My favorite picture book read alouds

Reading aloud is both fun and powerful. As a teacher, it’s something I do all the time. As a person, my parents reading aloud to me is one of my favorite memories from my childhood. A lot of people might not realize this, but reading picture books aloud benefits children even when they are able to read on their own. We can model good reading fluency, share stories that are too challenging for kids to read on their own, and help show kids how to love reading stories.

Even teaching fourth grade, I read picture books aloud to my students all the time. It’s only my second year teaching, but I’ve already been building a library of picture books that I love to read aloud. In this week’s blog post, I wanted to share some of my favorite picture books to read aloud to my students and why I love them.

In this blog post, I shared about my favorite books to reread in my personal life. In the beginning of the post, I shared some of the words of Lester Laminack where he describes “best friend books.” Those are books that you can revisit over and over and glean something new each time.

In the classroom, Laminack suggests having an arsenal of just a few books that you and your students get to know well and revisit to learn various skills. While not all these books are best friend books for my class every year, they are great ones to choose from. I read most of them to the students and the ones that this particular group connects with most, I return to over and over throughout the year.

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

amazing grace by mary hoffman book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: Grace loves stories, whether they’re from books, movies, or the kind her grandmother tells. When her school decides to perform Peter Pan, Grace longs to play the lead, but her classmates point out that Peter was a boy. Besides, he wasn’t black.

With the support of her family, Grace learns that she can be anything she wants to be, and the results are amazing!

Why I love it:

This is a great story about standing up for yourself and pursuing your dreams. It’s a great starting point to talk about prejudice and discrimination in everyday life. I also love using this book to teach character traits. Grace is such a strong character that it’s easy to use her as a model for how to understand a character’s traits and motivations.

Get the book: https://bit.ly/2Gj8zok

Listen to it:

Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester

hooway for wodney wat by helen lester book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: Poor Rodney Rat can’t pronounce his R’s and the other rodents tease him mercilessly. But when Camilla Capybara joins Rodney’s class and announces that she is bigger, meaner, and smarter than any of the other rodents, everyone is afraid. It seems she really is bigger, meaner, and smarter than all of the rest of them. Until our unwitting hero, Wodney Wat, catches Camilla out in a game of Simon Says. Read along with Wodney as he surprises himself and his classmates by single-handedly saving the whole class from the big bad bully. Children will delight as shy Rodney Rat triumphs over all and his tiny voice decides the day, R’s or no R’s.

Why I love it:

If we’re talking about Lester Laminack’s “best friend books,” Hooway for Wodney Wat was like the soulmate book for my class last year. We referenced this book nearly every day, no matter what topic we were learning about. It’s a silly story that’s ultimately about acceptance, belonging, and individuality. But it’s got great defined story elements, chances to make inferences, cause/effect, a solid theme, bold characters, and many of the other fiction skills we need to learn about. My class last year loved this book so much they brought it up and made connections on their own!

Get the book: https://bit.ly/30con3h

Listen to it:

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

each kindness by jacqueline woodson book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: Chloe doesn’t really know why she turns away from the new girl, Maya, when Maya tries to befriend her. And every time Maya asks if she can play with Chloe and the other girls, the answer is always no. So Maya ends up playing alone. And then one day she’s gone.

When Chloe’s teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the opportunity that’s been lost. How much better could it have been if she’d just shown Maya a little kindness and opened her heart to friendship?

Why I love it:

Every time I read this book, the kids are surprised by the ending. Most picture books have happy endings, but this one doesn’t. That in itself is enough of a reason to read it. But this book is perfect for reflection on our own choices. It’s a great chance to get vulnerable as a class community. At the end of the story Chloe feels guilty and regrets her choices. I love having students connect with Chloe and think about (and write about!) times they made the wrong choice and how they can make it better in the future.

Get the book: https://bit.ly/2HvZeKu

Listen to it:

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

those shoes by maribeth boelts book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: “I have dreams about those shoes. Black high-tops. Two white stripes.” All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. But Jeremy’s grandma tells him they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” and what Jeremy needs are new boots for winter. When Jeremy’s shoes fall apart at school, and the guidance counselor gives him a hand-me-down pair, the boy is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy comes to realize that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants.

Why I love it:

I was introduced to this book recently and I loved it right away. It’s a great story about fitting in, standing out, and doing the right thing. Most kids can relate to feeling left out or not allowed to participate in a trend or have the latest hot item. But the way Jeremy handles it in this story is unique and makes for a great discussion starter.

