Picture Books for Teaching Theme, Figurative Language, Kindness, Creativity, and Writing!

July 5, 2018




Ready for one of my favorite ways to teach students about writing, reading, creativity, and even kindness? It’s something that elementary teachers have known all along…it’s the picture book!

The picture book is a powerful instructional tool that can work in any classroom…and I thought I’d share some examples of my favorites with you today.

I’ve put the collection of books in a simple (and free) PDF with links that you can download by clicking this LINK. I’ve also paired each book with a ready-made unit that you can easily teach in your classroom too. Feel free to download the PDF at any time.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of my favorite picture books for any classroom.

First, I’m sharing a book that is great for the beginning of the year as you’re building a positive classroom community.

Teach students about kindness and build classroom community with this picture book. It's perfect for back to school and middle school!

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts taps into a child’s innate need to have what everyone else has. In this case, the main character longs for the “cool” shoes even though they are too expensive for his grandmother to purchase. After finding a pair that is much too small, the main character makes the ultimate sacrifice for a classmate. It’s a touching story that celebrates kindness and classmates…perfect for any time of year. (Click HERE to check out the book.)


Picture books are also wonderful examples of creativity. Since learning to be creative has shown to be one of the most powerful skills for helping students thrive in life, it’s important to celebrate creativity in the classroom.

These two books do just that…

Use picture books to help students develop creativity. Read this creative book to inspire creativity in the classroom.

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis is fairly simple at first glance. A box shape is turned into everything expect a box – a robot, a hot air balloon, even a rocket ship. It’s a fun example of “thinking outside of the box,” just imagine all the creative lessons you could do as an extension to this story. (Click HERE to check out the book.)



This picture book is great to teach creativity. Middle school students will love how a traditional story is changed with imagination!

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner is another example of creativity. This time students see how a traditional story can be flipped on its head and come to life with a little imagination. This book is the perfect springboard for lessons about thinking in new and creative ways. (Click HERE to check out the book.)



Picture books are wonderful for adding a little humor and whimsy into the classroom. You can keep these two books on your shelf for a rainy day and pull them out when students can use a laugh. And…as a major bonus, humor produces psychological and physiological benefits that help students learn.

Read this funny picture book to your middle school students to add laughter to the classroom!

One of my favorite funny books is The Book With No Picturesby B.J. Novak. While there are no pictures in the book, there are plenty of silly words and crazy sentences that you, the reader, must read out loud. Students love how “powerless” you become against the words Novak makes you say. You’ll all be laughing together with this book! (Click HERE to check out the book.)



Get students laughing with this funny picture book about a unicorn!


Another funny book filled with voice (and a sweet message) is Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea. Not only is the book funny as the goat laments about the new Unicorn in town, it’s also cleverly written. There’s a lesson in this book along with a few laughs. (Click HERE to check out the book.)



What about using picture books to teach critical ELA skills? That’s a genius idea.

Teach the concept of theme in your middle school classroom with The Empty Pot.


For instance, if you’d like to teach theme, try The EmptyPot by Demi. It’s one of my favorite stories because the reader learns its themes of honesty and integrity along with the main character that shows up to a gardening challenge with an empty pot. Not only is it a great way to teach theme, it’s a lovely way to showcase important character traits too. (Click HERE to check out the book.)


Use picture books as mentor texts before starting a writing unit.


The next time you’re putting together a writing unit, have students begin by reading mentor texts in the form of pictures books. It’s a super engaging and quick way for students to learn about the critical elements of the genre. I always started my memoir writing unit with a review of several picture books like The Baby Sister by Tomie dePaola. (Click HERE to check out the book.)



Send students on a figurative language hunt with this picture book for middle schoolers!

Want to each about figurative language? It’s easy with picture books. Send students on a figurative language hunt in a book like WhiteSnow Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt. The story has a poetic quality as it tells about the first snowfall of the year. (Click HERE to check out the book.)



Alright, I could go on for days…but I better stop right here. I just love how picture books are a powerful way to help students learn about critical ELA topics and build character. Remember, you can check out a list of all my favorites in this FREE download.

Thanks so much for stopping by! I hope some picture books make an appearance in your classroom! 

See you soon!

Mary Beth 



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