Seven Picture Books for Unschoolers

Picture books are one of the great joys of life for both children and parents. In just a few illustrated pages they tell compelling stories that resonate with a wide range of audiences. Reading them is fun, but the sparkle of imagination and love of story in a child’s face as they listen is unmatched. As an added bonus they’re short, which makes it easy to read story after story in a single sitting.

We have a lot of picture books in our house, and while some of our favorites are on these list, I’ve picked these particular books because they explore some important aspects of Unschooling: the importance of imagination, self-driven exploration, pursuing passions, etc. In my humble opinion, these are picture books that every Unschooling family should have in their home library.

Doug UnpluggedDoug Unplugged, by Dan Yaccarino

This fun story was an eary pick to start this list. Doug Unplugged is about a young robot, the titular Doug, who is left alone to download information while his parents go to work. He absorbs many facts, but has little context to truly understand them until he unplugs to follows a bird out into the city, where his true learning begins. Thematically subtle it’s not, even for a picture book, but it’s a great look at how important experiential learning is. Sitting behind a computer (or, I daresay, in a classroom) is no substitute for actually exploring the world, and it’s in exploration that our best and most profound learning occurs.

JourneyJourney, by Aaron Becker

The first in a trilogy of wordless picture books, Journey follows a lonely girl with a magical red marker as she draws a doorway into another world where fantastic adventures ensue. While Journey isn’t about learning, it is most certainly about imagination and exploration. On top of that, the illustrations are absolutely incredible, as one would expect from a lavish wordless book. The sequels, Quest and Return are also highly recommended.

The Night GardenerThe Night Gardener, by the Fan Brothers

One morning the community of Grimloch Lane wakes up to find a tree transformed overnight into a marvelous topiary in the shape of an owl. Each night a new topiaries appear, capturing the imagination of the entire area, but especially an orphan boy named William. At it’s heart, The Night Gardener is a story about art and inspiration, and how the actions of one person can inspire others to follow their own dreams.

What Do You Do With An Idea?What Do You Do With An Idea?, by Kobi Yamada, Illustrated by Mae Besom

The title is fairly self-explanatory, but it’s considerably more profound than I expected the first time I sat down to read it. What Do You Do With An Idea? is an inspirational story about the value of an idea, perseverance, and following your dreams. Perfect for Unschoolers who value the importance of following your own path even if others don’t understand, and trust that amazing things will come of it.

Extra YarnExtra Yarn, by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Sometimes the ordinary things in life turn out to be fantastic. Seemingly ordinary hobbies can lead to fascinating careers, discoveries, or art. In Extra Yarn, a box of yarn and a girl with a generous spirit transform a cold, bleak town into something extraordinary. A perfect mediation on the importance of following our dreams and how that pursuit can lift up those around us.

Clink, by Kelly DiPucchio and Matthew MeyersClink

I hesitated briefly before including Clink on this list, because on the surface it’s not about Unschooling at all. It’s merely the story of a sad, forgotten robot who seems to have no purpose in life. Yet at the end of the book we meet an enterprising  boy who loves discovering and transforming things. Just the sort of life that many Unschooling children follow. In addition, it’s a perennial favorite that all of my kids love.

One Cool FriendOne Cool Friend, by Toni Buzzeo, pictures by David Small

I found an autographed copy of One Cool Friend at a local bookshop some year ago and bought it for my penguin-obsessed son. Elliot, the protaganist of One Cool Friend, also loves penuins and smuggles one out of the aquarium. Once home he faces the struggle of caring for the penguin and uses all his considerably resources to do so. His activities appear to go unnoticed by his absentminded and seemingly neglegent father. It’s a great exploration of how a child with a passion will find ways to explore it, and a great twist on the final pages throws Elliot’s relationship with his father into a different and altogether wonderful light.


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