Picture Books on a Theme

Teachers often search for picture books on a particular topic and it is wonderful to be able to come to a blog and “nonstop shop” so to speak. In other words, find more than a few books on the same theme in one place.

Now that this blog is almost 18 months old, there are a few themes that reoccur – enough to make up a list of sorts (through a tag search) or an actual list exists under the Book Recommendations page. Favourite picture books make more than one list. Often I have included responses from my students if I have shared the books in class.

Books about Kindness – For a list, read here

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones was one of our favoutite books that explored this theme.

Books about Courage – For a list, read here

A favourite book on this theme was Sheila Rae the Brave by Kevin Henkes

Books about Death and Bereavement – For a list, read here.

One of the most powerful books on this theme is The Scar written by Charlotte Moundlic and illustrated by Olivier Tallec.

Picture Books that Tackle the Big Issues – For a list,  read here Books on this list have been hugely powerful in my primary classroom – many of them can also be found under Social Responsibility Books (here) with themes on the bully/bullied/bystander dynamic, friendship, sibling relationships, self-esteem,  etc

Emily’s Art by Peter Catalanotto provoked huge discussion in my class last year. Themes of self esteem, judgement and the negative power of words.

Mini Grey Adoration

Mini Grey has been on my radar recently. I have been odering her books, doing a little excited leap when I find one of her titles in the library and scanning beloved blogs for talk of her illustrations/books. I have not been disappointed!


I found Jim (A Cautionary Tale) at the public library and brought it into class the very next day to read aloud. “This,” I promised my students, “you will love. Gruesome. Guts and gore! And the text rhymes!” (This group of kids love rhyming text!) With Hilaire Belloc‘s original text and Grey‘s wonderful illustrations, Jim (one of Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for children first published in 1907) certainly delivered! Our lovely Jim has it good. All sorts of lovely things to eat. Tricycles to ride on. Stories read to him. Even trips to the zoo.

But then Jim does what he has explicitly been told not to do . . . He runs away from his nurse/guardian! And, well, there is no sense easing into this . . . Jim is eaten by a lion! (Starting with his toes) Grey’s illustrations are delightful. As in the format of the book: lift the flap, fold down sections, panels and fold out pages. We couldn’t quite believe that there was a picture of just Jim’s head edged in red. (“That’s blood!” “He is really dead!” “Blood!”) For seven, eight and nine year olds, discovering this in a picture book is highly appealing because it borders on maybe “not quite appropriate for children.” And what could be better than that? As soon as I finished the book, I was begged to read it again. Many times throughout the day. 🙂 My favourite picture? The lion (caught eating a boy by the zookeeper) slinking away in a dissapointed, very guilty, rage.

I purchased Mini Grey‘s The Very Smart Pea and the Princess to be for our class collection. One, because we love fractured fairy tales. Two, what a great example of an unexpected narrator- in this story, the pea tells the story. And three? Mini Grey! At first this version of the classic Princess and the Pea story doesn’t seem all that far away from the original (except maybe for the creepy fact that many characters have pea green eyes).

But soon, the reader begins to realize, something else is going to be delivered in this story.

What . . .  you might wonder?

Well, finally, an explanation for how a teeny tiny pea is felt through all of those mattresses. Hint: more about the power of suggestion than true princess special sensitivity. But, a wedding does happen. The prince happily marries the gardener and the promise of a very productive life awaits.

How I have missed Traction Man is Here is beyond me. This book is hilarious and has the uncanny ability to totally appeal to adults and children alike. Traction Man is an action figure. His trusty sidekick? Scrubbing brush. As in the scrubbing brush you use to scour the dishes or scrub your toes. So, I’ve done some research. My nine year old finds this hilarious. An unsuspecting five year old test case who came for dinner found this hilarious. And. . . an adult friend (whose age starts with a 4) read this book cover to cover twice. Laughed through it both times. And then returned to the scrubbing brush pages for some extra giggles. This book is beyond delightful! It is absurd. Vulnerable. Quirky. I love it! And who can resist our hero Traction Man in the green knitted outfit Granny made for him? Specially for jungles. Of course!

Celebrating the wonder and splendor of imaginative play, Traction Man is Here is a must read!

So, if you haven’t discovered Mini Grey . . . what are you waiting for?

ABCDEFG . . . Alphabet books for you and me!

The alphabet. The basis for all we write and read. Let’s celebrate our letters! We can do it with rhyme, with nonsense, in quiet or noisy ways. Our letters tell many stories. Some wonderful books to celebrate the A, B, Cs!

Achoo! Bang! Crash! The Noisy Alphabet by Ross MacDonald

Noisy letters. Yippee! Wahoo! Ding Dang, Eeek, Fwip, Grunt, Honk Honk and on it goes. This book delivers our 26 letters marching across the pages with much exuberance and the aid of a vintage printing press. Noisy! But gorgeous!

