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Picture Books: Not Just for Kids

Picture books can be an excellent source of accessible reading material for 6-12th graders. Yes, even high schoolers. In fact, I promise that if you bring in a picture book to read to your high school students, you will have their undivided attention. Believe me, they will be curious about what you are about to read.

i_never_knew_your_nameThere are numerous picture books designed specifically for older kids. Just check out I Never Knew Your Name by Sherry Garland, which deals with teen suicide, or The House That Crack Built by Clark Taylor and Jan Thompson, which deals with drug use. I will never forget one of my student’s reactions when I read The House That Crack Built to one of my 11th grade classes. Ray, a notorious trouble maker in and out of the classroom, looked at me with wide eyes after I finished and said, “Dude, Mrs. Warmerdam, you can’t read that book to little kids. That would not be cool.” He was right; even though it was a picture book, it was not a book that was meant for young children. Ray’s comment started a lively discussion of the book’s intended audience, the significance of the pictures, and ultimately, the message of the book. This discussion led right into the informational reading that I had for my kids on drug trafficking and the position paper that I wanted them to write. Reading the picture book as an introduction “hooked” my students and they were immediately engaged with the next set of readings and writing assignment.

Picture books also work well in text sets for several reasons. The students in your classes are probably reading at a variety housethatcrackbuiltof levels. You may have mainstream special education students and second language learners who struggle with challenging reading material. Picture books are accessible for them; it is something that they can read independently in a text set (What is a text set? Read more about it!). It also serves to give them background information on the topic or theme, and it ultimately helps them understand the other reading that you are using in the text set. The picture books also provide an excellent source of “text connections.” Because they are accessible, students are able to connect the ideas in the picture books with themselves, with the other readings and even the “text-to-world” connections that ultimately help their reading comprehension. Picture books will not “dumb down” your curriculum; instead, picture books will help enhance the reading and the material you are using and help your students understand the complex topics that they need to master.

For more on using picture books, you can check out The Power of Picture Books in Teaching Math & Science by Lynn Columba. You may also want to read The Power of Picture Books in Teaching Math, Science & Social Studies Grades PreK-8th, also by Lynn Columba.

Also, you can go to for more resources on picture books, including reviews.

Following are some picture books that you may find useful for your subject area. Note that these lists are far from complete; there are hundreds and hundreds of picture books that can be used in junior high and high school classrooms – far too many for me to list here. The following books are those that I own, have used in my classroom, or are books that colleagues have used in their classrooms.


The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns
Sir Cumference and the First Round Table: A Math Adventure by Cindy Neuschwander
Sir Cumference and the Great Knight of Angleland by Cindy Neuschwanderonegrainrice
Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander
Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter by Cindy Neuschwander
Sir Cumference and the Sword in the Cone by Cindy Neuschwander
Mummy Math: An Adventure in Geometry by Cindy Neschwander
One Hundred Hungry Ants by Elinor Pinzces
A Remainder of One by Elinor Pinzces
Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar by Maisaichiro Anno
The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang
Math Curse by Jon Scieszka
What’s Your Angle, Pythagorus? A Math Adventure by Julie Ellis
One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale by Demi

Social Science

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles (African American)
White Socks Only by Evelyn Coleman (African American)schoolisnotwhite
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson (African American)
The Wall by Eve Bunting (Vietnam War)
The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland (Vietnamese refugee story)
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
The School is Not White by Doreen Rappaport (African American)
Freedom’s Gifts: A Juneteenth Story by Valerie Wesley (African American)
More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby (African American/Booker T. Washington)
Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller (African American)
Freedom Like Sunlight by J. Patrick Lewis (African American)
Tree of Hope by Amy Littlesugar (African American/Harlem1930s)
Harlem: A Poem by Walter Dean Myers (African American)
If A Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks by Faith Ringgold
Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting (Holocaust)
Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Braderis and the Children of Terezin by Susan Goldman Rubin (Holocaust)
I Never Saw Another Butterfly by Hana Volavkova (Holocaust)
Six Million Paper Clips: The Making a Children’s Holocaust Memorial by Peter Schroederrosesinmycarpets
Star of Fear, Star of Hope by Jo Hoestlandt (Holocaust)
The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco (Holocaust)
Rose Blanche by Roberto Innocenti (Holocaust)
The Roses in my Carpets by Rukhsana Khan (Afghanistan refugee story)
Smoky Night by Eve Bunting (Los Angeles riots)
A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai (Japanese Internment)
The Bracelet by Yoshiko Uchida (Japanese Internment)
So Far From the Sea by Eve Bunting (Japanese Internment)
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki (Japanese Internment)
Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki (World War II)
Always Remember Me: How One Family Survived World War II by Marisabina Russo


The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky
The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker (a longer book)
A Drop of Water by Walter Wick
A Drop Around the World by Barbara McKinney
Cloud Dance by Thomas Locker
Water Dance by Thomas Locker
Mountain Dance by Thomas Locker
Sky Tree: Seeing Science Through Art by Thomas Locker
A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History by Lynne Cherry
The Shaman’s Tale: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry
Nature’s Green Umbrella by Gail Gibbons
Planet Earth/Inside Out by Gail Gibbons
Weather Forecasting by Gail Gibbons
Flash, Crash, Rumble and Roll by Franklyn Branleynaturesgreenumbrella
The Moon Seems to Change by Franklyn Branley
The Planets in Our System by Franklyn Branley
Germs Make Me Sick by Melvin Berger
A Drop of Blood by Paul Showers
Gravity is a Mystery by Franklyn Branley
What Makes Day and Night by Franklyn Branley
The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming by Laurie David

Do you have any favorite picture books for the classroom? If you do, please share!

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