Category Archives: picture books for the older set

wolves in the walls

22341The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean (2003).

Creepy title, creepy cover, right?!



This reads like a book for older kids and even adults. In part, because it’s kind of scary, this idea of wolves in the walls. And those mixed-media illustrations! Super scary. Also wonderful for their use of real photographs and line drawings that together, give me the creeps. In a good way.





Lucy is the wise one in her family, we come to know that. She’s the one who knows there are wolves in the walls. Her family doesn’t believe her. They also say that if wolves are in the walls and wolves come out of the walls, “It’s all over.” Lucy’s wiser than that too. (She also knows her pig puppet is someone real you can talk to unlike her parents, so there’s one more reason she’s wise!)




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If we relate this book to fears, other fears, the message is solid. Sometimes fears are real, but they may not pose the threat we think. We may be able to tolerate them. Even overcome them. Even if they are wolves in the walls.



The details make this great too. Lucy’s father is a tuba player. The mother makes jam. Lucy’s animal friend is a pig puppet (as in, the three little pigs and the wolf!). And when the wolves get hold of that berry jam, red like blood, the result is ferociously unsettling.




The ending, which I won’t give away, is one more detail to consider. It has to do with Lucy knowing a new thing and what she’ll choose to do with knowing it. It’s as original as the rest.




bird: picture book for the older set

4417990Bird by Zetta Elliott and Shadra Strickland.


This is a book where the illustrations and text go so perfectly together I assumed it was by an author/illustrator. But no, it’s a beautiful collaboration.



Bird is the title of the book, but not just because it’s the nickname of the main character who narrates it.




bird spread 1

(click image(s) to enlarge)

Bird draws a pigeon outside his window. He and his Uncle Son go the park and feed pigeons. His Uncle Son and Grandfather flew planes in the war, flew like birds. Uncle Son plays Charlie Parker, “the other bird,” in his apartment. The boy watches birds flying from his rooftop and, one important time, his older brother gives him a book of birds.



bird spread 2

“You just remember,

everybody got their somethin’.

And that includes you.”

But there’s also the idea of a bird. Of freedom, of flying.

And even flying away, as in death.

bird spread 3

They boy’s older brother, Marcus, is in trouble. With drugs. He only flies away like a bird after struggle and death.

Bird is a book about drug addiction and losing someone you love and who loved you. But it’s also a book about growing up and, thankfully, hope.

Strickland’s illustrations are apropos. Dark, then light. Layered. Imaginative, then realistic.  Line drawings like the one Bird makes. Watercolors of city scenes.


bird spread 4




“You can fix a broken wing with a splint,

and a bird can fly again,” he said.

“But you can’t fix a broken soul.”

And when you’re lucky enough to get your hands on this book, do take a long look at the spread on which Uncle Son and the narrator discuss their favorite birds. Look for the red specks in the trees, each a cardinal that “looks like a fiery spark blowing through the trees.” Just like a fiery spark of hope in the gloom.


Thanks to Lee and Low Books for images!

the bathing costume or the worst vacation of my life

thebathingcostumeThe Bathing Costume: Or the Worst Vacation of My Life by Charlotte Moundlic and Olivier Tallec.


This comes from the pair that created The Scar, a beautiful, brilliant book (which I’ve featured here). But that one’s a sad book. This one is also beautiful but without the sadness. Instead, you might say it has a dose of melancholy. But it’s also funny. Quirky. Charming. Real.




click image(s) to enlarge

It’s for the older set because the main character is eight and the text is lengthier than most. But also because a kid, a growing up kid, will really relate to this diary of a failed (then won!) summer vacation.

(See how those brilliant summer blues and yellows gleam from the pages?)


The whole book is written matter of factly. The way Myron might really narrate things.

Myron’s a bit behind. He hasn’t lost a baby tooth yet and he’s ripe for teasing. His vacation will be without his parents and brother, at his grandparents’ house with cousins.


“Grandma asked me if I was happy and I muttered, ‘Yes…Yeah, sure…’ What else could I say? I didn’t want to tell her that I was about to have the worst vacation of my whole life.”

And then there’s the bathing costume of the title. (That’s what Myron’s grandmother calls it.)

“This summer I’m eight. And in the family, the summer when you’re eight is the summer when you have to jump off the 10-foot diving board.”


The poor kid only has his older brother’s yellow bathing suit, so the thing hangs off him like crazy at the city pool. He has to hold it up and there’s a moment when his bare bottom’s in the air.  And that high dive? So not happening. What child (or grown up) can’t relate to this story?


Not to worry though. There’s change ahead. (Sadly, not in the form of a new bathing suit.) The power goes out one night and relationships shift. The family heads back to the swimming pool. One of Myron’s teeth gets very, very loose! And he walks up the ladder to the high dive. I’ll let you guess what happens next.


The last diary-like entry is the opposite of the first one. The way some camp or vacation diary-entries really are about-faces. The lucky ones. When worst vacations turn into the best.

eerie dearies + giveaway

18167208Eerie Dearies: 26 Ways to Miss School by Rebecca Chaperon (2014).


Curious why an ABC book is one for the older set? Because it’s dark. It’s creepy in the best way (think Edward Gorey). And it’s filled with wild excuses to miss school! All topics for a slightly older someone (or much older someone!).


It requires a brave reader such as yourself.


And even if one knows her ABCs, this book has lots of advanced concepts and words. You’ll see.




Take A for example. It’s for Astral Projection. Of course it is! Sorry teachers, but I’m having an out of body experience today.


(click image(s) to enlarge.)


