Quick Guide to Children’s Books 1: Picture books

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The world of children’s literature is an enchanting place which often looks like a colourful maze with imaginary creatures in fantastic worlds. These creatures and worlds are mostly versions of our own realities, and through them we can learn more about our own worlds, and through the words and the images in the stories we can explore our own lives, reflecting on its beauties and dealing with its difficulties.

When you enter a book shop, these miniworlds which we call picture books are well-organized on shelves, usually labelled and categorized in a systematic way. There are picture books, silent books, illustrated books, comics, graphic novels, poetry books and a many more formats. What is the difference between these books? What are their main characteristics?

In this new series we will explore the world of children’s books together, providing definitions and examples for each main type of books. In this first part we enter the magical world of picture books.

What are picture books?  

A picture book is a book which combines both visual and verbal narratives in a book format. It is important to mention that in a picture book the visual field, that is the illustrations, are equally important as the verbal field, that is the words.

Picture books are typically aimed at young children, and they are usually designed to encourage shared reading with a parent or family member, which then can be followed by independent reading. Some picture books are written for elementary and middle school children, and recently artistic picture books have been published to appeal to adult readers as well.

Most picture books are such rich reading materials that we tend to revisit them as adults, and as we re-read them, we can see different levels of meaning in them.

Picture books are typically between 24 and 32 pages long, but there are some books which are shorter.

Where can you learn more about them?

In recent years much research has been done into the different aspects and uses of picture books and more picture books are being published than ever before. There is a worldwide interest in high quality picture books now, and many awards, book fairs and exhibitions specialize in picture books.

The CLELE Journal is dedicated to picture books and children’s literature in English language education. Explore its current and previous issues here:

Opal Dunn pioneered the use of picture books in language eduation almost 40 years ago in Japan. You can read some of her findings here:

Picturebooks in ELT,  Sandie Mourão’s groundbreaking blog, is still available for reading. We recommend it for anyone who would like to learn more about picture books.

You can also read our interview with Sandie on this blog:

Most academic publishers have excellent materials on picturebooks, mostly in a first langauge reading context, focusing on different thematic aspects of these books. Here is a list of some books you can browse.

The Bologna Children’s Book Fair, organized in spring each year is one of the greatest and most fascinating events in the world of children’s books.

What are the most famous examples?

Here are some of our favourite picture books. What are yours?

  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • I Want My Hat Back by  Jon Klassen
  • Press Here by Herve Tullet
  • The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrations by Oliver Jeffers
  • Best Word Book Ever by Richard Scarry
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • The Lorax by Dr Seuss

Picturebooks in the Helbling Readers series

The Helbling Young Readers and The Thinking Train series offer a wide choice of original stories and retold classics for young language learners. These unique series combine language learning with an aesthetic and interactive reading experience. Click here to learn more about the two series:

Next week we’re going to talk about wordless picture books (silent books).

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