It’s easy to blow off picture books as only for “little kids.” After all, most tweens and teens have moved on to more challenging material and are reading chapter books in school. But did your kid really outgrow picture books? When one of TikTok’s favorite librarians was asked to weigh in on the subject, she shared a bevy of potential picks, gushing, “I would read every single one of these with elementary school [kids], but I really think high schoolers would enjoy them.”
The Contoured Librarian’s recommendations are colorful and engaging, a trait a book needs if it’s going to capture a teenager’s attention. Many of them also teach valuable lessons about kindness and being authentic.
And sure, there are chapter books that teach those same lessons. But let’s be honest: Your kid’s attention span usually falls short when it comes to processing, engaging, and learning from anything that doesn’t have pictures or a complicated dance. (Maybe if someone had choreographed “the talk” when we were teens….)
Below is a list of The Contoured Librarian’s recommended picture books. It’s up to you if you buy them specifically for your high schooler or just read them within earshot. Whatever works, right?
1. Firenze’s Light by Jessica Colaco
“It’s about this little firefly who thinks their light is shining too bright, and everybody is telling them that their light is too bright until they meet someone who makes them feel special about it,” describes The Contoured Librarian.
2. Love, Z by Jessie Sima
Follow along with a sparsely drawn but gorgeously painted robot on his mission to find the definition of true love. You know that high schooler who needs this example.
3. After The Fall (How Humpty-Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat
“This is, well, pretty self-explanatory. I think this would resonate with high schoolers,” The Contoured Librarian says. This tale has been around since 2017, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant.
4. Perfectly Pegasus by Jessie Sima
From the “Not Quite Narwhal” collection, this book follows along as a lonely pegasus looks for the perfect friend. And, really, what high schooler couldn’t relate to that? Plus, it features “trendy” animals, which are always a hit with the trendy teen crowd. “It’s a really good, really cute story,” promises The Contoured Librarian.
5. How to Hug a Pufferfish by Ellie Peterson
“[It’s] a great story about consent and about how some people just don’t necessarily like to be hugged or touched,” explains The Contoured Librarian. “I think that high schoolers may do well with that.” This should technically be mandatory reading for everyone.
6. The World Needs Who You Were Made To Be by Joanna Gaines
This pick might be perfect for any tween or teen just entering high school or about to graduate. It would also be a lovely message for kids struggling with their identity. “The World Needs Who You Are Made To Be really gives me Oh, The Places You’ll Go vibes,” says The Contoured Librarian. “It’s a really great story.”
7. The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi
The encouragement and optimism in this book are next level. It’s a great reminder to bigs and littles that anything you “can’t” do should be followed by a “yet.” Because you just can’t do it… yet.
8. The Sour Grape by Jory John and Pete Oswald
From The Food Group series of books, The Sour Grape is about holding grudges — and the lovely taste of forgiveness and letting things go.
9. When Things Aren’t Going Right, Go Left by Marc Colagiovanni
If your teen is stuck in a rut and having a bad day or week, this may not be encouraging to them in the moment. But start ’em on a good day, and they’ll remember the lesson when they need it. “This a really great story about how some days nothing’s going to go your way,” she says. “So, choose a different direction.”
10. The Candy Dish by Kobi Yamada
With perhaps the most beautiful illustrations (by Adelina Lirius), The Candy Dish tells a gentle story of how simply learning to “be grateful for the things that you already have” can be completely transformative.
11. The Spider and the Fly by Tony DiTerlizzi
You probably already know the story of the spider and the fly. But DiTerlizzi’s retelling and reimagining of their world from the original poem looks as though it was done with white chalk on black paper. It’s like if Tim Burton wrote a picture book, but probably better.
12. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
This book took the world by storm upon its release. Your littlest kid’s school probably even celebrates “Dot Day” because of this poignant pick. And a story about leaving your mark on the world is relevant to kids of all ages — especially high schoolers.