What's a sophisticated picture book
Sophisticated picture books are aimed at older readers and have many levels of meaning or multiple narratives. Some sophisticated picture books, such as Shaun Tan's 'The Arrival, rely on visuals only to convey their story and are categorised at Wordless Picture Books. Sophisticated picture books also might:
- deal with realistic, global issues, for example, climate change or refugees
- explore the complexity of values, traditions, emotions and relationships
- develop non-traditional structures (plot, characters and settings) to challenge the reader's expectations
- challenge the reader to go beyond the story
- challenge and engage the reader to form meaning.
Using visual features and/or text they:
- use illustrations to portray information not provided by the text
- use complex artwork and varied design layouts
- use rich, creative text and literary devices such as metaphor, symbolism or satire
- make inter-textual references requiring readers to make connections to other books or knowledge to enhance understanding of the book.
Finding and sharing sophisticated picture books
Use our Books and Reads tool to explore, find, and share sophisticated picture books.
Sophisticated picture books make fantastic gifts for older children. They provide opportunities for parents to read aloud with their child and discuss complex issues that may appear through the text and images.
Advantages of using sophisticated picture books
Sophisticated picture books offer many advantages, including:
- use of the picture book as a valid literary form throughout schooling and beyond
- a short format makes it easier to grasp concepts in a shorter time frame
- being less threatening for English language students or reluctant readers since the images give contextual clues
- a personal viewpoint developing empathy and critical reflection - ideal for discussion and exploring global, historical and values and personal issues
- layers of meaning so can be used in mixed class groups and across different levels
- are fun!
Create your sophisticated picture book collection
To create a strong and vibrant sophisticated picture book collection in your school library you need:
- a mix and range of great titles from the much loved classic sophisticated picture book authors
- titles from the exciting new authors emerging in this genre.
These are just a few of the growing number of talented sophisticated picture book authors and illustrators:
- Chris Van Allsburg
- Gary Crew
- Shaun Tan
- Colin Thompson
- Anthony Browne
- Jeannie Baker
- Graeme Base
- David Wiesner.
Guidance may be needed
The multi-layered nature of sophisticated picture books means many titles in this genre will be suitable for primary and secondary school libraries. However, teacher or school library staff guidance may be advisable with some of the more senior titles, in relation to use among younger audiences.
Manage your sophisticated picture book collection
Some areas for you to consider include:
- Selecting sophisticated picture books in collaboration with teachers and students.
- When cataloguing, use ‘sophisticated picture book’ in the 'Type' field of your integrated library system (ILS). This identifies all your sophisticated book titles and is useful for collection management and collection development purposes.
- Titles with senior content or challenging issues may not be suitable for younger readers and may require a warning of some description. This could be an alert at the issue desk or an alert on the book itself. Also include a reference to the alert in the catalogue record.
- Ensure all your sophisticated picture books are clearly labelled to distinguish them from your main picture book collection.
- Shelve separately. Sophisticated picture books are viewed as a collection in their own right. They should be shelved separately from the picture book collection, preferably using face-out shelving as much as possible.
Sophisticated picture books in the classroom
Students are used to learning visually in today’s multimedia world. This makes the picture book format a natural fit for students as they progress from early school years into upper primary and secondary school. Using sophisticated picture books effectively in classroom programmes contributes towards a wide range of objectives within the New Zealand Curriculum.
Multi-layered, you can use them across all year levels. Be aware that some layers of meaning may be lost on junior students, while senior students may need teacher or school library staff guidance to uncover deeper layers of meaning.
In the modern multi-literate world images are no longer used just to entertain and illustrate. They are becoming central to communication and meaning making.
— Peter Felten
Our Book and Beyond guides to literature for educators and students can be used with students as prompts for discussion. They invite readers to explore, reflect on, and discuss elements of a book and how they add to understanding and enjoyment.
Guides for exploring children's and YA literature
Springboard for critical thinking
Sophisticated picture books are an ideal springboard for critical thinking, as they can challenge traditional expectations of story. They often look different and are meant to be read differently from traditional picture books.
Some questions you could use to assist the development of critical thinking are:
- What ideas, emotions, atmospheres are being conveyed?
- What is the context in which the story is set?
- What prior knowledge do I need to fully understand the story?
- What are the author’s intentions in writing it? What are the messages?
- What is not being said?
- How is the story structured?
- How does this book challenge the usual or traditional way of storytelling?
- How am I as a reader involved in interpreting the story?
- What are the differences or similarities between the beginning and the ending of this story?
- Is there an online version I can compare and contrast with the print version?
We want our students to recognize how important their thinking is when they read. It’s our job as teachers to convince students that their thoughts, ideas, and interpretations matter. When readers engage in the text and listen to their inner conversation, they enhance their understanding, build knowledge, and develop insight.
— Harvey and Goudvis (2007)
Looking critically at picture books
Teaching about visual language features
Sophisticated picture books like other visual texts such as graphic novels provide ideal examples of many visual language features. As Phillip Pullman notes 'Pictures now do far more work and in far more complex ways than they used to.'
Once recognised and understood, visual language features add layers of meaning to the reading of a book. For example, when you are teaching, you could note the artistic medium being used, is it a collage, photographs, paint. Then you could also direct students' attention to the effects the artist’s techniques have on their understanding and emotional response to the story.
Without direct instruction, students might take these techniques for granted and overlook them. With instruction, a student can be guided to realise the significant contribution visual language features make to the overall relationship between image and text, and the meanings portrayed.
Visual language techniques to teach
Visual language techniques to consider might include:
- colour — intensity and shading
- shape, size, scale and perspective of images
- hidden images
- placement and shaping of the image on the page
- use of frames, no frames, multiple frames, breaking the frame
- use of white space
- font style and placement of text
- motifs and symbols.
Through the explicit teaching of these techniques, you can guide students to think critically using the following questions:
- Why do you think the artist has used this technique?
- What difference does this technique make to your understanding of the text, or to your emotional response to the story?
- What is the author or artist telling us about a particular character or situation?
- What associations are created in your own imagination through 'reading' the pictures?
- What is the relationship between the image and the text?
- How do the text and visual features work together to tell the story?
- Is the cover of the book important?
Exploring visual language: a framework
The Te Kete Ipurangi website has a useful article Exploring visual language: a framework to help you develop an understanding of how sophisticated picture books can support the teaching of visual language features. You can also read about the importance of static images on their Picture Book page.
Exploring visual language: a framework
Picture books — static images
Teachers creating readers
Find out more
How to find picture books for older readers — The Guardian.
Picture books in the secondary classroom — Prezi PowerPoint by Jenna Gardner (2011) that outlines how picture books can develop students’ critical thinking.
Services to Schools' lending service — schools and home educators can borrow picture books to support secondary students with inquiry and to encourage and develop their reading for pleasure.
The International Visual Literacy Association — a comprehensive list of links to educators resources, publications, research, associations and databases.
Visual literacy and the classroom — John Hopkins, School of Education.
5o ways to use picture books to meet rigorous secondary ELA standards — a presentation and handout by Sheree Springer and Kenna Rogers.
Ammon, Bette. D. 'Worth a Thousand Words: An Annotated Guide to Picture Books for Older Readers'.
Anstey, M. (March 2002). 'It's not all black and white: Postmodern books and new literacies'. 'Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy', volume 45, no.6.
Felten, P. Visual literacy. Resource review. Retrieved October 5, 2011.
Fisher, C. (2009, May 27). 'Using picture books in the secondary curriculum'. 'Talespinner', pages 36 to 37.