LMNO peas created by Keith Baker

These little green peas inspire many different ideas for occupations. Painters. poets. plumbers, pilots, parachutists? That covers the “P”s! Want to guess the “S” occupations? Come on! This is a great way to share this book as a read aloud!

Dr. Seuss’s ABC

Nobody does nonsense better than Dr. Seuss! He is the King of Silly 🙂 My class loved this book and begged me to read certain pages over and over so we could try to recite particular pages together as a class. A taste. Big M little m: Many mumbling mice are making midnight music in the moonlight . . . mighty nice

Alphabetter written by Dan Bar-el and illustrated by Graham Ross.

This book invites the reader to do many things on each page. First, enjoy a story that weaves through letter by letter.

Alberto had an alligator, but he didn’t have a bathing suit.

Benoit had a bathing suit, but he didn’t have a clarinet.

Second, search each page (sometimes you need to search and search and search) for a hidden letter. (a on A page, b on B page, etc)

My Little Sister Hugged an Ape written by Bill Grossman and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.

 ABCDEFG . . . Alphabet Books for you and me! There's a Book for That

This alphabet book has much more text than others and carries us along in delightful rhymes. The little sister, on a hugging spree,  hugs animals from A to Z. Fun!! And then some more! A sample:

She gave an OCTOPUS a hug. Those eight long arms felt nice and snug,

Gripping my sister in eight different spots. And tangling themselves into eight different knots.

The Dangerous Alphabet written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Gris Grimly

Follow not just letters through the pages. This is is a superbly edgy journey through the land of adventure. Pirates. Monsters. Bats. Creepy tunnels by boat. Eyes are watching you. Will you make it to safety? Follow two children and their pet gazelle through a world beneath the city. Beautifully creepy.

H is for “Help me!” – a cry, and a warning . . .

Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

 ABCDEFG . . . Alphabet Books for you and me! There's a Book for That

This book could be a very simple, run of the mill ABC book. B is for Ball, C is for Cat, etc. But. . . a very impatient moose cannot wait for his turn and M is very far away when we begin with A! Full of moose mishaps, much humour and a lovely act of kindness. This is easily one of the most shared book during buddy reading time in my room.

Bruno Munari’s ABC

 ABCDEFG . . . Alphabet Books for you and me! There's a Book for That

First published in 1960, travel through interesting pairings and graphically interesting pages.

A piano, a Package, Peanuts, a Pear a Pea Pod for a . . . (turn the page) a Quail.

Each page flows and connects in the most interesting of ways

Flora McDonnell’s ABC

 ABCDEFG . . . Alphabet Books for you and me! There's a Book for That

A study in letters, opposites and clever pairings. Each page has 2 objects beginning with a specific letter. Some of my favourites? The large giant with a tiny red glove perched on his thumb, a regal tiger with a teapot balanced on his head and a rhinoceros sniffing at a radish. Bright, bold and beautiful.

Caveman a B.C. Story by Janee Trasler 

 ABCDEFG . . . Alphabet Books for you and me! There's a Book for That

A hilarious tale told one word at a time in ABC order. Much humour and much to infer.

These books are not just for our children learning their letters. Read them right into the intermediate grades. They let us guess, wonder and delight in the magic of language – from one letter to long strands of text! Enjoy!

Orange and yellow whimsy

After hours walking about in the dreary downpour that was Saturday morning in Vancouver, I found myself at the library drawn to specific picture books for their illustrations full of sunny yellow and orange hues. Four especially colourful books made it into my library bag.

My Name is Elizabeth written by Annika Dunklee and illustrated by Matthew Forsythe is a gorgeous book coloured in pale sky blues, orange and black.

Elizabeth is adamant her name is Elizabeth – not Liz, Betsy, Beth or any other shortened form of her name someone dreams up. She was after all named after a Queen, if you didn’t know! We follow Elizabeth through her day as she reminds us frequently that she loves her name. “And I like all the neat things my mouth does when I say it.” So, don’t even try to call her anything other than Elizabeth! She’s having none of that!


Doodleday by Ross Collins is a colourful journey into a world taken over by doodles!

Harvey’s plans to spend the afternoon drawing are strongly discouraged by Mom. “Drawing on Doodleday? Are you crazy?” Unfortunately, boys often don’t listen to their mothers the first time around.

When Harvey does begin to doodle, everything comes to life. He tries to draw one doodle to get rid of another but he ends up with a whole bunch of giant sized creatures bent on destroying his whole block. What can be done? Who can save them all? If your money is on Mom, you just might be right!

The Enormous Potato retold by Aubrey Davis and illustrated by Dusan Petricic reminds us that when everyone contributes, no problem is insurmountable. Gorgeous bright yellow pages!

The farmer’s potato grows and grows. At harvest time, he realizes that getting this potato out of the ground is a job too big for him alone! Celebrating cooperation, perseverance and absolute silliness, this story has a very delicious ending!

