Carol Read’s Six Favourite Picture Books

carolreadThe other day I realised that there was nothing on this site specifically for teachers of children. Since this is one of the growth areas of English language teaching I thought I’d better start adding some stuff. So here is first list in the Young Learners category. I was lucky enough to convince Carol Read to submit something. Carol is an educational consultant, teacher trainer and award-winning author. She has written many course books, supplementary materials and articles on teaching children.  Here she shares her favourite six picture books (you can see the cover and sometimes inside the book if you follow the links I’ve inserted, which take you to an outside site)

Many picture books are works of art which integrate text and illustrations in a myriad of creative, thought-provoking ways and develop a love of language and literature in children from an early age. In primary classrooms, picture books provide shared contexts for natural language development and engage children with issues which are real and significant to them. As well as developing the imagination, picture books allow for rich exposure to language and the active construction of meaning. Picture books also inspire children to use language because they want to, and allow everyone to participate successfully.

In more than 25 years of teaching, I’ve used many different picture books with children aged 3 – 12 and have a precious collection of well-thumbed favourites. In the 1980s, picture books closest to my heart included classics such as The Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle), Where’s Spot? (Eric Hill), Meg and Mog (Helen Nicoll & Jan Pienkowski) as well as more challenging titles such as Where the wild things are (Maurice Sendak) and Gorilla (Anthony Browne). I still love these books and have found it an almost impossible task to reduce my collection of favourites to a list of six. I’ve therefore decided to choose six picture books which i) I’ve used recently and ii) have produced the most enthusiastic responses in the groups of children that I’ve shared them with. They are in no particular order as follows:

1 Giraffes can’t dance  (Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees)

This picture book in rhyming verses tells of Gerald the giraffe’s anguish at being mocked by all the other animals for his lack of dancing skills at the Jungle Dance.

We follow Gerald’s touching learning journey from his loss of self-esteem to becoming the object of admiration of all the animals. In terms of significant issues, the story touches on believing in yourself and discovering your own personal strengths. Two features are the strong beat of the rhyming verses which makes the language highly memorable, and the expressive illustrations of Gerald both when he’s sad and as he entrances the animals with his elegant dancing at the end of the story.

2 I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato (Lauren Child)

In I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato Charlie plays a series of imaginative and amusing tricks on his little sister, Lola, who is a very fussy eater, to get her to eat her dinner. The story is predominantly told using direct speech from Charlie’s point of view. Charlie and Lola are drawn in bold lines with large eyes and expressive mouths that clearly convey their every feeling. Lauren Child also uses a combination of photos, collage and computer-generated backgrounds, as well as a variety of fonts and sizes in the text. These add to the appeal and humour and emphasise how Lola really hates eating vegetables. This story is ideal as part of a unit of work on food and, if children enjoy Charlie and Lola, there are many more stories in the series as well.

3 Mr Wolf’s week (Colin Hawkins)

The appeal of Mr Wolf’s week seems to lie in the fact that it is an ordinary, everyday story about the routine of a normal, inoffensive wolf, in contrast to the villainous character children associate with traditional stories, such as Little Red Riding Hood. For language classes, the story helpfully focusses on lexical sets typically found in children’s coursebooks: days of the week, weather, clothes and everyday actions. The charm of the story lies in the delightful pictures of Mr Wolf and the simplicity of the repeated language pattern for each day: Monday is … (weather). Mr Wolf puts on his … (clothes) and …. (what he does). This also makes it an ideal model for children’s own attempts at writing a story. The examples at the bottom of this post, Mr Rabbit’s week (Inés) and Mr Dog’s week (Guillermo) are by 7-year-old children in their second year of English.  

4 Something Else (Kathryn Cave & Chris Riddell)

Something Else is a moving story about differences, and the agony and isolation of being an outsider. Something Else wants to be like the other creatures but they won’t accept him. Then one day a strange creature comes to Something Else’s house and wants to be friends. Something Else almost rejects him but is reminded of his own experience just in time. Embedded in this beautifully illustrated and apparently simple story are themes of racism and intolerance. Whenever I share this story with children in upper primary, I never fail to be impressed by their mature response and ability to talk openly about issues that adults often shy away from. Something Else makes me think how often we underestimate children, and also that picture books should not only be for them.

