5 years ago, I wrote a post sharing a few great picture books for practicing inferencing. Looking back, I realize it is time to update the list with a few new favorites as I have expanded my own collection of stories focusing on a broader worldview.
For ease sakes, I have also gathered the picture books I am sharing here in an easily accessible list on Bookshop.org – a bookstore site that supports independent book stores rather than that big one. If you order any books through the links I share here, I receive a small kickback through the affiliate link.
I remember I was told to teach inference as a 4th grade teacher, it was one of the many skills students were supposed to develop in literacy, and I was a stickler for following the rules. So the first year I sat with my lesson plans, every word penciled out and guided my students through the lesson. We inferred because the book told us to. When a child asked me why they were learning this, I answered, “Because you will need it next year.” That successfully quieted the child, and I felt satisfied, I had been able to give them a reason for what we were doing and so they did it.
Yet, the act of inferring is so much bigger than “next year.” It is so much bigger than learning how to read text better. It is a life skill. One we need to navigate difficult situations. One we need to read other people. One we need to become better human beings that care about others. And so we infer, yes, but we also start to trust ourselves and our opinions, build confidence in our intuition and get more astute in our observations. And picture books are about one of the best ways we can teach it in our classrooms. So here are some of my favorite titles that I use, updated from home so bear with me if I left any off the list that should be on here. Let me know in the comments which ones I missed.
The first time I read Another by Christian Robinson, I had to reread it immediately; what did I miss? This wordless picture book is great for discussing small clues to a larger story.
Small Things by Mel Tregonning is also wordless and invites the reader into symbolism through inference, a great double skill to practice for kids, while also opening up conversations about anxiety and other burdens we carry with us and what they can do to us.
Another great double-hitter is The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers that works well for symbolism and inference. What does it mean when she places her heart in a bottle and why?
A crowd favorite, even in 7th grade, is Who Wet My Pants by Bob Shea and illustrated by Zachariah OHora. While the inferring may be obvious, it is a great book to introduce or refresh the skill.
What happens to the animals as the lights go out in A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins? A great book to not just teach inference but also assumptions.
A beautiful picture book that is written in English with Woiwurrung language interwoven leads to a gorgeous picture book experience in Birrarung Wilam by Aunty Joy Murphy, Andrew Kelly and illustrated by Lisa Kennedy. While there is a glossary and word bank in the back, this would be a great way to have students decipher word meaning from context clues using inference.
I Lost My Talk by Rita Joe and Pauline Young is a great picture book to talk about what the author means beyond her language when she speaks of the loss she has.
What does the gorilla symbolize is this touching picture book just released? The Boy and The Gorilla by Jackie Azua Kramer and illustrated by Cindy Derby is a great addition to our collection for symbolism and inference.
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales has so many lines that beg to be discussed more deeply. Our daughter just used this picture book in 3rd grade to discuss author’s purpose and intent, another great way to frame inference.
Would a list be complete without a Jackie Woodson book? In The Other Side, we have to use inference to figure out the broader historical context behind the fence division. why can’t the girls play together?
I have to start with one of my favorites and the one I chose to start this year’s lessons with; I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. Beloved by so many, the students laugh out loud, love to infer right away, even when you tell them not to and fall in love with the simple yet devilish story of who took the bear’s hat. Magic I tell you.
And I have to highlight the kind of sequel This Is Not My Hat also by Jon Klassen. I use this as a follow up book, to give my students another chance at visiting the magical world that seems to be Jon Klassen’s mind and they love it as much as the first one. I also love all of the theories of what happened to the little fish that my student concoct.
I do love wordless picture books for inferring work because they are great tools to remind kids that you can have many different theories and still be right. The Whale by Vita Murrow and Ethan Murrow is a great book to use for digging in further and trying to really decipher a story.
Boats for Papa is a picture book by Jessixa Bagley that I immediately fell in love with. The story does not tell us where papa is, nor why the mother does what she does, leaving this open for interpretation by the students.
Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dreams For Me by Daniel Beaty is an emotional book that leaves the reader wondering where the father is. I love the emotional connection that my students can feel to this book, as well as what they conclude. This book will also provide us with a window into the lives of our students as they share their own experiences.
This amusing story of what really happened to a sandwich will allow you to peek into the minds of how deeply students understand textual clues, as well as how well they look for evidence. The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Beach is one that makes me giggle every time I read it aloud and then leads to heated discussions of what exactly did happen to that sandwich?
Another book that is great for deeper level conversations as students try to decide why that skunk keeps following the main character. I cannot wait to hear what my students will come up with, as well as what they would do in this situation if a skunk were to follow them home. I have many of Mac Barnett’s and Patrick McDonnell’s book and love having The Skunk as well
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan is one of those books you can turn to again and again because of the complexity within it. I have used it to teach Contrast & Contradictions and will now also use it for deeper inferences. What I love the most is that each child can truly have their own unique interpretation of what the entire book means and I don’t have enough books that allow us to do that.
Yes, I am biased when it comes to Amy Krouse Rosenthal, she was a prolific author and amazing human being who left us much too soon. But Duck Rabbit is a great inference and discussion book. The simple text and witty illustrations means that every student is bound to have an opinion in the ongoing debate of whether that is a duck or a rabbit. I always keep my opinion to myself or change it over and over.
Another wordless picture book on this list is The Red Book by Barbara Lehman. Again, this levels the playing field for all students as they try to figure out what is happening in the story and have to be careful observers to support their conclusions. Plus, I just love the message this book sends.
Another favorite is Shhh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton. I love asking my students what they think will happen if the group succeeds and what their purpose really is.
I know there are so many more out there and will update as I remember them or see them in my own collection. I also asked the question on Twitter, to see the many suggestions click on the link here
If your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually or live throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely and in-person as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid model throughout the years and would love to help others as well.