Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Booktalk This! You’re Never Too Old for Picture Books, in honor of Dr. Seuss

March is a big month for picture books, as many elementary schools celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday with Cat in the Hat costumes, green food-coloring and Read Across America.  

Why not remind your teens of the fun of picture books by recommending some they might have missed? This is the perfect time to display those somewhat edgy titles that you may skip for storytimes, but will delight your teens!


Do you have a teen that enjoys twists and unexpected endings? Jon Klassen’s picture books, I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat, starring a determined bear and a possibly doomed fish (respectively), are just a little bit twisted and completely entertaining. Remember Lane Smith’s It’s a Book, which shocked the library world a few years ago with its ending page? Our teen library council still requests the book trailer at parties (they love shouting out the ending line). And love stories don’t get more tragic than that of the tadpole and the caterpillar in Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross.

Have fans of the TV show Community among your teens? Why not hand them some similarly self-aware picture books? Picture book rockstar author/illustrator, Mo Willems, has several delightful characters, but it’s We Are in a Book, one in his Elephant & Piggie series, that is the most interactive. Read this one aloud, and watch the grins spread. In both Chloe and the Lion, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex, and An Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lendler, illustrated Whitney Martin, the illustrators’ inability or unwillingness to keep up with the story is both fun anda great example of playing with storytelling. Another great example of turning storytelling on its head is Chris VanAllsburg’s Bad Day at Riverbend, in which townsfolk wonder what the unsettling, jagged colors in the sky might mean…

What about the budding artists among your teens? From Caldecott Award winners and honors to the un-nominated, show them a variety of formats, like colored pencil drawings in Emily Graves’ Blue Chameleon or torn paper illustrations in Ed Young’s Seven Blind Mice. After taking them through Eric Rohmann’s precise and boldly-outlined relief drawings in My Friend Rabbit (I’d frame so many of these pages if I could bear taking the book apart!), Catherine Rayner’s loose lines and layered blocks of watercolors in The Bear Who Shared, and Chris Haughton’s pencil and digital media drawings (plus an unusual color combination) in Oh No, George, your artistic teens will find something to inspire their own creations.
Picture books are a great way to remind teens to have fun with what they read – and that picture book reading doesn’t need to end once you’ve started chapter books! Share your favorites, encourage them to reread books from their childhood, and who knows: maybe one of those teens will create picture books of their own someday!

Teaching Empathy: The Clever Stick by John Lechner, a tool for discussing Autism

The Clever Stick is a quiet fable about a stick, who has always been clever and been able to think many wonderful thoughts. But the stick has one problem – he can’t speak. So he cannot share his thoughts with any of the forest creatures he meets.

Regular readers know, I care about Autism.  Three of my nephews are on the spectrum, severely low functioning, non verbal.  But one of my nephews does the most amazing thing using those little wooden
blocks with letters on them we all played with as kids: he can write words.  And he can draw.  And these two simple little tools allow him to communicate in ways that are different than the norm.  But they let us know that he is more than what it seems.  In fact, each of my nephews have their own ways of communicating.

The Clever Stick is a short, simple fable about a stick.  The stick is smart, but nobody in the forest knows it because he can’t speak.  Until one day the stick looks down and realizes he is leaving lines in the dirt.  These lines become pictures, a way of sharing what is going on inside.

We often talk about using picture books with tweens and teens, and I can’t recommend this one highly enough.  It is a great tool for helping tweens and teens develop some empathy for those who are different, like those on the Autism spectrum.

For more about The Clever Stick, and a teaching guide, visit author John Lechner’s page.  For more about Autism and libraries, please visit the Autism & Libraries section here at TLT.