Join Ramona Recommends and many educators all around the world to celebrate OPEN THE MAGIC day on September 25th. Picture books are for all readers. ALL READERS include every human. All you have to do is read a picture book to your class. The more we promote the love of reading the more students will celebrate with us. If you are on social media, snap a picture of this joyous moment in your classroom and use the hashtag #openthemagicday.

Hello teachers! I’m here to talk about how we, as middle and high school ELA teachers, can incorporate children’s books into our classroom.  Specifically, I am going to discuss five ways you can use BabyLit picture books to teach literary classics!  If you are hesitant, stick with me and you’ll find some simple tricks that can elevate these incredibly designed books into a learning tool for teens.

First, let’s talk a bit about these BabyLit books you’ll see in the photos throughout this post. The authors, Alison Oliver and Jennifer Adams, take literary classics and simplify them for younger ages.  Think of a classic and I’m willing to bet they have it! While at Barnes & Noble, I had the most challenging time selecting which ones I wanted to use, but I ended up with: Romeo & Juliet, Alice in Wonderland, Sense & Sensibility, The Secret Garden, and The Odyssey.  I’ll definitely be back to purchase A Christmas Carol, Little Women, and a few of the other 26 options they have available, too! So, now that we have the books, how can we teach them? 

Reading some of these challenging classics can be difficult even for your most experienced readers. Therefore, using these children’s books to teach literary elements is a great way to help your students develop a better understanding of the events taking place throughout the story.  Some literary elements I would use include: theme, main idea, imagery, conflict, and symbolism.  For example, in the BabyLit version of Romeo & Juliet, the authors use numbers to describe key events in the tragic comedy. ACTIVITY: Ask students to describe the symbolism behind each of the pages using textual evidence from Shakespeare’s original.

Using the BabyLit novels to teach plot structure is probably one of the most effective ways to use these books! After reading the original classic, use the children’s version to recap the key events that occurred by labeling the pages: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.  For instance, in BabyLit version of The Odyssey, the characters and major events are all included! Students will be able to visualize the plot structure with the graphics and text on each of the pages.  ACTIVITY: ask students to fill in the missing pieces of the picture book by designing their own graphics and elements from the text.

If you follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or TpT, you know that I am a HUGE proponent of independent reading assignments.  As soon as I saw these BabyLit books in the store, my mind immediately went to assigning students individual classics based on their interests.  ACTIVITY: Choose 7 classics, split your class into 7 groups, and assign each group an original version of the classic paired with the BabyLit version of the classic.  Before reading the original, ask students to read the BabyLit classic and foreshadow the events that may occur throughout the text!

One of my favorite things about the BabyLit children’s books is the illustrator’s ability to capture the appearance of the characters and symbols of the original without appearing too childish.  They are actually quite accurate—specifically in Sense & Sensibility, Romeo & Juliet, and The Secret Garden.  You can easily use these books to teach characterization and quote analysis.  For example, in The Secret Garden, each page has an important quote from the novel paired with a visual.  ACTIVITY: Ask students to describe the importance/relevance of each quote provided in the BabyLit version using evidence from the text in the original!

This is my favorite way to use children’s books of any kind (not just BabyLit) in the classroom.  After reading a novel with your class, ask students to become authors of their own by assigning a DIY children’s book activity. Using this FREE resource I created, prompt your students to choose a literary element and design a children’s book based on the original text.  You can download the free DIY Children’s Book for Middle and HighSchool English here! You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how creative your students can be and how simplifying a classic can truly impact the level of comprehension.  Be sure to use a BabyLit book as an example of expectations.
If you’re interested in more hands-on interactive resources for reading literature, please visit my Instagram, Facebook, or Teachers pay Teachers store! 

Learn how to use children's books in other grades here:

Looking for more engaging reading literature resources for middle & high school English? Check out The SuperHERO Teacher's blog, Instagram, and Facebook page! 

