Our Favorite Picture Books for Middle School

I used to think picture books were best placed behind my desk, labeled for teaching use.  Stowed away neatly so that they wouldn’t be lost, not the pages too creased.  After all, picture books were for little kids and certainly not the big kids I was teaching.  One day, a student asked me if he could borrow one of the books that was perched behind my desk fortress, I wanted to say no, but instead asked him why?  Why did he want to read that book and not the mature books in our classroom library.  Sheepishly he glanced at me and then muttered, “For fun….?”  And so I handed him the book.  It wasn’t long after that all of my students would ask for the picture books squared away and I soon realized what a fool I had been.  Picture books were not for little kids.  They were instead the perfect text to use in mini-lessons, to lead discussions, and to create a community of readers.  I have never stored my picture books away from students since.

But what do you bring into the middle school classroom?  Is there some sort of rule that applies for which books will work with these fantastically diverse years or does it not matter?  It turns out that the only thing that matters is the quality of the picture book itself, once that is taken care of, the students will not stop reading them.  If you are just adding picture books to your classroom library, pick wisely in the beginning, but don’t get too caught up in whether or not it will make a great mentor text, I have found that the most unlikely of books can always be used for something as long as the students are into the story.  So the favorite picture books we have in our room, in no particular order, are…

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A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson

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The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds

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One by Kathryn Otoshi

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Pete & Pickles by Berkeley Breathed

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The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

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Malala, A Brave Girl From Afghanistan/Iqbal, A Brave Boy From Pakistan by Jeanette Winter

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Bad News for Outlaws:The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

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This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

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Bluebird by Bob Staake

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Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

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Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman

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The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada

What Do You Do With An Idea?  by Kobi Yamada

Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

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Froodle by Antoinette Portis

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio

Sparky! by Jenny Offill

Sparky by Jenny Offill

Knock Knock by Daniel Beaty

Knock, Knock: My Dad’s Dreams For Me by Daniel Beaty

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Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier

Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds

It's a Book by Lane Smith

It’s A Book by Lane Smith

That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems

That Is Not A Good Idea by Mo Willems (Or anything by Mo!)

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The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

And the list could go on and on, but at least this is start for those of you looking to add incredible picture books to your classroom library.  And don’t start like me; let the kids read them whenever they want, even the big kids, especially the big kids.  Which books would you recommend?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

11 thoughts on “Our Favorite Picture Books for Middle School

  1. Love this post … looks like I have some new books to find 😀

    I use picture story books in all my classes from prep (5 year olds) to Year 12 (18 year olds). So many ideas, so much fun, so many text connections … quick and easy to read.

    Not all PSB are actually written for young children anyway!

  2. Awesome list!!! As a sixth grade teacher, I’d add Chloe & the Lion by Mac Barnett & Adam Rex. Giraffes Can’t Dance by by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees. Big Plans! by Bob Shea. I Wish You More by Amy Krause Rosenthal AND Exclamation Mark by Amy Krause Rosenthal. Thank you for adding more to my list!

  3. Thank you for sharing this list, Pernille. I regret not having done much with picture books this year in grades 6 and 7. Next year I’m moving to grade 5 and I am planning to start off the year (until GRA#15) with picture books.

  4. Thanks for sharing. I’m always looking for more picture books to add to my list. I have recently used ‘What do you do with an idea?’ and ‘The Magnificent Thing’ with my students and they LOOOOVED them! I have also love the wordless picture books by David Weisner.

  5. I used to read aloud The Math Curse to my 7th grade science students, and then have them write The Science Curse. They came up with some great things! Then, wouldn’t you know, a few years later Scieszka came up with his Science Curse.

  6. Great list

    My Two Blankets, by Irena Kobald, opens the door to discussion on immigration and what an immigrant experiences when they arrive. Blankets are used to bridge the gap, non-threatening and comforting.

    Susan Roberts
    Picture Book Reviewer
    Books4theCuriousChild.com

  7. I love this list! I was just writing a blog post on why I still use picture books to teach middle school when I came across this list in a search. I have not heard of many of these books.

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