Picture Books for Older Students | Read Woke

Nine titles to use with teens to teach writing, research, and more.

Some of the most revolutionary books are picture books. I am constantly in awe of the powerful messages and celebration of diversity that I find in them. Contrary to popular belief, these books are not just for elementary students. I use picture books to teach writing, research, figurative language, and more in my high school library.

For my special ed students, picture books are especially important. We use them to teach life skills and understanding of emotions. They come in weekly for a read-aloud and complete the Read Woke challenge with illustrated works.

I also curated a collection of popular picture books in French and Spanish. We use them to build the vocabulary of students taking modern language classes, and they are great for my ESOL students as well.

We can surface relevant picture books for older students by making them book club reading selections, cataloging them by genre instead of in the Easy Reading section, or adding them to displays and reading challenges.

The Electric Slide and Kai by Kelly J. Baptist, illus. by Darnell Johnson. Lee & Low. 2021
K-Gr 2–Kai should be excited about his Aunt’s upcoming wedding, but instead he is nervous, because he does not dance like the rest of the amazingly talented Donovan family. Everyone will be doing the electric slide, but Kai has no rhythm and no family dance nickname from his grandpa, like every other family member. Will Kai be able to boogie with his relatives, or will he stay on the sidelines? Read and find out!

Because Claudette by Tracey Baptiste, illus. by Tonya Engel. Dial. 2022
Gr 2-5–Who was the first Black person to refuse to give up their seat on a bus to a white person? Well, it was not Rosa Parks, it was Claudette Colvin. Not enough people know that: People of all ages are still shocked when I tell them. Baptiste brings the story of young Claudette making good trouble to life with this beautiful picture book biography.

We Shall Overcome by Bryan Collier. Orchard. 2021
Gr 1-2–When I was a child, I marched with my mom every Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to commemorate the March on Washington. We sang “We Shall Overcome” and held hands, and the song filled me with pride and hope. This book is a great way to introduce young readers to a powerful protest song that inspired so many during some of the darkest parts of history. Collier’s vivid watercolor images capture the essence of this song. In spite of all the hate in our world today, I do believe WE SHALL OVERCOME!

My Daddy Can Fly! by Thomas Forster with Shari Siadat, illus. by Jami Gigot. Random. 2021
PreS-Gr 1–It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a superhero! No, it’s Ben’s ballet dancing Dad! When everyone is talking about their future careers, Ben tells everyone he will fly like his father. They start guessing what he does, as the book describes the strength, fierceness, and speed of a dancer — and then Ben pops his own ballet moves. A great story to dispel career stereotypes and a powerful tribute to dads.

Berry Song by Michaela Goade, illus by author. Little, Brown. July 2022
PreS-Gr 3–From Caldecott medalist Goade comes this story of a young girl and her grandma on their search for berries. The book is inspired by the author’s childhood, when Goade, a member of Tlingit Nation, went berry picking on the Southeast coast of Alaska. A celebration of the wisdom of elders and the traditions that make us who we are.

Daddy Speaks Love by Leah Henderson, illus. by EB Lewis. Penguin / Nancy Paulsen. 2022
PreS-Gr 3–This is the book the world needs now! Henderson’s writing coupled with Lewis’s beautiful use of watercolors makes this title celebrating diverse father-child relationships a must-have for every collection. The author says she was inspired by George Floyd’s young daughter, Gianna, to create a book that honors and celebrates the role fathers play in a young person’s life.

Strong by Rob Kearney and Eric Rosswood, illus. by Nidhi Chanani. Little, Brown. May 2022.
PreS-Gr 3–Rob Kearney became the first openly gay professional strongman in the world, and this book shares his story of being a child with that dream. A journey of embracing one’s identity and being able to share it with the world. Can a kid with rainbow-dyed hair and unicorn T-shirts succeed in that world? This inspiring story holds the answer. It comes with a glossary of strongman events, website suggestions, and a reading list.

Dream Street by Tricia Elam Walker, illus. by Ekua Holmes. Random / Anne Schwartz. 2021
K-Gr 3–Take your students on a trip to Dream Street and introduce them to beautifully depicted Black locals like Azaria, the Double Dutch champ; Mr. Sydney, the sharp dresser who reads the paper on his stoop; and Ms. Sarah, aka the Hat Lady. Ms. Sarah has lived there the longest and has heard many people’s dreams. A celebration of the power of community and the dreams that hold us together.

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Renee Watson and Nikole Hannah Jones, illus. by Nikkolas Smith. Kokila. 2021
Gr 2-5–In this celebration of the power and strength of Black history, a girl is asked to make a family tree and is dismayed when her classmates’ presentations go back generations, and she does not know her own ancestry. A conversation with her loving grandmother leads her to understand that Black History did not begin in 1619, with enslavement. Use this informative book to begin to broaden your students’ knowledge.

More recommendations:

Stacey’s Extraordinary Words by Stacey Abrams, illus. by Kitt Thomas. HarperCollins / Balzer + Bray. 2021

Hey You! An Empowering Celebration of Growing Up Black by Dapo Adeola, illus. by various. Penguin / Nancy Paulsen. 2022

Rafa Counts on Papá by Joe Cepeda, illus. by author. Little, Brown. May 2022.

The Antiracist Kid by Tiffany Jewell, illus. by Nicole Miles. Versify. Oct. 2022

Goodnight Racism by Ibram X. Kendi, illus. by Cbabi Bayoc. Kokila. June 2022

Words to Make a Friend: A Story in Japanese and English by Donna Jo Napoli, illus. by Naoko Stoop. Random House Studio. 2021

Bisa’s Carnival by Joana Pastro, illus. by Carolina Coroa. Orchard. 2021

Beauty Woke by NoNieqa Ramos, illus. Paola Escobar. Versify. 2022

The Rice in the Pot Goes Round and Round by Wendy Wan-Long Shang, illus. by Lorian Tu. Orchard. 2021

Jenny Mei Is Sad by Tracy Subisak, Little, Brown. 2021

My Bindi by Gita Varadarajan, illus. by Archana Sreebivasan. Scholastic. Aug. 2022

The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson, illus. by Rafael López. Penguin / Nancy Paulsen. 2022

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