All the best, 
Brittany Wheaton
The SuperHERO Teacher

Hi y'all!  I am Katie King from Queen of the First Grade Jungle! I taught first grade for seven years and second grade for three years.  I am currently on a teaching hiatus to take care of two year old son, but this does not mean I have stopped loving #allthebooks!  In fact I think my obsession has only grown as I closely watch my three children partake in their journey with books and reading. Here is a peek at my at home library: 

And that's only about half!  Okay, enough chatter I would love to talk to you about five books that I think are essential to EVERY classroom!

Book #1Edward the Emu by Sheena Knowles Illustrated by: Rod Clement

Why you need it: BE WHO YOU AREBesides having some of the best illustrations of ANY book I have ever read, I also love the message within the pages.  I chose to read the book on the first day of school every year for the last seven school years, because I want my students to know that who they are deep inside, is exactly who they are supposed to be! This book helps me to set that tone right off the bat!

Summary:  Edward envies the attention that other animals receive in the zoo so he hops from exhibit to exhibit trying to change who he is.  Students sit in suspense as they try to guess which animal Edward will imitate next. A surprise ending will send the kids into a fit of giggles.  If your kids fall for Edward, do not worry! There is a SEQUEL! 

Book #2Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson Illustrated by: E.B. Lewis

Why you need it: WORDS MATTER.  In a world where people type hateful comments or say things without thinking of the repercussions, we need to instill in our children that words are important and that they matter. While saying you are "sorry" can help things get back on the right track, we can't ever fully take away the pain we cause with hurtful words.

Summary: Maya is a new girl in the class. Her clothes are very worn and her toys are old.  She becomes an easy target for the girls at school.  After Maya leaves to go to another new school. Chloe realizes all too late the damage she has caused.  There is no mushy ending to this tale, and I think that was an excellent choice by Woodson. 

Book #3
Iggy Peck by Andrea Beaty  Illustrated by: David Roberts

Why you need it: STEM.  If you have not been living under a rock, you have heard the new push for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) resources in the classroom.  Andrea Beaty is an absolute wizard with words and David Roberts' quirky drawings pull kids into the text.  After reading Iggy Peck, make sure to visit with Rosie Revere and Ada Twist as well! 

Summary: Iggy Peck LOVES to build.  He will use any and all materials to make the most amazing of creations.  He arrives to 2nd grade and immediately feels stifled by his teacher who hates architecture. The horror! She has a change of heart when Iggy uses his engineering skills to rescue his class from a sticky situation!

Book #4:  Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwell  

Why you need it: REPRESENTATION MATTERS.  For a long time I didn't pay attention to the skin color of the characters in my classroom library.  BIG mistake on my part. All of our students deserve to see themselves represented in the pages of picture books (and not just by athletes and social justice leaders either).  Taking that into account, I love the storyline as well! The lesson of the book would serve as a nice analogy about trying new things in life.  Just jump on in the water!

Summary: Jabari is SO excited about jumping off the high dive.  As he begins the long climb up the ladder he begins to doubt himself.  With encouragement from his dad he finds the necessary courage and doesn't regret it!  Cornwell does a wonderful jump off walking you through the range of emotions that Jabari experiences on his adventure. 

Book #5:  I Dissent by Debbie Levy Illustrated by: Elizabeth Baddeley  

Why you need it: ROLE MODELS.  Picture books allow our young students access to people who can serve as wonderful role models in their lives. I also love how the author highlighted Ginsburg's friendship Justice Scalia, who Ginsburg frequently disagreed with on big issues. 

Summary: In 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first Jewish woman justice of the Supreme Court.  The author takes us on a journey through her childhood, college years, and marriage.   We learn that Ginsburg was very different from other girls her age and that that's not a bad thing!  

I hope you enjoyed by book selections and consider adding all five books to your classroom library if you haven't already!

