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2023 Picture Books To Share With Older Readers

"Picture books are art objects... books in which images and ideas join to form a unique whole.” - Dr. Charlotte Huck

I hope it goes without saying, but picture books are not just for elementary students. Readers of all ages can benefit from engaging with these 32 page works of art. As a former middle and high school classroom teacher and school librarian, I regularly used picture books in my mentor texts, writing prompts, read alouds and so much more, to help my learners:


  • Understand complex topics

  • Make connections to abstract concepts

  • Empathize with perspectives other than their own

  • See their own experiences validated on the page

  • Engage multiple parts of their brains to make meaning (the brain works double time when processing images and text together!)

  • Navigate trauma

  • Experience the magic of story

  • Associate reading with joy


For the very same reasons, I still regularly use picture books as an achor text when working with adult learners. The right picture book can connect, challenge and inspire.


That said, 2023 was a great year for picture books! So... here's a list of 2023 titles that I think are perfect for using with older readers.


A few things to note about this list:

  1. The books are listed in no particular order.

  2. I've used the publisher's descriptions for each title

  3. I've linked to each book's page on Bookelicious. While I make ZERO money if you purchase books there, you can save 20% on any book you purchase there using the code JENNIFERLAGARDE. Again, I make no money if you do this, but you can save some!

Happy reading, y'all!


An American Story by Kwame Alexander and Dare Coulter

From the fireside tales in an African village, through the unspeakable passage across the Atlantic, to the backbreaking work in the fields of the South, this is a story of a people's struggle and strength, horror and hope. This is the story of American slavery, a story that needs to be told and understood by all of us. A testament to the resilience of the African American community, this book honors what has been and envisions what is to be.


Big by Vashti Harrison

The first picture book written and illustrated by award-winning creator Vashti Harrison traces a child's journey to self-love and shows the power of words to both hurt and heal. With spare text and exquisite illustrations, this emotional exploration of being big in a world that prizes small is a tender portrayal of how you can stand out and feel invisible at the same time.





Do You Remember? by Sydney Smith

Tucked in bed at a new apartment, a boy and his mother trade favorite memories. Some are idyllic, like a picnic with Dad, but others are more surprising: a fall from a bike into soft piled hay, the smell of an old oil lamp when a rainstorm blew the power out. Now it's just the two of them, and the house where all those memories happened is far away. But maybe someday, this will be a favorite memory, too: happy and sad, an end and a beginning intertwined.



There Was A Party For Langston by Jason Reynolds

Back in the day, there was a heckuva party, a jam, for a word-making man. The King of Letters. Langston Hughes. His ABCs became drums, bumping jumping thumping like a heart the size of the whole country. They sent some people yelling and others, his word-children, to write their own glory.


Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, and more came be-bopping to recite poems at their hero's feet at that heckuva party at the Schomburg Library, dancing boom da boom, stepping and stomping, all in praise and love for Langston, world-mending word man. Oh, yeah, there was hoopla in Harlem, for its Renaissance man. A party for Langston.


A Walk in the Woods by Nikki Grimes and Brian Pinkney

Confused and distraught after the death of his father, a boy opens an envelope he left behind and is surprised to find a map of the woods beyond their house, with one spot marked in bright red. But why? The woods had been something they shared together, why would his father want him to go alone?


Slowly, his mind settles as he sets off through the spaces he once explored with his dad, passing familiar beech and black oak trees, flitting Carolina wrens, and a garter snake they named Sal. When he reaches the spot marked on the map, he finds pages upon pages of drawings of woodland creatures, made by his father when he was his age. What he sees shows him a side of his dad he never knew, and something even deeper for them to share together. His dad knew what he really needed was a walk in the woods.


Beneath by Cori Doerrfeld

Finn is in a horrible mood and doesn't want to talk about it. After some persuading, though, they agree to go for a hike with Grandpa. Throughout their forest walk, they see many different things: big, strong trees with networks of roots growing underneath, still water with schools of fish swimming below, and an expectant bird with eggs nestled under her. It's when the pair pass fellow hikers that Finn realizes that people, just like the elements of nature, are more than they appear. Grandpa explains that sometimes beneath a person who seems like they won't understand what you're feeling, is someone feeling the exact same way. This sweet and tender picture book celebrates our similarities, differences, and that there's always more under the surface of what we can see.


I'm From by Gary R Gray Jr and Oge Mora

Early morning wakeups and homemade pancakes,

Raucous bus rides and schoolyard games,

Family games and bedtime rituals...

These are the small moments that shape a child's day. I'm From is an invitation into the vivid world of one small boy, a poetic account of all the people and places and things that shape who he is and define where he is from.


ovita Wore Pants: The Story of a Mexican Freedom Fighter by Aida Salazar and Molly Mendoza

Jovita dreamed of wearing pants! She hated the big skirts Abuela made her wear. She wanted to scale the tallest mesquite tree on her rancho, ride her horse, and feel the wind curl her face into a smile


When her father and brothers joined the Cristero War to fight for religious freedom, Jovita wanted to go, too. Forbidden, she defied her father’s rules – and society’s – and found a clever way to become a trailblazing revolutionary, wearing pants!


Once Upon A Book by Grace Lin

Once upon a time, there was a girl. She went to a place alive with colors, where even the morning dew was warm.

Alice loves to imagine herself in the magical pages of her favorite book. So when it flaps its pages and invites her in, she is swept away to a world of wonder and adventure, riding camels in the desert, swimming under the sea with colorful fish, floating in outer space, and more! But when her imaginative journey comes to an end, she yearns for the place she loves best of all.