5 Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell)

Dear Zoo is a classic ‘flap’ picture book that never fails to appeal to very young learners. If possible, it’s best to use the ‘big book’ version which makes it easy to see with large groups and more fun to open the ‘flaps’. The concept of writing to the zoo to ask for a pet is brilliantly simple, and the repetitive language pattern, combined with different size coloured boxes and animals on each double spread, engages the rapt attention of little ones, even those with the shortest concentration spans. As the different animals on each page get sent back to the zoo because they are not suitable, the animal on the last page of the story is ‘perfect’.

6 Lost and Found (Oliver Jeffers)

Lost and Found is a touching story about a penguin and the boy who helps him. Behind its apparent simplicity resonate themes of loneliness, friendship and the value of kindness. As the boy and the penguin set off to the South Pole, their tiny boat contrasts with the vastness of the blue and green-toned sea and the waves as big as mountains. Many children worry when the boy realises his mistake in leaving the penguin at the South Pole, and their reunion hug on the penultimate page needs no words. This is a picture book children will ask you to read again for sheer pleasure and, in my view, it’s best to let the magical words and illustrations speak for themselves.

What about your favourite picture books? It would be great to hear.




Published in: on March 15, 2009 at 8:02 pm  Comments (9)  
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  1. Story books for kids are one of the few things related to teaching I don’t mind spending my own money on, because it’s at least as much fun for me as it is for them. Will look out for these, because I had to leave my own collection of 40 or so back in Japan due to weight restrictions and can’t bear just to buy the same ones again

    My own recommendations are much less original

    From Head to Toe by Eric Carle (body parts and actions)

    The Secret Birthday Message, also by Eric Carle (shapes and prepositions)

    Where’s Spot (Animals, furniture and prepositions)

    Go Away Big Green Monster (body parts, shapes and colours)

    Most of the Apricot picture books ( – probably difficult to find outside Japan, but specifically designed for EFL students and well worth searching for

    And loads more that I can’t think of at the moment. I’ll be back!

  2. Hi ya,

    I’m going to add a site rather than a book!

    I found this recently and unfortunately don’t have much use for it myself -until I figure out how, there’s got to be a way, it’s too cool for words- anyway it’s excellent for authors self-publishing a picture book who don’t have an illustrator (creative commons stuff available), teachers creating their own worksheets or those who have creative kids:


  3. Anything from the Beano to Viz is fine by me. And there’s a very visual publication called “Readers’ Wives” that a lot of male EFL teachers are into … or so I’ve heard.

  4. to sandy: Silly me went to check what “readers’ wives” was. Has it crossed your lazy neurons that there are actually people who like to teach, and people who like to teach children, and people who like children’s books? and that no matter how hard you try to demonstrate it, there’s nothing wrong with that?

  5. Ana: sorry if I upset you … and caused you to display your ignorance on this site?! Anyway, I have no axe to grind about people choosing to teach children, adults, or monkeys – whoever. I just happen to have a strangely unpredictable mental imbalance towards seeing the ridiculous side of almost everything (including myself, by the way). It does help to keep the life/work balancing act in correct perspective, and provides me with an endless stream of free entertainment!

  6. Hey,

    I wouldn’t mind reading something more about teaching young learners on your blog 🙂

    Seems like almost everybody in the blogging community of TEFL ingnores that area. I have a feeling that teachers of adults don’t think much of teachers of kids. It would be great to see something like ‘Six popular misconceptions about teachers of young learners’ or similar – just a suggestion 🙂

    Good luck in Paris btw,


    • You’re right Anita, there should be more Young Learner stuff on this blog! I like your suggestion of the misconceptions. Would you like to contribute one yourself? Meanwhile, I’ll see what I can do to rectify this in the future and bring a little more balance.

      Btw, I know that Carol Read was thinking about doing a blog on Young Learners… if it happens I’ll advertise here!

      • Hi again and thanks for being so understanding 🙂

        It’s really hard to find some quality articles or ideas about teaching YLs on the net. Most sites or bloggers themselves concentrate on games or ‘fun stuff you can use’ in the classroom without providing any reasoning behind their choices.

        Sure, I’d like to contribute to the idea about misconceptions. Just have to do dome thinking beforehand to come up with something sensible 🙂

        Is there a way to contact you in a different way than by posting comments? Just wondering.

        All the best,


  7. […] are all about story telling and how we tell and create stories more effectively. You should read ‘Carol Read’s Six Favourite Picture Books’ to learn about her favourite picture books. ‘The Magic of Story Time ‘ is a nice […]

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