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Jul 31 2016
by Alexandra Carpenter

9 Picture Books that Teach Life Lessons for College

By Alexandra Carpenter - Jul 31 2016

Odds are that it's been a while since you've read a picture book. Sure, the artwork is cool to see, but college students are way beyond those simple story lines. After all, picture books are for little kids, right?

Not so fast! Like many other things, picture books are what you make them. Older readers willing to look more deeply into the moral weaved into the story may find the book to be more than just entertainment for children. Not only do picture books feature incredible art that can be appreciated by all ages, but many of them teach essential lessons, ones that can even extend to the world of college. Here's a list of nine picture books to check out before the start of the school year. 

1. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Fisher Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Ironically, this book is probably more easily appreciated by teens and adults than by young children. The life of Peter Mark Roget, creator of the first thesaurus, is explored through wonderfully chaotic illustrations of his vivid world of words. Winner of both the Robert F. Sibert medal and the Caldecott medal, this little story from history is a classic example of how one man turned his lifelong interest and passion for words into something hugely successful: one of the most popular reference sources ever, one that has made a lasting impact on the world of reading and writing.

This book highlights just how important it can be to follow your passion, even if — on the surface — that passion is making lists. In an economy that rates certain majors as "better" or "worse" than other fields of study, something extremely discouraging to many students, staying true to your interests is a piece of advice every college student should take with them this year. 

Get it here for $16.17.

2. Sam & Dave Dig A Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

It's been a long time since a picture book made me laugh out loud as I read it. Another winner of the Caldecott medal, this tale tells of two friends determined to dig for (and ultimately discover) a fantastic unknown discovery. The hilarious and ironic illustrations truly make the story, as they show the two men changing course as soon as they (unknowingly) approach a treasure. The most valuable part of this book comes from its ambiguous ending, where readers witness Sam and Dave dig so far that they end up falling through the earth and returning back to the place they started, falling through the sky and landing above ground. The author chooses not to explain the how or why of this mishap.

The moral of this story is that there isn't always one right answer, and not every situation is so cut-and-dry as we might want them to be. Additionally, In the college world, it's important to value the thinking of others even if it's different than ours. Not having a single right answer also sums up how we should think of our own futures. Sure, we have an ultimate goal, but there are many different ways to achieve that goal, and we should be ready to consider all the different paths we can take.

Get it here for $13.65.

3. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean

Man, do I wish I could be as chill as Pete sometimes. The story opens with this cool cat admiring his brand new white sneakers, singing a song about them. As the story progresses, Pete continually encounters obstacles (strawberries and blueberries) as well as the elements (mud and water), each one staining his shoes a new color. As dear as his white shoes once were to him, each time his shoes change color, he just keeps, "...walking along and singing his song," admiring his shoes regardless of their present color.

College is definitely a place to remember Pete's attitude. As much as we'd like to think we all have a plan, many opportunities, changes and mishaps are going to find us. We just have to remember to make the best of all of the ups and downs college has to offer. Don't be afraid to go with the flow, because you might really like where you end up.

Get the book here for $12.59.

4. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

Yes, I just had to include this one! While it might've been your parents' excuse during your childhood to make you try every bit of food they ever made for you, it goes way beyond simply trying new-tasting things. While our main character is set on the fact that he absolutely does not like green eggs and ham, Sam-I-Am is not so convinced, and eventually pesters his friend into trying something new, something he turns out to love.

This theme works in the world of college on many levels. First, college is obviously a place to try new things, especially so that we don't miss out on opportunities we might end up loving (even if they don't seem appealing at first). Also, this book just goes to show that we don't always know ourselves as well as we think we do. Pretending we know everything about ourselves can be a dangerous attitude when entering college. It limits which opportunities we chase after and shuts out the rest of the world at a time when new experiences could have a lasting impact. Join a unique club or organization this year to broaden your interests. Take a class with that weird professor, no matter what his/her Rate My Professors profile says about them. Participate in something that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Even if nothing necessarily life-changing comes about, you might just learn a little something new about yourself!

Get the book here for $8.86.

5. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd

In this heartfelt story, a young rabbit boldly declares to his mother, "I am running away." The remainder of the book is an emotional odyssey where the mother tells the son all of the (metaphorical) places where she will still be with him, no matter where he runs away: she'll be the fisherman if he becomes a fish in the stream, she'll be a mountain climber if he disappears up a peak and she'll be a gardener if he becomes a crocus in a hidden garden.