Get the book: https://bit.ly/2HxpNis

Listen to it:

Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull

wilma unlimited by kathleen krull book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: Before Wilma Rudolph was five years old, polio had paralyzed her left leg. Everyone said she would never walk again. But Wilma refused to believe it. Not only would she walk again, she vowed, she’d run. And she did run — all the way to the Olympics, where she became the first American woman to earn three gold medals in a single olympiad. This dramatic and inspiring true story is illustrated in bold watercolor and acrylic paintings by Caldecott Medal-winning artist David Diaz. 

Why I love it:

This book is longer than most of the ones on this list, but it’s definitely worth a read and reread. It’s a narrative nonfiction story, which is already a great opener for a conversation with students. But I also love this book for talking about perseverance and discrimination. Wilma’s story is inspiring and the kids are always amazed by how much she overcame. I like using this book in conjunction with an informational article about Wilma Rudolph to compare and contrast different nonfiction genres. Last year, we revisited this book as we started writing our own narrative nonfiction biographies.

Get the book: https://bit.ly/2EGrMQt

Listen to it:

After the Fall by Dan Santat

after the fall by dan santat book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: My name is Humpty Dumpty. I’m famous for falling off a wall. (You may have heard about it.) But that’s only half the story… Because I decided to get back up. And when I did, something amazing happened. This story is about my life… AFTER THE FALL.

Inspiring and unforgettable, this epilogue to the beloved classic nursery rhyme will encourage even the most afraid to overcome their fears, learn to get back up–and reach new heights.

Why I love it:

Kids love fractured fairy tales like this one. It’s a fun take on Humpty Dumpty and it’s great for talking about how perspective can change the way a story is told. Some of the language and ideas in the book are a tad sophisticated, which makes it a great read aloud for talking about metaphors.

Get the book: https://bit.ly/2G6dU2I

Listen to it:

Big Al by Andrew Clements

big al by andrew clements book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: Poor Big Al! He just wants to make friends. And in the whole wide blue sea you can’t find a nicer fish. But because Big Al is large and scary-looking, the little fish are afraid to get to know him. What can he do? He tries everything he can think of — from disguising himself with seaweed to burrowing under the ocean floor so he’ll look smaller. But something always goes wrong, and lonely Big Al wonders if he’ll ever have a single friend. Then one frightening day, when a fishing net captures the other fish, Big Al gets the chance to prove what a wonderful friend he can be! 

Why I love it:

If you want a story about fish acceptance but don’t like The Rainbow Fish, Big Al is the book for you! I love reading this book near the beginning of the year to talk about acceptance and belonging while we’re building our classroom community. It’s great for a discussion about how even when people look different, it doesn’t change how they are inside. It’s also great for a lesson on character — you can compare and contrast Al’s outward appearance and his personality characteristics.

Get the book: https://bit.ly/2S3JIaQ

Listen to it:

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

enemy pie by derek munson book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: It was the perfect summer. That is, until Jeremy Ross moved into the house down the street and became neighborhood enemy number one. Luckily Dad had a surefire way to get rid of enemies: Enemy Pie. But part of the secret recipe is spending an entire day playing with the enemy! In this funny yet endearing story one little boy learns an effective recipe for turning a best enemy into a best friend. Accompanied by charming illustrations, Enemy Pie serves up a sweet lesson in the difficulties and ultimate rewards of making new friends.

Why I love it:

Lots of the books on this list are popular, but I think Enemy Pie might be one of the most popular. Every time I pull this book out, students say excitedly, “We read that last year!” That makes it not only a wonderful story about friendship and moving beyond first impressions, but also a great jumping off point for discussing the value of rereading books in different contexts.

Get the book: https://bit.ly/36iV7fd

Listen to it:

A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

a bad case of stripes by david shannon book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: Camilla Cream loves lima beans, but she never eats them. Why? Because the other kids in her school don’t like them. And Camilla Cream is very, very worried about what other people think of her. In fact, she’s so worried that she’s about to break out in…a bad case of stripes!

Why I love it:

This is a classic I remember loving when I was a kid. It’s a fanciful story with slightly uncanny illustrations and it sparks a fun conversation about individuality and how it’s better to stand out for being different than to contort yourself trying to fit in.

Get the book: https://bit.ly/3n13HVJ

Listen to it:

Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival

perfectly norman by tom percival book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: Norman had always been perfectly normal. That was until the day he grew a pair of wings! Norman is very surprised to have wings suddenly — and he has the most fun ever trying them out high in the sky. But then he has to go in for dinner. What will his parents think? What will everyone else think? Norman feels the safest plan is to cover his wings with a big coat.