Afterward, Everything Was Different: A Tale from the Pleistocene by Jairo Buitrago and Rafael Yockteng

As far back as 40,000 years ago (and maybe even earlier) people began drawing pictures on cave walls. And a bit later, they carved images onto stones. Some pictures are of humans, usually drawn as stick figures, but most are of animals. We don’t know their purpose, though in some cases, evidence seems to suggest they were used for storytelling. But when we look at these pictures, we can’t help but admire the extraordinary talent of the first artists. They aren’t just scratches on the wall. They are great art.


Like Lava in My Veins by Derrick Barnes and Shawn Martinbrough

Bobby Beacon's got fire flowing through his veins. And now he's psyched to attend a new school that'll help him get a better grip on his powers. But right off the bat, his new teacher is not too welcoming. That causes Bobby's hot temper to land him in the principal's office. It ain't easy to stay calm when people don't seem to understand you and are always pushing you to the edge. Good thing Bobby gets moved to a class with an understanding teacher who clues him in on ways to calm himself and shows him that caring for others is its own kind of superpower. With her help--and some cool new friends--he just might be on his way to becoming the best version of himself possible.


My Baba's Garden by Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith

Inspired by memories of his childhood, Jordan Scott's My Baba's Garden explores the sights, sounds, and smells experienced by a child spending time with their beloved grandmother (Baba), with special attention to the time they spent helping her tend her garden, searching for worms to keep it healthy. He visits her every day and finds her hidden in the steam of boiling potatoes, a hand holding a beet, a leg opening a cupboard, an elbow closing the fridge, humming like a night full of bugs when she cooks.


Remember by Joy Harjo and Michaela Goade

Remember the sky you were born under,

Know each of the star's stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

Remember the sun's birth at dawn,

That is the strongest point of time.

So begins the picture book adaptation of the renowned poem that encourages young readers to reflect on family, nature, and their heritage. In simple and direct language, Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke Nation, urges readers to pay close attention to who they are, the world they were born into, and how all inhabitants on earth are connected. Michaela Goade, drawing from her Tlingit culture, has created vivid illustrations that make the words come alive in an engaging and accessible way.


My Strange Shrinking Parents by Zeno Sworder

One boy's parents travel from far-off lands to improve their son's life. But what happens next is unexpected. What does it mean when your parents are different? What shape does love take? And what happens when your parents sacrifice a part of themselves for you?


In this heartbreaking and heartwarming story, Zeno Sworder reflects on his own migrant parents' sacrifices to create a universal story about what it means to give to those you love. Drawing from the sacrifices his Chinese mother made to raise her young family in a small country town, Sworder's drawings are full of beautiful detail and fairytale settings that explore his own journey from child to parent.


Nell Plants a Tree by Anne Wynter and Daniel Miyares

Before her grandchildren climbed the towering tree,

explored its secret nests,

raced to its sturdy trunk,

read in its cool shade,

or made pies with its pecans . . .

Nell buried a seed.

And just as Nell's tree grows and thrives with her love and care, so do generations of her close-knit family.

Inspired by the pecan trees of the creators' own childhoods, Anne Wynter's lyrical picture book, brought to life with breathtaking illustrations by Daniel Miyares, brims with wonder and love.


That Flag by Tameka Fryer Brown and Nikkolas Smith

Bianca is Keira's best friend. At school, they are inseparable. But Keira questions their friendship when she learns more about the meaning of the Confederate flag hanging from Bianca's front porch. Will the two friends be able to overlook their distinct understandings of the flag? Or will they reckon with the flag's effect on yesterday and today?



To the Other Side by Erika Meza

A young boy and his older sister have left home to play a game. To win, they must travel across endless lands together and make it to the finish line. Each child imagines what might be waiting for them across the border: A spotted dog? Ice cream! Or maybe a new school.


But the journey is difficult, and the monsters are realer than they imagined. And when it no longer feels like a game, the two children must still find a way to forge ahead.


The Walk by Winsome Bingham and E B Lewis

Granny and her granddaughter are going on a walk. But this is not just any walk. It's a walk that must not be missed; one that is more important than ever but has been made increasingly difficult for many to participate in. It's a walk that joins together a community; that lifts voices; that allows us to speak up, stand up, and say what's on our minds. It's a walk for hope.





My Powerful Hair by Carole Lindstrom and Steph Littlebird

Our ancestors say our hair is our memories,

our source of strength and power,

a celebration of our lives.

Mom never had long hair—she was told it was too wild. Grandma couldn’t have long hair—hers was taken from her. But one young girl can’t wait to grow her hair long: for herself, for her family, for her connection to her culture and the Earth, and to honor the strength and resilience of those who came before he


Stars of the Night: The Courageous Children of the Czech Kindertransport by Caren Stelson and Selina Alko

This powerful story is told from the collective perspective of the children who were rescued from Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II, as Hitler's campaign of hatred toward Jews and political dissidents took hold. The narrative starts in 1938 and follows the children as they journey to foster families in England for the duration of the war, return to Prague afterward in an unsuccessful search for their parents, and eventually connect with Nicholas Winton, a British former stockbroker who was instrumental in bringing them to safety. Winton and the Czech Kindertransport ultimately rescued 669 children from Nazi persecution.


How Do You Spell Unfair?: Macnolia Cox and the National Spelling Bee by Carole Boston Weatherford and Frank Morrison

In 1936, eighth grader MacNolia Cox became the first African American to win the Akron, Ohio, spelling bee. And with that win, she was asked to compete at the prestigious National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC, where she and a girl from New Jersey were the first African Americans invited since its founding. She left her home state a celebrity--right up there with Ohio's own Joe Louis and Jesse Owens--with a military band and a crowd of thousands to see her off at the station. But celebration turned to chill when the train crossed the state line into Maryland, where segregation was the law of the land. Prejudice and discrimination ruled--on the train, in the hotel, and, sadly, at the spelling bee itself.


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