Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”, published in 1990, has been standard graduation reading for years.
As a teacher, I have spent many last days of school turning the wackily drawn pages in front of an entranced group of children gathered on the carpet for one final story time. With its matter-of-fact tone, humor, and overall encouraging message, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” remains a solid commencement day gift.
In recent years many other wonderful picture books have been published that graduates of all ages can appreciate, whether they are leaving elementary school behind or beginning their first job search.
For those who want search beyond Seuss, here are seven options:
“How to Be”
by Lisa Brown
A sister and brother immersed in a world of imaginary play act like monkeys, bears, turtles, snakes, spiders, and dogs. In the process of pretending to be different animals, they discover something else: how to be themselves.
With rhythmic text that is brief and humorous and charming watercolor, nib pen, and India ink illustrations set against plenty of white space, Lisa Brown has honed in on a concept that can be appreciated by all ages.
“I Wish You More”
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
This book is constructed of a series of well-wishes that focus both on good fortune and strong inner qualities. Each two-page spread begins with the phrase “I wish you more,” like, “I wish you more give than take,” and “I wish you more treasures than pockets.”
The text is lighthearted and heartfelt. It has the cadence and sentiment of a blessing yet is humorous and playful with language. Tom Lichtenheld’s cheerful and expressive illustrations featuring a diverse bunch of children are rendered with a mix of ink, watercolor, pan pastel, and colored pencil.
“The North Star”
by Peter H. Reynolds
As soon as he learns to crawl, a little boy begins his journey. Along the way, he meets different creatures and makes many choices. Some parts of the journey are difficult, and he is pressured to stay on the path, go quickly, and not wander. He follows the advice of others until he becomes lost and unhappy. A wise bird reminds him that he needs to decide where his journey will take him.
The little boy’s physical journey, depicted in evocative ink and watercolor illustrations, acts as a metaphor for the journey of life, and a celebration of dreams and possibilities. A note from Peter H. Reynolds at the front of the book wishes all of his readers a “stellar journey.”
Reynolds’ latest book, “Happy Dreamer”, is an equally apt read for new beginnings.
“What Do You with an Idea?”
by Kobi Yamada, Illustrated by Mae Besom
When the boy is first visited by his idea, illustrated as a legged egg wearing a crown, he’s not sure what to do. He tries to hide and ignore the idea, worrying that others will think it’s strange. But as the idea grows, the little boy decides to nurture and protect it. What do you do with an idea? As the boy ultimately discovers, “You change the world.”
Kobi Yamada’s portrayal of an idea as a physical character is powerfully instructive. Mae Besom’s illustrations, progressing from pencil sketches to lively watercolor, encourage readers to have faith in their ideas.
The duo’s subsequent book, “What Do You Do with a Mistake?” is equally pertinent to anyone starting a new stage in life.
“The Wonderful Things You Will Be”
by Emily Winfield Martin
“When I look at you and you look at me, I wonder what wonderful things you will be.” So begins this ode from parent to child. With a focus on the unique talents of individuals and values like kindness and courage, there is a message here for anyone just starting out.
The gentle rhymes and diverse families featured in the text invite children to imagine themselves right into the book. The illustrations—gouache on paper and acrylic on wood—are enchanting in their whimsy and detail.
“Yay, You: Moving Out, Moving Up, Moving On”
by Sandra Boynton
Those who prefer “Happy Hippo” to “Sam-I-Am” will love this book, one of Sandra Boynton’s most recent titles. A typical Boynton mix of familiar animals alongside vague furry critters ponder – with a tinge of worry – all the choices they have in life: where to live, what to eat for lunch, what kind of person to be, and more.
The book ends with a positive message, and that, along with the upbeat rhymes and humorous illustrations, make this an uplifting and celebratory read.
by Sarah Bee, Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
A blobby orange creature called the Yes journeys from tree to valley to bridge to river and beyond, the entire way dogged by a thick cloud of No’s. The No’s warn, discourage, and naysay, because that’s what No’s do. But the Yes lumbers on until the No’s disappear and all that’s left is the Yes, powered on by its own courage and belief in itself.
Sarah Bee’s message, that getting anywhere in life starts with saying “yes” is clear without being heavy-handed, and packaged in delightfully playful language. Satoshi Kitamura’s blocky, powerful illustrations bring the concept of the Yes to life and have you rooting for it all the way.