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Using Picture Books in the Elementary Art Room

This post contains affiliate links for each picture book title.

In the art room, I often use picture books as a source of inspiration for my lessons - especially with my K-2 kiddos! Not only do I have an appreciation for the gorgeous illustrations, but I also love the vividly descriptive language that is often used. In fact, most of my lower grade art lessons actually start with me doing a read-aloud with my class. The kids love it (because who doesn't like having a book read to them?), my administration loves it (uhhh incorporating literacy anyone?), and I love it (gotta savor those few quiet art room moments). :)
Recently I had a colleague ask me to send her a list of books that I often use in my classroom, so I decided to turn it into a blog post! Of course this is not an exclusive list (I literally have more than 100 picture books in my classroom), but it's a great place to start!
Each of the 8 book recommendations below includes a brief description of the project(s) I normally do with it and links for more information.


The Grouchy Ladybug - By: Eric Carle

This is a book that I use as a basis for a couple of kindergarten lessons that I teach.
• Clay'dy Bug lesson: In this lesson my kinders create a clay ladybug using a pinch-pot as its base. I love this lesson as it's fairly short and sweet. This is the first time that my students have an opportunity to touch clay, so we keep it fairly simple.
• Grouchy Ladybug Collage: In this project I teach my students about texture and then they create a variety of painted papers using paint scrapers. Afterwards we cut and glue those papers together to create a collage.

Snowmen at Night - Written by: Caralyn Buehner, Illustrated by: Mark Buehner

Snowmen at Night is one of my very favorite books to read in my classroom! The kids love the rhyming words and I absolutely adore the illustrations!
I use this book to help introduce my 2nd grade students to our Winter Value Landscape project! In this lesson we explore value as an element of art and talk about tints, shades, highlights, both cast and form shadows, and how to create the illusion of depth in our artwork. This is one of my most popular lessons! You can read the blog post about it here or you can check out my TPT store for an even more thoroughly written lesson (with PowerPoint)!

How the Crayons Saved the Rainbow - Written by: Monica Sweeney, Illustrated by: Feronia Parker Thomas

Have you ever seen a cuter kindergarten lesson?! After reading the book, I talk to my kinders about 'rainbow order'. This is something that they've all learned about long before I mention it (rainbow writing anyone?). The only difference between 'art rainbow order' and the 'rainbow order' they've heard about is the lack of the hue indigo.
Indigo is a point of contention for me. The only time we talk about indigo is when teaching ROYGBIV. Is it on the color wheel? Nooooo. Maybe it's the way that I've grown up teaching, but I'm not a fan of indigo - as much of my color theory is based off of the color wheel.
Either way, if you like indigo, you'll find it on the rainbows in this book. But when teaching my kinder painted paper mosaic lesson I have my students leave it off.
Since I have my classroom split up into color tables, I have each color table create a piece of painted paper that matches the color of their table. After a night of drying I tear up these papers into smaller pieces and put multiples pieces of each color at each table to be used for my student's rainbow painted paper mosaics. You can find more about this lesson on my blog here.

Snowballs - By: Lois Ehlert

What an amazing book to teach students about collage/assemblage! Lois Ehlert creates the most beautiful books! I've used this book to help teach a couple different lessons before... but these days I use it mostly for teaching my kinders a snowman collage project. You can find the write-up for that lesson here.

Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli - Written by: Barbara Jean Hicks, Illustrated by: Sue Hendra 

This is one of my all time favorite books to use in the art room! Not only is it a rhyming book (which the kids LOVE), but it also has some amazingly awesome illustrations to help teach the ideas behind creating the illusion of depth. It has pages with a very clear foreground, middle-ground, background, it shows objects getting smaller as they move back into space, overlapping, etc.
I typically use this book when teaching my 2nd graders about creating space and then also getting deeper into the ideas of texture. If you'd like to see my lesson - you can check it out here.

Mouse Paint - By: Ellen Stoll Walsh 

Mouse Paint is such a great book for teaching color mixing at the K-1 level. Because my lessons have continuously changed over the years, I've used this book with a variety of different projects. Here are a few of them:
Cut-and-Glue Penguins: In this lesson my 1st graders learned about color mixing and then used that knowledge to paint a colorful background for a collage we later built on top of it.
Delaunay Tissue Paper Collage: In this lesson 1st graders learned about color mixing and then looked at the colorful work of both Robert and Sonia Delaunay. Afterwards they created their own abstract tissue paper collage pieces that demonstrated their knowledge of color mixing and layering. This project is a fun alternative to teaching color mixing with paint.
Kandinsky Color Circles: This is one of the first lessons I ever taught EVER! In this lesson students learned about color mixing and then looked at the work of my favorite painter, Wassily Kandinsky. Naturally we looked at his painting "Square with Concentric Circles" (1913) and then talked about how he must have mixed his paints to create specific colors. Then students did a step-by-step painting experiment to create their own set of concentric circles.

Mouse Shapes - By: Ellen Stoll Walsh

If you can't already tell - I'm a fan of Ellen Stoll Walsh books. :) This book is a PERFECT way to introduce the idea of combining shapes together to create larger and more complex shapes or images (which also touches a number of kindergarten Common Core geometry standards).
Once again as my lessons have changed over the years, I've used this book with a few different projects:
Shape Trains: In this lesson kinders get some practice using glue sticks and learn the basics of combining shapes to create shape trains.
Cut-and-Glue Owls: I've taught this lesson a number of different ways (using different books), but my most recent version includes using this book before we start cutting out shapes to create our owl collages.
Tangrams: After reading the book Mouse Shapes, students manipulate pattern blocks to complete tangram puzzles (click the link to find the FREE tangram downloads that I use with my students).

Louise Loves Art - By: Kelly Light

This is a lesson that was originally derived from my amazing supervising teacher way back when - and now I use it with my 1st graders! "Louise Loves Art" is a book about a little girl who creates her greatest masterpiece (a drawing of her cat) but then her little brother cuts it up and makes it into something else (his greatest masterpiece). We use this as a jumping in point to talk about the idea of taking something and transforming it into something else. We take that idea of transformation and apply it to turning a letter of the alphabet into an animal drawing! To see the full lesson including a pretty awesome extension, click here.


What are your favorite books to use in your art room?
Comment below to continue the conversation!

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