A friend of mine mentioned that her child loved adventure stories, and did I have any adventure picture books to recommend?
Of course I did!
The children's picture books on this list feature many characteristics of a good adventure story. Danger! Surprises! Fantastical creatures! Reversal of fortunes! Plus, some very active imaginations. Read these adventure picture books with your kids and let the journey take you where it will!
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Journey (trilogy) by Aaron Becker
Becker's debut book 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 journey requiring her courage, ingenuity and kindness. Afraid of wordless books? Don't be. Read my parent tips for enjoying wordless books with your kids.
The Secret Shortcut by Mark Teague
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...
King Arthur's Very Great Grandson by Kenneth Kraegel
This is a wonderful twist on the knight adventure story. Young Henry Alfred Grummorson sets out to slay a few 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.
MORE: Readers will find grand adventures in these King Arthur Books and Retellings
Wonder Walkers by Micha Archer
Sometimes the best adventure is the one where you discover the simple joys that hide in plain sight. Two children spend time outdoors looking at and wondering about rivers, mountains, the sun and more. Simple text allows readers to immerse themselves in the gorgeous illustrations feel the joys of movement and adventure with the protagonists.
The Song that Called Them Home by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Maya McKibbin
Indigenous siblings, Lauren and James, have an afternoon out with their grandfather. While he naps, they go out onto the water in a canoe, where they encounter the Memekwesewak, water sprite-like creatures. Lauren and James spend the afternoon dancing and swimming with the Memekwesewak until they hear the sound of the drum, calling them back to the shore. A beautiful story with mesmerizing illustrations.
Once Upon a Book by Grace Lin and Kate Messner
What better adventure is there than getting lost in a book? On a winter day, in an attempt to shake off cabin fever, Alice (one cannot help but wonder if she was named after a certain Wonderland lass) opens a book. Immediately, she and is sucked inside on an adventure. With each turning of the page, the adventure continues until she returns to her family. Readers will love examining the illustrations to see how the pages of Alice's book form the backdrops of her adventure. Simply delightful.
Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
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.
Doors in the Air by David Weale, illustrated by Pierre Pratt
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
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.
Free Fall by David Weisner
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.
MORE: Wonderful wordless books
The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson
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 by Remy Charlip
This lovely, wacky, classic children's book 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.
All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato
Road trips make great adventures. A boy and his family drive to Havana in their car, Cara-Cara. Along the way, the boy takes in all the sights and sounds of the drive, especially the sounds made by his beloved car. The illustrations are wonderfully vibrant. I loved the rhythm of this book, which is a great read aloud choice.
Moose, Goose and Mouse by Mordicai Gerstein, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein and Jeff Mack
Part friendship story, part real estate hunt, part train trip, a moose, goose and a mouse get on a caboose and the adventure takes off. Lots of fun rhymes paired with runaway humor to make this a madcap read aloud.
The Day Louis Got Eaten by John Fardell
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
When her little brother gets eaten by a Gulper, Sarah doesn't panic. She set off in hot pursuit, ingenuously 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.
We're Going on a Lion Hunt by David Axtell
Axtell 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 act out their own exciting journey. Lovely, expressive illustrations bring the girls' adventure to life.
Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss
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, with chapters, so be prepared, but Louise's adventures are certainly epic.
The Raft by Jim LaMarche
Nicky goes to visit his grandmother who lives by a river in the woods. At first he thinks the summer is going to be boring, but Nicky's grandmother encourages him to get outside. On the river he discovers a raft. He takes it out one afternoon and it becomes his daily activity. While floating every day, he admires the local flora and fauna. He even begins sketching what he sees. What I also love about this book is the development of the relationship between Nicky and his grandparent.
Little Bear's Big House (series) by Benjamin Chaud
I love this series of oversized books about Little Bear's adventures (translated from French). It is so much fun to try and find Little Bear in each enormous, detailed two page spread. In this installment Little Bear discovers an empty house, decides to go exploring and has a marvelous adventure!
Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris
After emerging from his cave, Bear falls into the river and begins a journey downstream. Along the way he picks up various animal companions, including a frog and a turtle, a raccoon and more. During their watery ride, the animals discover they need each other and then–here comes the waterfall! Utterly joyous.
Vroom! by Barbara McClintock
This is a wonderfully joyous read aloud for preschoolers. It is the story of a girl going on a journey in a race car while celebrating the pleasures of speed! One night Annie puts on her helmet (safety first!), hops into her car and zooms out the window of her bedroom, headed on an adventure limited only by her imagination. The text is simple and to the point, allowing the reader to travel vicariously with the racer across the landscape. The illustrations are clever and engaging. A gem.
Jemmy Button by Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidal
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. Jemmy 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.
George Flies South by Simon James
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
Sometimes a moment of hesitation can turn into a big adventure. This title would also be a great addition to my list of books about trying new things. 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.
Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat by Philip C. Stead
Find it: Your Library | Amazon
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.