Picture Books for Middle School

by Jimmie Lanley on October 19, 2009

Middle schoolers are far past the picture book stage, aren’t they? I used to think that. But I’ve learned differently through my own homeschooling experience. Picture books are still very appropriate educational tools.

collection of picture books

Once Sprite began reading chapter books, I was ready to clean up the bookshelf and give away a lot of her picture books. I assumed she’s outgrown them. Of course there were some select classics that we could never part with, but I wanted to make room for more “advanced” books. When she balked, I relented and didn’t force her to part with any of her books. As we’ve moved frequently over the years, we did give away books and of course buy more, some of which are, ironically,  picture books. What a turnaround! It was Living Math.net’s booklists that shifted my perspective on picture books. I tried a few of the recommended titles and discovered that they are valuable learning tools. Sprite has not outgrown them. In fact, I’ve not outgrown them!

reading The 5000 year old PuzzleFirst of all, picture books are fantastic for introducing more complex topics. Those tough concepts are made easier to understand through the illustrations and the narrative format. Also, a picture book is very nonthreatening. Its juvenile appearance masks the deep thinking between the pages.  Pulling out an all text essay may get some groans, but sitting with a picture book on the couch lowers those defenses and gets kids in the mood to learn.

Case in point:  while Sprite and I were having the “photo-shoot” for these photos, I asked her why she liked picture books. She said, “Because of the pictures, of course!” When I pressed her for details, she explained, “Things are easier to understand with the pictures.”

loving the picture booksSecondly, picture books are living books.  In studying online about the use of picture books for young adolescents, I found a common theme of contrasting picture books with textbooks. For example, look at A Middle School Teacher’s Guide for Selecting Picture Books. We Charlotte Mason educators already know the value of living books, so I won’t bother delving farther.

Furthermore, the illustrations in picture books provide yet another way to inject art appreciation into your homeschool. All it takes is a few pointed questions or statements to alert the child to the art:

  • “I really like this illustrator’s style. It’s so soft and dreamy.”
  • “How do you think the illustrator created these pictures?”
  • “Would you like to try to make some pictures like this?”
  • “Why do you think this illustrator used ___ in his pictures?”

Also, familiar picture books are a great way to first introduce the elements of fiction — plot, character, setting, point of view, conflict, and theme. Because the story of the picture book is already familiar, the child can focus his attention on the complicated literary analysis.

Reading The Librarian who Measured the EarthThe latest picture book we’ve studied is The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky. It’s about Eratosthenes, the Greek scientist, writer, librarian, mathematician, and all around brilliant guy. (I’m pretty proud of myself for simply being able to say and spell his name!) There is some advanced math in this book! Seriously! This man estimated the circumference of the earth 300 years before Christ. It turns out that his measurement was off by only 200 miles. Pretty impressive. The book explains the steps he took to come to his conclusion. I have to be honest. If this information were not presented in a picture book with illustrations, there is no way I would understand it myself.

The way a middle schooler uses a picture book is quite different from the way a younger child does.  Obviously an older child is going to delve deeper into the topic, possibly searching out other resources after reading the picture book. I have Sprite narrate in writing, synthesizing the ideas we learned into her own words.  I encourage her to copy the diagrams in the book to enhance her narrations. Here are some Eratosthenes Notebooking Pages that we used for that purpose.

By the way, have you visited my Freebies Page recently? (Look at the links above the header, across the top of every page.) I’ve revised it quite a bit, adding links to many of my free printables, mostly notebooking pages. (Those files can still be found at HSLaunch, but I’m copying many files over to this website too for more organized access.)

So do you use picture books with your older children? Do you have any tips or titles that you especially like for homeschool?

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah at SmallWorld October 19, 2009 at 7:26 pm

We absolutely use picture books. I discovered how important picture books were for older kids when my oldest was about 11 and had been reading thick novels for years. I picked up some picture books that went along with whatever we were studying at the time for his younger sister, who was 6 at the time. I was amazed to see that he loved the picture books as much as she did! Since then, I always incorporate picture books in with our regular “texts.”
.-= Sarah at SmallWorld´s last blog ..Field Trip: Stones River National Battlefield =-.


Maria October 19, 2009 at 9:31 pm

We never outgrow them, too. With a 4 yr old in the family, we have one good excuse not to discard them yet and yes, we keep adding new titles for our middle and hs age kiddos.
.-= Maria´s last blog ..BBC Manual: a book review and some forms =-.


Jennifer F October 19, 2009 at 10:01 pm

I love picture books! I think older children books and adult books have way too few pictures and make things so boring. I get so much more out of lively picture books.


Ticia October 19, 2009 at 10:18 pm

I love picture books, and each time my husband tries to convince me we should start moving our little guys towards harder books, I push back because they still NEED these books.
.-= Ticia´s last blog ..Sound and Touch =-.


Diane October 20, 2009 at 3:10 am

I completely agree. I just picked up some picture books at the library last week for my 10 year old. Just to read for fun. I tend to choose alot of history (we are studying American History) or science books.
.-= Diane´s last blog ..Zoo Atlanta =-.


