being a teacher, picture books, Reading

Great Picture Books to Teach Symbols (Again and Again from Notice and Note)

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I am continuing with my updates of the picture book lists I made several years ago to accompany the teaching of a variety of reading skills. This time, the focus is on “Symbols” (Again and Again for Notice and Note) or that moment something seemingly inconsequential takes on a more significant meaning. It can be a word, a phrase, an object, or an action that repeats. This can give us a further clue about the conflicts of the story, the theme of the story, or even foreshadow the story.

When I first started out teaching this skill, I was inspired by the language of  Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst.  This book provided my students with the foundation for deeper reading conversations and a common language as we developed our thoughts and discussion skills.

I have updated three other lists so far. Here are my updated lists for Internal Conflict (Tough Questions),  Character Change (Contrast & Contradictions), and for Flashbacks (Memory Moments).

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld: The phrase “The rabbit listened” is repeated multiple times throughout the story, emphasizing the importance of empathy and listening to others.

The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte: The character’s memories are depicted as balloons that are repeated throughout the illustrations, emphasizing the importance of memories and their impact on our lives.

The Bad Seed by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald: The phrase “I’m a bad seed” is repeated several times, showing the character’s struggle with his identity and eventually his growth and change.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael López: The phrase “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you” is repeated multiple times, highlighting the theme of diversity and the importance of embracing differences.

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds: The main character collects words and repeats them throughout the story, emphasizing the power of language and the joy of learning new words.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat: The phrase “No words” is repeated throughout the story, highlighting the characters’ communication barriers and eventual connection through art.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins: The phrase “We don’t eat our classmates” is repeated multiple times, emphasizing the importance of treating others with kindness and respect.

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill: The phrase “No one is born a jerk” is repeated several times, showing the character’s growth and change as she learns to be kind.

Love by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long: The word “love” is repeated throughout the story, highlighting the different forms of love and its importance in our lives.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James: The phrase “You came in as a lump of clay, a blank, canvas, a mingi, a rough draft” is repeated multiple times, emphasizing the transformative power of a fresh haircut and how we build power


The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier and illustrated by Sonia Sánchez: The phrase “She asked her brothers to help, but they said no” is repeated several times, showing the character’s determination and persistence in building the fort on her own.

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki: The phrase “They say blue is sad, like a lonely song” is repeated throughout the story, exploring the different emotions and meanings associated with the color blue.

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin: The phrase “Little Star gazed down at the big mooncake” is repeated throughout the story, emphasizing the character’s curiosity and eventual consumption of the mooncake.

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee: The phrase “The wall protects this side of the book” is repeated throughout the story, emphasizing the character’s ignorance of the dangers on his side of the wall.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales: The phrase “We didn’t know the language” is repeated several times, emphasizing the character’s immigrant experience and the challenges of adapting to a new culture.

When Things Aren’t Going Right, Go Left by Marc Colagiovanni and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds: Quite literal symbols are emplyed as the main character leaves their burdens behind, great intro ttext for younger students.

Brick by Brick by Charles R. Smith Jr. and illustrated by Floyd Cooper tells the little known story of how slaves were part of the construction of The White House.  Powerful read and powerful Again and Again moments.

Back of the Bus  written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Floyd Cooper tells the story of Rosa Park’s act of courage from the  perspective of a little boy on the bus.  Powerful again and again when students notice the symbolism of the marble.

Amelia and Eleanor Go For a Ride written by Pam Munoz Ryan and illustrated by Brian Selznick has a few subtle Again and Again’s and may therefore be better suited for when students have had some exposure to the strategy.

I admit that The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds was the first one that came to mind for this strategy of noticing when something is repeated again and again.  Why?  Because the cat becomes a symbol for so many things in this book and is something that my students often notice.

With the simple line “Winter is coming” this picture book aptly titled Winter is Coming by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Jim LaMarche is great for just starting out with the strategy since the line is easy to spot and will lead to good discussions about how the book changes even though the line stays the same.

The Big Box by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison illustrated by Giselle Potter has a lot of repetition making it an ideal candidate for again and again.  Because the words do not seem to mean much until you really start to think about their meaning.  What is the symbolic meaning of the big box?

One of the most beloved picture books in our 7th grade classroom is I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen which due to the hat and the repeated phrases of the bear and the rabbit are great for inferring based on the again and again moments.

Another favorite is Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman illustrated by Zachariah OHora when Dot the Rabbit keeps repeating that Wolfie will eat them all up.  This leads to some great discussion of why she would keep saying that and how we do the same as people when we judge.

The again and again moment may be a little harder to find in the classic Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak but kids always recognize it when they reach the final page and the supper is still hot.  Why does this matter and how does it link in to earlier events?

A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson is a beautiful picture book and the again and again lies in the use of the color red as well as the phrase “Sweet smell of roses…” throughout the book.

this beautiful new picture book, My Two Blankets by Irena Kobold and Freya Blackwood keeps eluding to a blanket.  I love the metaphor that the blanket (s) represent.

Blue on Blue by Dianne White and Beth Krommes has a fantastic again and again in the way the color words are used.  While not as obvious as an again and again moment, I am looking forward to seeing if students can discover the pattern.

We are about to start our nonfiction focus for the year so I am so glad I found some great again and again moments in The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Helligman with pictures by LeUyen Pham.  The way the numbers are colored throughout the pages will definitely catch the eye of students.

As always, I turned to the awesome Notice and Note community on Facebook and asked them to share their favorites as well.  Here they are.

Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson.

Frog on a Log? by Kes Gray and Jim Field.

Little Elliot Big City by Mike Curato

By Frog and Mouse by Deborah Freedman

Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Shortcut by Donald Crews

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes.

The Hat by Jan Brett

The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

As always, please add your favorites for Again and Again in the comments

3 thoughts on “Great Picture Books to Teach Symbols (Again and Again from Notice and Note)”

  1. Pernille, I especially like The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. I keep a word (and phrases) box of cut-outs to teach Found Poetry and I find this book a great introduction for kids writing Found Poetry themselves. Thank you for including it.

  2. Thanks, Pernille. This is a beautiful compilation of books with just enough commentary to assist teachers in selecting a read aloud to fit with the moment. I plan on saving this, for sure!!
    Best to you,

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