy and steam punk elements. There really aren’t words to do this work justice other than you need to read it. You need to feel it. You need to have conversations with your children about immigrants, refugees and what would it feel like to be in a new country, not speaking the language. Haunting and ultimately hopeful – a true story on the powers of compassion and the human spirit to endure. Read it.

You can find it here: Bookshop.org

Picture Books for Middle Grade

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