College is a stage of our lives to find ourselves, but it's also a time when family are willing to stand behind us as we go through the process. Let this story be a reminder that no matter where we go in our futures, our family is there in spirit.

Get it here for $6.69.

6. Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tim Lichtenheld

Here's a story that makes a statement not only about being different, but surrounding yourself with the right people. This exclamation mark sticks out in a world of periods, and so he tries to fit in; he even attempts to contort himself into a more period-like shape. Later, he meets a question mark (who speaks only in questions, of course) who appreciates his uniqueness. He then goes off with a string of exclamations that only he is capable of, and relishes in his talent. His confidence inspires the periods to admire his exclamations also.

I think this ties into the college social scene a bit. Colleges obviously have more students than high school, so now is the time to be picky about your friends. Don't miss an opportunity to befriend someone who may be different in all the same ways as you. Surround yourself with people who — like the question mark — will inspire and motivate you to take advantage of your differences and live life to its fullest.

Get it here for $14.39.

7. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

Have you ever tried to tell someone that you have no artistic talent? For that matter, have you ever had yourself convinced you weren't good at something? If you say yes to this, then you already have a lot in common with the young student in this story. After turning an art assignment into a joke by placing a lone dot in the center of the paper, she is surprised to find a week later that her teacher has featured it in the classroom, framed and hanging by her desk. This sets our main character off on a spree of creative art pieces using only dots, each more creative and exciting than the last.

Reynold's creation not only reminds us rising college students of the possible talents we may be harboring, but also urges us to value simple beauty. Most applicable to college is how far one small idea can take us if we only choose to nurture it. We may still be adjusting to the world of adulthood, but college students have done (and will continue to do) incredible things in this world.

Get it here for $7.35.

8. A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

There was nothing stranger to me as a kid than imagining breaking out in a rainbow rash after declining to eat my favorite food. After Camilla Cream goes on a lima bean fast (due solely to the other kids' disapproval of her eating them), she catches stripes. Well, stripes and many other disturbing physical alternations. When consulting a number of doctors doesn't do the trick, a plump old woman comes to the rescue. As it turns out, the cure was as simple as a handful of Camilla's favorite food: lima beans.

College is a place to stay true to yourself, no matter what your interests or beliefs. While Camilla's case of stripes may have been over something as simple as lima beans, we may encounter our own cases of "stripes" in the real world: religion, politics, culture and ethnicity have the unfortunate power to ostracize us from others if we choose to be ashamed of who we are. As you head off to school this fall, keep an open mind and help others embrace who they are just as often as you embrace your own qualities. 

Get it here for $6.39.

9. Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

Last but not least is one of my personal childhood favorites! Tacky the penguin is only ever described as an "odd bird," as he doesn't do any of the things that the other penguins do. He doesn't dive into the water, he does cannonballs. He doesn't sing pretty songs with the penguin choir, he sings silly songs and breaks out his accordion. Most strikingly, he doesn't wear only the simple bowtie that the others do, but he boasts a Hawaiian shirt in addition (ironic for the arctic). When a daunting group of hunters come in search of penguins to capture, Tacky is the only one brave enough to confront them. His wild antics and unusual ways scare off the hunters in no time, and he receives gracious hugs from the other penguins.

Get the book for $6.99.

As we enter college, it's time to leave all of the dumb and unnecessary high school trends and standards behind. If you're like me, you've probably conformed at least a tiny bit during your high school years, but with college comes a clean slate. Most colleges truly value diversity in all its forms, even if that means just being the "odd bird." Everyone has something truly special about themselves just like Tacky does. Now is the time to be yourself without skipping a beat.   

Before you head off to move-in day, consider a stop to your local library. These books can offer considerable encouragement as all of us rising freshmen make the huge transition to college. Not only that, but a day at the library reading some of these titles might allow you a much-needed glance at childhood.

Lead Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This article was completed with the wonderful help of Susan Carpenter and Cindy Minnich (Check out Cindy's blog!)

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Alexandra Carpenter - Temple University

Alexandra is a rising sophomore with junior standing at Temple University and is majoring in psychology with minors in biology and criminal justice. She plays multiple instruments and occasionally writes music for piano. In her spare time, she enjoys collecting record albums and listening to music, mainly classic rock and heavy metal. She also is an avid writer of fictional stories and is working on two novels.

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