Not Child’s Play: Picture Books for Teens

Contrary to what you may think, picture books are not exclusively for young children. A format usually associated with nursery rhymes, bright illustrations, and lovable characters has been manipulated and reshaped by a number of author/illustrator teams, fast becoming a form used to fashion stories of gravity, fantasy, and mystery. From the Atlantic slave trade to an imperialist allegory to a deadly alphabet, picture books employ a variety of artistic mediums and literary styles to tell condensed, interesting, powerful narratives. Encompassing the silly and irreverent to the serious and horrific, these tales intertwine beautiful language and stunning illustrations, melding word and art, bringing simple stories to full, realized life. Below you will find just a few of the picture books enticing to teen readers.

The Watertower by Gary Crew, illustrated by Steven Woolman
In the tiny desert town of Preston, an old, ominous water tower looms on the hillside. The residents are unsure of when the structure was built or by whom, it has simply always been there, rusting and watching. On a scorching summer’s day Spike Trotter convinces his hesitant best friend, Bubba D’Angelo, to go for a swim. But concealed within the bulky tank, the dark, tepid waters hold a secret.
The Middle Passage: White Ships, Black Cargo by Tom Feelings
This wordless narrative, told in haunting black and white illustrations, captures the hopelessness and brutality of the middle passage. During the almost four centuries of the Atlantic slave trade, African people of both genders and all ages were consistently ripped from their homes. If the horrible sea voyaged was survived, they were faced with a foreign, often short, new existence. Feelings conscientiously depicts the pain and suffering of this dark period in western history.

Basil, Clara, Neville, and Olive, among others, expire in a number of surprising ways in this macabre ABC book. The black and white etchings capture each child’s unique and unfortunate end. The simple, rhyming, cautionary tale targets youngsters who perhaps whine a tad too frequently, are a touch too curious, or provoke the local wildlife.
The Rabbits by John Marsden, illustrated by Shaun Tan
With sparse language and intricate, colorful illustrations, Marsden and Tan caution readers on the potential environmental and cultural devastation of un-checked colonization. An indigenous population of squirrel-like animals, living harmoniously in their natural surroundings, is suddenly and violently overrun by invading Rabbits. Following victory, the Rabbits fight amongst themselves, consume, and steal with devastating consequences.
What if you loved to create–dance, music, art, and film–but instead of allowing your imagination to run wild you were told what to say, to write, to make? Sis was born and raised in Communist Czechoslovakia following World War II. From a very young age he loved to draw, however school and policy soon dictated his creations. Western society and values were shunned; informers tattled on neighbors, fear and suspicion ruled daily life. Enticed by western freedoms plus a love of art and rock & roll, Sis secretly cultivated his interests until able to relocate.
The Arrival By Shaun Tan
Leaving behind family, home, and country for the promise of a new life is a daunting undertaking. Without words, Tan recreates an immigrant experience, depicting a world foreign to our own. In doing so he fashions the doubts, fears, dreams, and unlikely friendships these amazing journeys render. In a photo album format readers explore the stories of numerous immigrants, all refugees escaping dangerous homelands, finding hope and help in each other.
Woolvs in the Sitee by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas
Ben is all alone. Without parents, siblings, or any family to speak of, he cowers in a dark basement, blotting out the world with ratty curtains. He is hiding from the woolvs. His only friend, Missus Radinski, is a kindly upstairs neighbor. She does not believe in the woolvs and reassures Ben that life will soon return to normal, to the before. One day Ben pays a visit. Missus Radinski is not home, the woolvs have been about. Frightened yet determined, Ben resolves to abandon his hiding place and rescue a friend.

(by Abby, Graduate Student Intern)
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