In the classroom, every minute counts. Don’t waste time reading picture books that are silly and without any content worth discussing. That kind of activity doesn’t make sense when there is a plethora of worthwhile, exciting picture books that will allow discussions that meet Common Core Standards of Speaking and Listening.
Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman
“Looking at Lincoln,” a nonfiction book about Lincoln and his life is a great way to jump into a biography study of famous people. Maira Kalman includes just the right balance of interesting facts and her own thoughts and comments.
The brightly colored illustrations will encourage children to draw their own pictures. This book would be perfect to lead into discussions about perseverance, education, and the difficulty of doing the right thing.
‘Llama Llama and the Bully Goat’
“Llama Llama and the Bully Goat” is a picture book for younger readers about bullying. It is a simple read but the message is clear: Bullying is not acceptable.
In the story, the youngsters go to their teacher to get help with Gilroy Goat, the bully. While the teacher’s answer, time-outs, is simplistic, the message — adults needs to get involved — is an important one.
It’s a perfect book for the beginning of the year — or for any time that a suspected bully is around.
‘Hank Finds an Egg’ by Rebecca Dudley: A tale of compassion and kindness
“Hank Finds an Egg” is a wordless book about helping others and about finding a solution to a problem. Hank finds an egg in the forest. He knows it needs to be back in its nest, but he doesn’t know how to get it there. He finds a solution and the egg is safe.
Discussion for young students should include questions about what kind of a “person” Hank is. Why did he decide to return the egg to its nest instead of collecting it and bringing it home? What character traits does that imply? What would the students do in that situation?
The photographs are beautiful and the story unique. Students will love “telling” each other the story and might be excited by a classroom activity to write words for the story.
‘The Day the Crayons Quit’ by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers
“The Day the Crayons Quit” is a rip-roaring, funny story about crayons complaining about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of a young boy. Each crayon lists the complaints on cleverly illustrated lined paper, using the color of that crayon.
Black is sick and tired of being used for outlining. Why can’t there be a black beach-ball, he asks? Red feels overused at holidays, and gray wants to be used a bit more judiciously. There are small gray things to color, he argues, like penguins, instead of huge whales and elephants.
Clever classroom teachers may consider having their students write their own “Crayons Quit” books.
‘The Cat with Seven Names’
“The Cat with Seven Names” is a touching book about a stray cat who wanders into a neighborhood and befriends the residents. The people we meet in the story are all lonely, and the cat helps them feel happy.
Issues that can be discussed after reading the book include diversity, homelessness, mental illness, loneliness, moving, and just finding friends. The story is about community and friendship. It’s also a book that can be appreciated and used on many levels, from primary grades to upper elementary classes.
Tony Johnston is a talented writer who also wrote “Every Small Goodness,” a collection of short stories for fourth and fifth graders.