Picture books as conversation starters

Published on: 23 June 2024

BookTrust’s Writer in Residence, Rashmi Sirdeshpande, explores how picture books can help make sense of the world. 

My residency at BookTrust is based around the joy of factual books but I’m taking a sidestep today to talk about fiction specifically picture books. Now, of course picture books don’thave to have a message (and as a writer, you’d never want to whack the reader over the head with one). Some books are purely a bag of laughs – like I Really Want the Cake by Simon Philip and Lucia Gaggiotti. Or I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. But whatever the theme, picture books can make little brains FIZZ with excitement.  

Picture book author and primary school teacher Emma Perry puts it so beautifully:

If you've ever read a book to little listeners, you'll know that you'll never ever reach the end without a bunch of questions and comments whizzing through the air. That, right there, is the very essence of truly engaging picture books. They ignite minds, send questions tumbling forth and lead you all adults included on a delightful journey of discovery and wonder.”  

This shared journey is a precious and powerful thing. Imagine the interesting conversations that can begin with a book. The Never picture books by Diane Ewen and me, for example, have often been used as a launchpad for discussions around the magic of books, maths, science and art. I’ve recorded a reading of Never Teach a Stegosaurus To Do Sums to give you a little flavour. It’s a super silly dino adventure but at its heartit’s a story about creativity, ambitionand STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art and maths) and all the places that loving numbers can take you.  

In this way, fictional picture books can connect to broader themes and help little ones understandappreciateand navigate the world. Here are just a small handful that I’ve loved lately across a range of topics:  

  • BIG by Vashti Harrison – mean words, self-acceptance, self-love  

  • Geoffrey Has The Jitters by Nadia Shireen – feelings, anxiety  

  • Puddling! by Emma Perry and Claire Alexander – seasons, weather, happy moments 

  • The Boy With Flowers In His Hair by Jarvis – friendship, kindness  

  • The Artist by Ed Vere – reflecting on what it means to be an artist, being stuck  

  • We are the Wibbly by Sarah Tagholm and Jane McGuinness – life cycles, growing up 

  • The Emerald Forest by Catherine Ward and Karin Littlewood – nature, endangered animals 

  • To The Other Side by Erika Meza – refugees, journeys to safety (for older readers) 

I’m sure you can think of plenty of others too and I’d love to hear about them! In the meantime, keep sharing picture books, inviting questions, and sparking conversations. It’s how little readers connect with stories and make sense of the world. And it might just be the start of a beautiful, life-long love of books and reading.   

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