About a year ago, a friend of mine told me that her boy loved adventure stories, and did I have any picture books to recommend? I was stumped, truthfully. I couldn't think of many titles off the top of my head but over the months, as I read books to my kids I cataloged the titles I thought would be good for a list of adventure picture books.
The following selections feature many characteristics you might expect to find in a good adventure. Danger, surprises, fantastical creatures, reversal of fortunes, plus some very active imaginations. Read them with your kids and let the journey take you where it will. (Note: all books are chosen by me and my kids. Book titles and covers are affiliate links.)
For further suggestions, you will find similar titles on my lists of books about strong and rowdy girls (good for boys, too!), books for little inventors, and books about trying new things. Don't forget, you can always find all my lists in the book list index.
Journey. This is one of the top contenders for the 2014 Caldecott (and my pick, too!) and one of our favorite books of 2013. Becker's debut is an utterly magical wordless adventure. A lonely girl uses her red crayon to draw a door. When she steps through the door, she embarks on a wondrous adventure requiring her courage, ingenuity and kindness. Afraid of wordless books? Read my parent tips and finally enjoy reading them with your kids.
The Secret Shortcut. Wendell and Floyd are continually late for school, not because they have trouble getting out the door in the morning like yours truly, but because they have active imaginations. You see, on the way to school they keep getting captured by space creatures, caught in plagues of frogs, or waylaid by pirates. They decide the solution is to take the shortcut -- the secret shortcut they invented themselves. The shortcut, however, ends up being more of an adventure than they thought...
Doors in the Air. Doors are the gateway to adventure, everyone knows that! This boy appreciates the possibilities that lie beyond each door. Big, bold paintings illustrate the imaginative worlds the boy enters, and rhyming text make this a fun read aloud. The idea of worlds beyond doors would also be a great writing or drawing prompt for kids!
King Arthur's Very Great Grandson is a bit of a twist on the knight adventure story. Young Henry Alfred Grummorson sets out to slay some beasts and meets some very formidable creatures. At least they seem formidable. It just so happens that none of the mythical beasts want to do battle. They'd rather play games, make friends, blow smoke rings, that sort of thing. All in all, though, young Henry still finds it quite exciting. A marvelous story.
Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat. Jonathan loves watching the big blue boat in the harbor. One day after his parents take his teddy bear away, telling him he is too old for a stuffed toy, he goes down to the docks and boards the big blue boat in search of his missing cuddly friend. Along the way he takes on some unusual passengers, has a run in with pirates and survives a shipwreck. He does find his friend, but that's only the beginning of a new adventure.
Jumanji will show kids how to have an adventure in their very own living room! Of course, it helps to have a magical board game. Siblings Peter and Judy begin to play an ordinary board game but discover that with each move, the game comes to life, sending stampeding animals and erupting volcanos into their home. They must finish the game in order to set everything aright. Also available as an ebook.
Jemmy Button. This is an unusual book that shows adventure may not be all it's cracked up to be, especially when that adventure is thrust upon you. It's based on the true story of a boy from Tierra del Fuego, who was taken to England in the early 1800s. One day, travelers to a distant land give a button to the parents of a young boy and in exchange they take the boy with them on a long voyage to a place filled with buildings, people wearing odd clothing, and theatrical events. He explores this new world until one day he travels back across the sea to his former home. He finds his home just as it was - just as it should be. This is a wonderful story to start a conversation with your kids about how we define home, and the importance of valuing all different ways of living.
Free Fall. Many of Weisner's picture books could be categorized as adventure books so I thought it would be nice to highlight one of his lesser known titles. This book is all about the power of imagination. When a boy falls asleep with a book, he is transported to a fantastic and surreal world. He journeys through this world where objects transform and creatures climb out of books. You will have to set aside your expectations when you "read" this one and really open up to the possibilities of imaginative storytelling.
The Highway Rat. I cannot help but think of Anne of Green Gables film when I read this book. Does anyone else remember how Anne recites "The Highwayman" at the charity event? Julia Donaldson has adapted Alfred Noyes' famous 1906 poem into a humorous picture book. The Highway Rat steals food from all his neighbors (even his own horse!) until a clever duck lures him to a cave to give him his comeuppance. I love reading this aloud! Donaldson brilliantly maintains the cadence and rhythm of Noyes' poem and you can't help but get dramatic.
Fortunately. This lovely, wacky, classic story from Remy Charlip is a reversal (and re-reversal) of fortune adventure. When Ned is invited to a surprise party he sets out on what one would expect to be an innocuous journey. One the way, he meets tigers, survives an explosion, parachutes out of a plane, and generally gets on by the seat of his pants.
The Day Louis Got Eaten may have earned a place on my list of books about rowdy girls, had I read it earlier. When her little brother gets eaten by a Gulper, Sarah doesn't panic. She set off in hot pursuit, ingeniuously transforming her bicycle to help her travel over mountains, across seas and over stone pillars. Meanwhile, a succession of larger and larger creatures gobble one another up until Louis is in the middle of half a dozen tummies. Sarah, however, clever girl that she is, finds a way to break him free. Also available as an ebook.
We're Going on a Lion Hunt takes the classic bear hunt story to the African plains. All the gorgeously playful sounds, like squish, squash and swish, swash encourage kids to get involved in the story and maybe even act it out. Lovely, expressive illustrations bring the girls' adventure to life.
George Flies South is a story about how one moment of hesitation can turn into a big adventure. I almost included it on my list of books about trying new things, but decided it really needed to be here, instead. George is a little bird about to attempt his first flight. He's a bit reluctant but a gust of wind lifts his nest right off the branches, sending him sailing across the city. This is such a delightful book and my kids giggled at the twists and turns of George's journey.
Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken is a picture book with chapters. Louise leaves her farm and sails off on a pirate ship. Perhaps this is not the best way to start an adventure since the pirates want to cook her up. Nevertheless, a storm brings a reversal of fortune and the intrepid Louise continues on, trying out life in the circus, consulting a fortune teller and playing rescuer to a group of caged chickens. This is a fairly long book, so be prepared, but Louise's adventures are certainly epic.
More adventurous picture books