Alex October 20, 2009 at 9:30 am

we love picture books here too! I don’t think we’ll ever outgrow them, and there are so many great ones to add to whatever we are studying in our homeschooling at any specific time. Our library baskets are always over full!
Right now we have many picture non-fiction books on sharks, and ocean creatures (my son’s current interest), my odlest dd loves beautiful fairy tales stories and my youngest has been having discovering all kinds of picture books. She loves to look at them on her own, or have one of us read them to her.
I hope they never outgrow picture books and that will spend many hours cuddling on the couch reading together!
.-= Alex´s last blog ..Book Sharing Monday =-.


Sydni Bambeg October 20, 2009 at 9:30 am

We too have excuse to bring in picture books with a young one still in the house. Some of our favorites are the Venezia books of artists and William Steig’s “Yellow and Pink”.


Alex October 20, 2009 at 9:34 am

I forgot to mention how much we love the living math book lists! I am planning on using those for my youngest dd to introduce math gently into her homeschooling.
Great post 🙂
.-= Alex´s last blog ..Book Sharing Monday =-.


Evelyn Saenz October 20, 2009 at 5:54 pm

My 13 year old and I just finished reading The Librarian Who Measured the Earth as part of your unit study on Ancient Greece. We love reading picture books and find that they add visual dimension to any study.


Melissa Campbell October 21, 2009 at 5:35 am


I so enjoy your blog.

My eight year old son has an interest in China so I share your China blogs with him and this makes for even more interest in real life in China.

I also enjoy learning from your curriculum/book/lap book reviews.

About picture/children books, I think they are a hidden treasure of learning for all. Everything from pop up books to ABC books. From art to geography to character to math concepts to classics and the list goes on of insight to gain from these gems.

Two of our favorites –
Any book illustrated by Peter Spier (ex) Noah’s Art
and Random House’s A pop-up classic The Wizard of OZ

Melissa Campbell


melinda October 21, 2009 at 10:41 am

We too love picture books… there are some that are way more advanced than a lot of the chapter books, in my opinion. We just read a wonderful one about fall and leaves changing… and we all learned, the whole houseful!


Lori October 21, 2009 at 11:07 am

We love picture books too! In fact, we have a few of the very same ones you & Sprite have in your photo shoot!! Great choices!! And you are so right, they are wonderful for “breaking the ice” with a topic, and setting the mood for learning.
LOL-it’s almost sneaky!!!


Cindy October 31, 2009 at 2:54 am

Absolutely, we still use picture books! A LOT as a matter of fact! (I enjoy them as much as my children.) We’ve read nearly all you’ve included here. I wish my mind were working harder today and I might share a few of our recent favorites. Maybe I’ll do a middle school post on the same topic sometime soon.

Thanks for adding this to the CM Carnival!
.-= Cindy´s last blog ..The Thinker and Other Rodin Fun =-.


Ida Red (aka) Richele November 4, 2009 at 12:50 am

I so agree with you and thanks for the reminder. I was about to clean up all the picture books from my older two kids shelves myself. However, good books are good books for all ages. I enjoy pictures books…and I know all my kids do as well. I love the images it inspires and the coversations. Great for narrations and multi level teaching as well.
.-= Ida Red (aka) Richele´s last blog ..Tuesday Morning Lesson #4 =-.


Cristina November 4, 2009 at 9:25 am

We use lots of picture books too. Also illustrated classics. It’s amazing how much more accessible books like Moby Dick are when you see them in comic book form. 🙂

Peace and Laughter!
.-= Cristina´s last blog ..Costumed Capers =-.


Mia November 4, 2009 at 7:34 pm

Thanks for the reminder! We used to go to the library all the time, and have checked out many of the books I see in the pictures above – including The Librarian who Measured the Earth”. I never thought of them as picture books for middle schoolers – but that’s exactly what they are! I think it’s time for another library trip.
.-= Mia´s last blog ..Mango Math Word Problem Wednesday! =-.


*Kris* November 5, 2009 at 10:47 am

I certainly agree–just look at the science books I list, lol! My oldest I think is about the same age as Sprite and he thoroughly enjoys a great picture book.
.-= *Kris*´s last blog ..Bedrock Samples =-.


Belinda November 6, 2009 at 9:50 pm

Jimmie, I stopped by the CM Carnival quickly, and was drawn to the post title (timely for us with 1 high schooler–9th grade–and 1 middle schooler), and even moreso to the name. I knew it’d be good, and I was not disappointed. I will tweet this one–you are such a teacher, for the young and the…(HA HA! God bless you!)


Karen October 23, 2010 at 11:07 pm

I highly recommend “Pink and Say” (civll war), “My Name is Hussein” (ethnic cleansing), “The Librarian of Basra” (war in Iraq), “The White Rose” (WWII and the holocaust). All of these books have riveted my 8th grade students. For fun, nothing beats “Walter the Farting Dog” an 8th grade boy all-time favorite


Belinda Letchford November 10, 2010 at 5:05 am

Yes! I love them – and for myself as much as for the kids!!

I find even my very well read 17yo takes a break and enjoys a new picture book which often then results in a conversation somehow. My 16yo often looks for a living math book when she is struggling with a concept. So I guess that falls into highschool not just middle school!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: