New Picture Books to Complement Your Curriculum

These picture books are for primary learners and older students alike.

By Erin Bailey

stack of picture books

With the holidays upon us, schedules seem to get disrupted frequently to make time for special events and programs. Don’t let down time go to waste. Use any of these picture books to expand curriculum minutes as well as to delight listeners.

The Blessing Cup by Patricia Polacco

Grade Level: 3-8

Genre: Biography

In this companion story to The Keeping Quilt, Polacco tells her great-grandmother’s story. Young Anna and her family face anti-semitism in Czarist Russia during the early 1900s. Despite the hatred directed at them, they cling to tradition and focus on their blessings. This is thanks, in part, to a tea set given to Anna’s mother as a wedding present. The special tea set is believed to bless all who drink from it.

As tensions rise, the family considers emigration and turns to Dr. Pushkin for help in getting their travel paperwork. As a thank you, they give the tea set to Dr. Pushkin, keeping just one tea cup to take to America. That cup was passed down on wedding days and currently belongs to the author.

Classroom Considerations:

  • The text is somewhat lengthy which makes it harder for young listeners to like. However, older readers will be treated to a well-paced story, rich in details. 
  • Use this book to talk about family traditions, prejudice, or as a precursor to a study about the Holocaust. 
  • With Thanksgiving right around the corner, The Blessing Cup would be a good way to introduce a project on genealogy and immigration.
  • Learners can interview a relative, friend, or neighbor to get a first-hand account of the immigration process or they can read primary sources from The Library of Congress.

Have students answer the following questions to think about immigration:

  1. What is the definition of immigration? What are some reasons people immigrate?
  2. Why is America a popular destination for immigrants?
  3. What is the difference between immigrate, emigrate and migrate?
  4. What are some of the obstacles that an immigrant faces?

The First Drawing by Mordecai Gerstein

Grade Level: 1-4

Genre: Fiction

“Imagine you were born before the invention of drawing, more than 30,000 years ago.” So begins this engaging book about the cave drawings found in France in 1994. Archaeologists also found a child’s footprint and a canine paw print in the cave. From this information Gerstein proposes that the first drawings were made by a child who needed a way to tell his family about the wonderful things he had seen. Although this book is not heavy on factual evidence, listeners will enjoy following the boy as he searches for a way to make his family see what he does in the clouds, in the flames, and in the shadows. Students will relate to the boy’s frustration as he tries to make himself understood. They will also appreciate his “Aha!” moment when he picks up a charred stick and draws his visions on the wall.

Classroom Considerations:

  • Consider using The First Drawing to create a link between art and communication. Ask learners to think about how art is used to express ideas and help them find examples to support this. Then instruct them to tell the class something about themselves without using spoken or written words. Example: Draw a person and a black and white dog on a leash. Let the class guess what you are trying to communicate: I have a black and white dog.
  • The book can also be used to introduce ancient people and explore inventions. For every great idea in history, someone had to be the first to do it. Allow students to research ancient inventions such as the wheel, cooking over fire, or shoes and let them make up a story about the first person to think of it.

Journey by Aaron Becker

Grade Level: PK-8

Genre: Fiction

This book caught my eye on my way out of the book store, and I’m glad it did! In the spirit of Harold’s Purple Crayon, Becker introduces readers to the power of imagination. A young girl, feeling ignored by her busy family, draws a red doorway on her bedroom wall which opens to a world of adventure. She draws a red boat, a hot air balloon, and a magic carpet to help her navigate her imaginary world. After watching the emperor’s soldiers imprison a bird, she decides to free it. The emperor, in turn, makes her a prisoner and she loses her red marker. When all hope seems to lost, the bird returns with the marker in its beak which the girl uses to free herself.

Classroom Considerations:

  • The artwork is top-notch and the storytelling superb.
  • Did I mention that this is wordless book? Use it to encourage children to tell the story in their own words. Then have them compare their version to others.
  • This makes a fun study on how stories change depending on the teller. It also allows reluctant writers to explore storytelling in a less threatening format.

Reading aloud is such a great way to engage learners with new information. Use the ideas above and the lessons below in your classroom.


Lascaux Cave Art on Ceramic Stones

Pair this lesson with The First Drawing for a well-rounded lesson on the art of prehistoric people. Children will create a textured clay stone that they will paint in the style of cave paintings found in Lascaux, France. Included is a video link about the images in the caves. Allow time for the stones to be fired before painting.

The Heritage Project

In this series of lessons for intermediate grades, learners explore their family heritage. They create a family tree, flag, travel log, and passport in preparation for a culminating activity that includes food and family presentations. A cookbook is another opportunity for children to share their heritage.

Storytelling Fair

Aimed at middle schoolers, this lesson directs participants to retell a well-known tale to classmates orally. Tweak this lesson to go along with the book Journey for students to practice written and oral communication skills.