Mechanimals created by Chris Tougas is a feast for the eyes and the imagination.

A farmer loses all of his farm animals in a tornado. The twister did however drop a heap of scrap metal and machine parts in his farmyard. He becomes determined to turn the “mess into a masterpiece.” The neighbours scoff. Our farmer turns out to be a kind of creative genius turning “junk” into mechanimals and filling his farm with helpers!

Few words on five wordless books

Because the creators of wordless books can say so much with no words at all, I decided to use sparse words to express my awe for each of these titles and let their gorgeous covers invite you in.

#1 Sea of Dreams by Dennis Nolan

Adventure over and under the sea . . .

#2 The Conductor by Laetitia Devarney

Swirl, whirl, leaves take flight . . .

#3 Where’s Walrus by Stephen Savage

Where is that wacky walrus?

#4 Tuesday by David Wiesner

And what if frogs floated by?

#5 Beaver is Lost by Elisha Cooper

Beaver travels to a bustling city and back.

Thanks to Adopt a School Funds which purchased #1 and #2 for our classroom wordless (or nearly) collection. Wordless books allow us to practice using picture clues and background knowledge to infer meaning. They are also lovely to share together or to ponder over alone.

Chicken Cheeks

Today during free time, I had a student complain about another’s students poor language. He spelled out a word he had overheard and the two of us agreed, not a great choice to express one’s self in the context of a classroom. It’s much more fun to play with language, so that it makes us laugh. Not so great when it offends us.

In one of our morning stories, we laughed a lot. And with the request, “Read it again!” we got to engage in a whole bunch of giggling all over again!

Chicken Cheeks, written by Michael Ian Black and written by Kevin Hawkes, is a hilarious book all about animal rear ends. Yep, you heard correctly. Behinds. Of animals. And all the different names they have. Chicken cheeks. Turkey tushy. Rhinoceros rump. My favourite to say: Penguin patootie. The one we recited as a class multiple times: Duck-billed platypus gluteus maximus.

Moose Caboose

Each page has a picture of an animal’s wazoo (that’s another one!) and a descriptor: Hound dog heinie, for example. Lots of fun in and of itself. But, as you flip to the final pages you realize something else is going on. These animals are boosting each other up trying to reach a honeycomb. Seems like they are in luck until the attack of . . . Bumblebee bums!

The joy of words and the fun they have when we roll them around in our mouth!

The Lunch Thief

Our latest book on the theme of kindness is The Lunch Thief, written by Anne C Bromley and illustrated by Robert Casilla.

Rafael loves to eat. It is his second favourite thing next to pitching for his school baseball team. So why is he lying about forgetting his lunch? Because someone stole it. And he knows who. It was Kevin Kopeck, the new boy at school. Rafael had seen him do it. He could report him, but he decides not to. What if Kevin picked a fight? Rafael follows his Mama’s wisdom: fighting is for cowards.

We stop and examine the picture of Kevin hunched over eating the stolen lunch, sitting by himself by the stone wall. Why did he take Rafael’s lunch? We had a wide range of suggestions: “He is hungry and doesn’t have a lunch.” “He’s just a thief.” “He steals because he has no friends.” “His family is poor so he doesn’t get food.” “He is new and trying to prove himself.” We continued reading to find out more.

Over the next few days, Rafael witnesses Kevin stealing other lunches. He again heeds his Mama’s advice: “Use your mouth before your fists.” He decides to talk to Kevin, asking him where he is from. Rafael learns that Kevin is from Jacinto Valley, an area burned down by wildfires. Rafael notices Kevin’s reluctance to talk about the fires and how quiet he gets when he asks more questions. Students have some more suggestions for Kevin’s stealing. “The sadness turned him mean, ” suggests Shae-Lynn. Catriona builds on this idea: “His house was burned down and he is hiding his sadness by being mean.”

While out in the car with his Mom, Rafael notices Kevin next to the Budget Motel. His Mama explains that if Kevin’s family lost their home, Kevin may be living at this motel for some time. Rafael begins to think about his daily lunch, lovingly packed by his Mama. He makes the decision that maybe he doesn’t need two burritos each day. In our class, hands shoot in the air. We know what is coming!

He’s going to share.”

“Giving is the key!” shouts Sergio.

“It’s all about the Golden Rule.”

On the final page of the book, we see Rafael inviting Kevin to join him and Alfredo to hang out at lunch. He passes him a brown paper bag. “Do you like burritos?”

“He noticed that Kevin needed the food,” someone observed. We decided that this book had taught us some more things about kindness. Yes, kindness is about awareness and yes, it is a choice. But now we have learned that to be kind, sometimes you have to really listen. Some of us also pointed out that you have to be calm, you can’t just react to something – like getting mad that Kevin took the lunches. You have to be calm enough to realize that maybe he needed them. As Sergio says, “Giving is the key!”