Saturday, August 10, 2013

10 for 10 Picture Books about People (real or imagined)

I'm participating in Reflect and Refine's and Enjoy and Embrace Learning's Top 10 picture book blog post!  I had the good pleasure of meeting both Cathy Mere and Mandy Robek at the Choice Literacy writing retreat this summer.  What a fun day it was working with them in small writing groups.  This blog post was a fun one to ponder.  There are so many great picture books out there!  I finally settled on picture books that are about a person (real or imagined) that not only tell a person's story, but also have a strong theme.  I use many of these books in my 5th grade Social Studies class.  There's always room to squeeze in a picture book and talk about/think about/love literacy.  Here are my top 10, in no particular order:

Morris Lessmore loves books. He has them all over his house. One day a storm blows through town and everything gets completely turned upside down and scattered, even the letters in his beloved books. He sees a beautiful woman floating in the sky, pulled by flying books. They lead him to a spectacular library where the books "speak" to him. He spends years there, taking care of the books and reading all of them. Meanwhile, he writes his memoir. When he is an old man, the books read themselves to him. When he finishes writing his life story, he tells the books it's time he moved on (all within the bright light of the door~can we say symbolism?). In the end, a new little girl discovers the sacred library because she saw a man leading her there with flying books...a great read to start the school year! So much to talk about all year long.

2. Frankenstein by "Ludworst Bemonster" (aka Rick Walton)

This book is hilarious~especially if you're a fan of Madeline. I want to use this during Halloween season--read Madeline first, then Frankenstein. It would be a fun read and a good lesson on how you can use a mentor text and twist it into something completely different. It shows how you can have fun with words.

3. Unspoken by Henry Cole

This was a gripping wordless book about a young girl who helps an escaped slave to remain hidden and fed in her barn. Would be intriguing to have kids write a story from the perspective of the child or the slave.

4. The Composition by Antonio Skarmeta

This is the story of Pedro, who lives in a South American country (it was originally published in Venezuela) under a dictatorship. Each night his parents secretly listen to the radio, as part of a resistance movement. One day at school, a captain from the army comes into class and tells the kids to write an essay about what they do at night. Pedro struggles with what to write. He knows he can't tell the truth, or his parents will be taken away, as has happened to other friends. Instead, he makes up a lie about his parents playing chess each night.  I use this in my 5th grade classroom as we cover dictatorship. It's an example of dictatorship from a country other than Germany.

5. That Book Woman by Heather Henson

I read this aloud to model sentence collection and it was a great pick! It's about a family in Appalachian Kentucky who has little access to books. One of the girls in the family, Lark, loves to read and her brother Cal is baffled by her love. A Book Woman starts coming round in any type of weather to trade books out every two weeks. In the bleak winter, Cal finally decides he wants to learn what is in the books and Lark teaches him to read. The book is based on a mobile library service that was instituted in the 1930s by FDR's Public Works Commission. It was a great book to model a skill and reinforce the reasons we read.

This was an amazing book to share with my 5th graders right before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Many didn't know about the sit-in at Woolworth's. It was stunning to watch their reactions when they learned the four men that started the sit-in were not served and ended up with coffee poured down their backs and ketchup in their hair. We had some great class discussion. We've come a long way in 50 years! Thank you Pinkneys for a great book that is approachable for a 10 year old.

7. Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange

WOW! This book is written in poem form and is incredibly moving because of it. The weight of each of the words conveys much more than a "typical" biography. It's the story of Coretta Scott both before and after she married Martin Luther King Jr. It should be read aloud so the author's craft can be discussed, but also because it alludes to so many historic events during the Civil Rights Movement. Kids that have little to no background knowledge about Civil Rights will need to be guided through the book. It's definitely one that should be shared with the whole class.

8. The Cloud Spinner by Michael Catchpool

This is a wonderful picture book about a boy who spins fabric out of clouds. Each day he sits at the top of a hill and weaves the clouds: gold in the morning with the sunrise, white at midday, and crimson in the evening. As he weaves, he chants what his mother always told him, "Enough is enough and not a stitch more." One day the king spots the boy's scarf made from cloud fabric and orders many scarves, cloaks, and dresses to be made, stripping the sky of clouds and therefore rain. When the villagers begin complaining to the king about the drought, he doesn't know what to do. His quiet daughter has an idea though...
This would be a great one to use for theme.

9. Mrs. Spitzer's Garden by Edith Pattou

A sweet story about a teacher who receives "seeds" from her principal at the end of each summer. She proceeds to plant the seeds and take care of them until they bloom at the beginning of summer. I read this every year to illustrate metaphor.  It's fun to watch the lightbulb go on in my 5th graders heads when they figure out the seeds are students in Mrs. Spitzer's classroom.  They always ask me to reread it so they can pick up on other metaphors throughout the book.  It's a fun one!

This was a fun one about Julia Child. And who doesn't love Julia Child?!?!  The presentation is very  graphic novelesque. Kids enjoy this because not only is it informative, it's also funny. It would be a good one to use to model how to read nonfiction. 

Whew!  That was hard to narrow down to ten books!  I'd love to hear some of your favorite books about real or imaginary people.  I'm always building my picture book collection!  Drop me a line in the comment section.


  1. What a great list! I can't wait to read Mrs. Spitzer's Garden. Two books of Gloria Houston's that we love are My Great Aunt Arizona and Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile. Thanks for sharing these book titles!

    1. Oh, I'm not familiar with either of those titles. I'll check them out. Thanks!

  2. Meghan,
    So glad to see your posts here among the picture book madness. Thank you for sharing so many amazing titles. I can't wait to check out Coretta Scott and The Composition. Both sound powerful!


    1. Thanks Cathy! Coretta Scott was one of my favorite finds last year. I hope you love it, too!

  3. Megan, this is a terrific list. I love The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Many of your other choices are new to me, so I'll be adding them to my list. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Catherine,

      Great! Did you know there's an IPad app for an interactive version of the Morris Lessmore book? I read aloud the book first, then do the interactive one on the IPad. The kids love it!

  4. These are some wonderful ideas for older children. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I've used all of these in my fifth grade classroom. They're tried and true! Older kids love them.

  5. I really enjoyed this list! Many of my favourites are on it! Including . . . That Book Woman, Fantastic Flying . . . and The Cloud Spinner I used this title to explore the concept of visual literacy with my students: What a fantastic title! I also think The Composition is one of the most powerful books for kids out there. Now that I see you post #IMWAYR posts, I will need to revisit your blog more often! What a great discovery!

    1. Carrie--thanks! Please do stop by the blog to check out #IMWAYR. I just picked it up and it's fun to look at everything I've read over the past week. I just checked out your blog and LOVED the idea of covering the text to focus on the illustrations. I've often had kids focus on the pictures in picture books, but I've never covered the text. I think I need to now! What a great way to review reading strategies (such as predicting, inferring, etc.) with my fifth graders. Awesome!