But hiding the thing that makes you different proves tricky and upsetting. Can Norman ever truly be himself?

Why I love it:

In fourth grade students are not only developing themselves as people, but it’s often the age when they start to bully, make fun of, or be mean to others for being different. I love sharing stories about how it’s important, valuable, and amazing to be an individual. Like A Bad Case of Stripes, Perfectly Norman shows how it’s always better to stand out and be yourself rather than make your life worse by trying to fit in.

Get the book: https://bit.ly/33fuwOt

Listen to it:

Happy Like Soccer by Maribeth Boelts

happy like soccer by maribeth boelts book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: Nothing makes Sierra happy like soccer. Her shoes have flames as she spins the ball down the spread-out sea of grass. But nothing makes her sad like soccer, too, because the restaurant where her auntie works is busy on game days and she can’t take time off to watch Sierra play. On game days, her auntie helps Sierra get ready and tells her, “Play hard and have fun.” And Sierra does, but she can’t help wishing she had someone there to root for her by name, and not just by the number on her uniform. With honesty and rare subtlety, author Maribeth Boelts and illustrator Lauren Castillo portray an endearing character in a moving, uplifting story that touches on the divides children navigate every day — and remind us that everyone needs someone to cheer them on from the sidelines.

Why I love it:

Many of my students can relate to the problems Sierra faces in this story. The way the story is told allows it to be either a mirror for those students who relate or a window into their world for students who can’t. It’s great for an honest discussion about privilege and (like all these books) can be a great jumping off point for writing. Students can reflect on how soccer makes Sierra feel and write about something that makes them feel happy in their own lives.

Get the book: https://bit.ly/30fumnY

Listen to it:

Ojiichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki

ojichan's gift by chieri uegaki book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: When Mayumi was born, her grandfather created a garden for her. It was unlike any other garden she knew. It had no flowers or vegetables. Instead, Ojiichan made it out of stones: big ones, little ones and ones in-between. Every summer, Mayumi visits her grandfather in Japan, and they tend the garden together. Raking the gravel is her favorite part. Afterward, the two of them sit on a bench and enjoy the results of their efforts in happy silence. But then one summer, everything changes. Ojiichan has grown too old to care for his home and the garden. He has to move. Will Mayumi find a way to keep the memory of the garden alive for both of them?

Why I love it:

In my school, many students have close relationships with older relatives who live in other countries. That makes this book relatable to them in that sense. It’s also a great book to explore character motivation!

Get the book: https://bit.ly/3cCsqei

Listen to it:

Super Manny Stands Up by Kelly DiPucchio

super manny stands up by kelly dipucchio

Summary:

From Goodreads: Every day after school, Manny saves the world from formidable foes. I AM FEARLESS! I AM STRONG! I AM BRAVE! I AM POWERFUL! I AM INVINCIBLE!

Zombie bears, evil cloud monsters, and alien robots with laser beam eyes are no match for Super Manny. But when Manny encounters a real-life nemesis in the school cafeteria, will he be able to summon his superhero strength to save the day? 

Why I love it:

This book is an amazing example of how you can find the courage in yourself to stand up for others. It’s also great for learning adjectives. I also love it as a jumping off point for writing — students can imagine reflect on a time they’ve had to be brave and stand up. Or, you can use Manny’s imaginative games as inspiration for students to write their own fantastical superhero story.

Get the book: https://bit.ly/3icUo1k

Listen to it:

The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

the invisible boy by patrice barton book cover

Summary:

From Goodreads: Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party… until, that is, a new kid comes to class.

When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.

Why I love it:

Stories about kids facing interpersonal problems in school are easy for students to connect to. In my class, we use this book to talk about kindness and how to be a good friend, especially when you’re the only one trying to do the right thing. We also love talking about the illustrations. When Brian is feeling ignored and invisible, he’s drawn in black and white against a world full of color. Students love watching the color show up in Brian as he starts to make friends.

Get the book: https://bit.ly/2SdoHKJ

Listen to it:

If you want to learn more about why reading aloud to children is important, check out this article from PBS. If you want to learn more about what happens in a child’s brain when they’re listening to a story, check out this article from NPR.

If you work with kids, I’d love to know what your favorite books to read aloud to them are! If you don’t, I’d love to know a book you remember listening to when you were a child! Either way, leave a comment down below and let’s chat about awesome stories.

emily signature

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *