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Using picture books in Upper Key Stage 2

I love using picture books to really challenge older children. There are some authors who just keep on producing thought provoking text that I think all children should experience before leaving primary school.

Shaun Tan

An Australian artist who illustrates a variety of writer’s work, but has also written some very intriguing texts himself. Many of his texts explore the theme of the outsider and how they are seen by the world and how they in return see the world they are in. Tan is the master of detail:

TheArrival          The Arrival

The Arrival is an intricate story about being a refugee in a strange world. There are no words, but many pages are packed with a number of images that give us great detail about the characters and their emotions. These are great for underpinning complex narrative writing.  Other illustrations cover a double page and are evocative and inspirational:


Tan has just had a new book published which tells the tale of what two brothers were up to over their summer holidays. It is an absurd world with surreal ideas and statements, but very good for discussion:

Rules of summer

                                         ROS_-falcons                                      Never eat the last olive at a party

I love his writing and a wonderful collection of 15 prose short stories with illustrations is called Tales From Outer Suburbia.


The pictures stop illustrating the story and quickly become integral to telling the story and at several points through the book the prose and the pictures combine very cleverly. It’s not an illustrated children’s book, nor is it a comic. It’s somewhere in between. It’s an incredibly imaginative, just take a look at the contents page for a start:


We quickly jump into Tan’s world of suburbia where there is a strange deep sea divers wandering the neighbourhood, a memory of a water buffalo who used to live in the vacant lot at the end of the street and a overseas visitor called Eric who doesn’t speak, but collects specimens that he leaves as a magical present when he flies out through the window:



Anthony Browne:

This amazing writer/illustrator produces wonderful books, but is often given to younger children because he has produced texts such as Willy the Wimp or My Dad. He plays around with social convention to explore why characters act in the way that they do. He makes the reader question who is right and who is wrong. An old favourite is Piggybook that explores the relationship between the members of a family:


Browne plays around with colour as he uses vibrant colours for the husband and children, but every drawing of the mother is toned down and sepia, as if she has no life in her anymore. In fact, her face seems to be disappearing too:


piggybook 4

Browne’s work often has a darkness to it and he is very good at juxtaposing two stories so they comment on each other, while you are reading them. A good example of this is his version of Goldilocks, called ‘Me and You’. One side of page is a pen and ink version of the story, whilst the other looks like a more traditional version of this fairy tale.

Me and you


Zoo’ is about a family visiting a zoo and it makes the reader ponder the question who are the real animals in the world!



Here are a couple of other books that I have also used in upper Key Stage 2 to explore complex themes. One is called Varmints by Helen Ward and Marc Craste and it investigates the power of the individual to make a difference in the world, that so many are destroying:

varmints (1)

Varmints     varmints 2

A completely different but equally as clever book is Nick Butterworth’s ‘The Whisperer’  that takes the story of Romeo and Juliet and retells it as a love story between two cats from opposing ‘families’. The tone is very colloquial and it great for getting the children to take the original play and see it in a new light!

The-Whisperer-Butterworth-Nick-9780007120185vislit_whispererthe whisperer

A film version of the book can be watched on You tube

If you want to visit a good blog where you can learn more about using different graphic novels dip into The Forbidden Planet website

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