B is for a broken heart. (See, this book is perfect for teenagers.)

There’s Dumbstruck, Ennui (my personal favorite), Gremlins, and Juvenile delinquent. And it ends with Z for zombie apocalypse. Not your average ABC, right? In fact, it’s inventive and strange and will appeal to any creative spirit.


Rebecca Chaperon‘s artistic style is sure to please as well: painterly and delicate and exquisite in every way. I love how she incorporated vintage books as backgrounds into the illustrations of quite vintage looking girls.


“While creating the images for the book I collected a great deal of old book covers looking for colours, textures and in some cases, titles, that would inspire the illustrations for Eerie Dearies. I scavenged second-hand shops examining the outer and inner covers of the books to find the right amount of ratty-ness, out-dated design and the general patina of age!”

                                                                   — RebeccaChaperon




Perhaps my favourite reason for missing school was ‘Snow Day.’ As anyone who grew up with cold snowy winters will tell you: there are days when things just shut down. Buses, schools, teachers. In the morning, If the weather seemed bad, my parents would turn on the radio. My brother and I would sit at the kitchen table, silently eating cereal and listening with such concentration to the radio list of each school that would be closed for the day. And of course if we heard them say our school we would absolutely freak out with happiness and then spend the day playing in the snow!”

                                                — RebeccaChaperon



EerieDearies_M_Chaperon1 copy


Thanks to Rebecca Chaperon for images!  



See more of her artwork from the book in her shop. And her other original art. Another bonus: she’s got special edition versions of the book that come signed and with stickers on her website!!




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Simply Read Books generously provided one copy of Eerie Dearies for one lucky reader! And Rebecca Chaperon, because she’s so great, threw in some artwork as well. And she’s packaged it up with all the class and artistry you’d expect!


The grand prize winner will receive the book, Eerie Drearies and two prints 


two winners will receive two prints by Rebecca Chaperon!

Three winners in all!


Here’s how to enter the giveaway:

1.) Sign up for Rebecca Chaperon’s newsletter here.

2.) Sign up for This Picture Book Life‘s new and improved newsletter here.

3.) Leave a comment on this post with a way you once missed a day of school.


 I’ll contact the randomly chosen winners by email for your mailing addresses!

(Enter until Wednesday, June 25 at midnight; open to North American residents only—sorry about that, far flung international readers!)

josephine: the dazzling life of josephine baker


Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (2014).

Words by Patricia Hruby Powell, pictures by Christian Robinson.

Oh. This. Book. Dazzling, yes! But also poetic, rich, real.




(And it was just recognized as a Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction honor book.Woo hoo!)



It tells Josephine Baker’s story. Of Missouri, poor and dreaming about dancing. Of racism, riots, and segregation. Of her first time dancing for pennies all the way to her last show for a sold out crowd and everything in between.



“I shall dance all my life….

I would like to die breathless,

spent, at the end of a dance.”

Josephine Baker, 1927

Josephine_Interior_Chorus Line

 (Click to enlarge image(s).)


“Wasn’t there any place in the world

where color didn’t matter?”

(That place was Paris.)


“…with her beautiful ebony body,

like a prizefighter, like a kangaroo,

with rhythm in her hips,

like a cat ready to strike,

a volcano about to burst,

with her black painted lips.”


Thanks to Chronicle Books for images!


This book includes how daring and powerful and electric Josephine Baker was. But also her activism—she volunteered during WWII for the Red Cross and French Resistance; she performed for U.S. troops, unsegregated; and she adopted 12 children from varied backgrounds, her “rainbow tribe.” It also explores her faults; her decline; her comeback.


Illustrator Christian Robinson was kind enough to answer some questions and provide me with photos of Josephine Baker paired with his artwork from the book. Aren’t they incredible?!




This Picture Book Life: Was there anything during your trip to Paris that directly influenced or made it into the book?

Christian Robinson: In Paris I daydreamed and saw Josephine walking along the Champs-Élysées with Chiquita.




TPBL: How would you describe your approach to artmaking, specifically for picture books?

CR: Have fun! If I’m not enjoying the process, find a way to make it fun again.



TPBL: How did you decide what illustration you wanted to accompany the text on each page?

CR: With many rounds of rough sketches which helped give a better sense of how to lay out a picture book of this volume. When reading a manuscript I allow whatever images arise strongest in my mind to lead the way for illustration. Josephine may have been one of the most photographed women of her time, so fortunately I had plenty of visual references to help guide me as well.



TPBL: Did you make any changes to your artistic process and style considering this book’s content—for example, the spreads that deal with harsh, sad parts of the story like racism and violence?

CR: Finding ways to visually communicate the heavy and scandalous parts of Josephine’s life in a way that is accessible to children was a fun and exciting challenge. It was more liberating than limiting to express the gritty.

I had so many inspiring creative references to help guide me, such as the illustration of Paul Colin and painter Jacob Lawrence.



TPBL: Who made the decision to have some spreads be painted colorfields as background to the words without other pictures? And why?

CR: Early on it was decided that having illustration for every page would be quite a task, for both the illustrator and the reader. The beauty of [this kind of book] is that it gives pause and allows the reader to use their imagination to fill in the visuals until the next illustration. Jennifer Tolo Pierce, the art director, was able to make the most of those illustration breaks and have Patricia’s dynamic text dance across the page.




Readers, I leave you with possible cover images for the book, an artwork process photo, and a glimpse of Christian Robinson’ studio (notice the Paul Colin posters hanging on the wall).





Thanks to Christian Robinson for thoughtful answers and images!