"A picture book can be just what every human needs".- Ramona Recommends. I hope you can feel my passion for picture books for humanity because it feels so right to me. My 5th grade classroom is filled with picture books. Older kids need picture books just like Chocolate Chip cookies need milk.  I have teamed up with 3 other teachers to bring you an incredible blog series debuting picture books at all levels. Over the next couple weeks, you will be hearing from:

Primary Elementary (K-3)

Ramona Recommends- Courtney Hinshaw
Upper Grade Elementary (4-6)

The Whimsical Teacher- Jessica Martin
*blog update coming soon
Middle School (5-8)

The Superhero Teacher- Brittany Wheaton
High School (9-12) 

Picture books allow students to be kids again. Whatever happened to the sweet moments of mom, dad, grandma, or the adorable librarian sitting down and reading a picture book? Is technology wiping away those moments? My hope is that all teachers will truly take these posts to heart and dedicate time in their classrooms to OPEN THE MAGIC with picture books. 

I promise  your students will remember this more than a fractions worksheet. Like Jen Jones said, "Reading pictures IS reading." The book featured above is called How to Get Your Teacher Ready, by Jean Reagan. An adorable read if I say so myself. #informationalwriting

Below, I am going introduce 5 picture books that I love to use when teaching 5th grade. They can be read in any grade level, but this is how I use them in Room 20.

Are you having one of those days where your students just need something funny? We all get caught up in teaching to the test, but sometimes it is good for everyone's soul to read a picture book just for fun. While I say just read for fun, there is a always a lesson to be learned in a picture book. Lesson Learned- Be yourself and enjoy the little things. 
When I read this to my students, it is usually right after a boring lesson where they need some laughter in their life. Yes, sometimes I do have to teach boring lessons. #truelife
Want to see my nephew crack up while reading this book? Open the Magic --> HERE
I recommend reading this book before you read it in front of the students, because there are some "I don't really know what this says" moments.
 The Apple Orchard Riddle 
This read is great for when you are teaching your narrative unit. One of the first lessons I do is  from Miss Radka classroom website years ago. I have modified to pull in apples for September. The Apple Orchard is about a class that goes on a field trip to an apple orchard. As you progress through the story, we learn about the process of apples and what happens to them during the picking frenzy and upon finding a new home. I have my students pretend they are an apple. How does this apple feel? We brainstorm different feelings from which Miss Radka provides a great list. We talk about what does each feeling look like. This is hard for students, but with the help of picture books and the movie Inside Out they are becoming better at this skill. Once they have chosen their feeling, they draw their apple from the orchard and the feelings from the apple situation. For example, an apple going into a warm oven for apple pie. Feeling-Scared (sweating, red cheeks, big eyes, and nervous tummy).

All the close to my heart feels with this book. Thank You Mr. Falker is about a little girl who is dyslexic and can't read...yet. Her teacher sees the beauty in her and they work together to teach her how to read. I read this story on the second of school to introduce myself to the students. I am dyslexic and I want them to know you can do ANYTHING you put your mind to. School growing up for me was tough, but I have learned strategies and showed grit to fight through it all. I think it is important for students to know that we are human and that we too have challenges to overcome.  
I also bring this book out again when we do our character analysis unit. The students and I created a flow map that charts change over time with the main character. Did you know the main character of this book is the author Patricia Polacco? I can't tell you enough how much I love this book. It really is my jam.

I bet you love when students use words in their writing that clearly came from the top search of thesaurus. It is kinda one of my favorites; is that bad? I find it comical when they use a word that means the same as the word they want to change, but makes no sense in the sentence. Lexie The Word Wrangler shows the students how to correctly use "bigger" words when beefing up their writing. Writing is one area that I would like to grow in this year. I can't wait to use this book to help my students understand the power of word choice to make their writing lasso me in.

The Name Jar
Looking for another cultural diverse book to add to your bookshelf? The Name Jar is one of my all time favorites to teach students about acceptance of different cultures. Unhei has just moved to the states from Korea where she is worried the students will not pronounce her name correctly. I have this worry on the first day of school because many of students come from different backgrounds of my own. Here is how I handle this. I explain that I might say their name wrong, not because I want to, but because it is new to me. I have them say it to me 3 times very slowly and then practice all day. I ask them to share about their different holidays they celebrate. I love this time because they get so excited that I want to know. 

As always, OPEN THE MAGIC with your students this year. Use picture books to ignite or reignite the passion for reading. Lets keep the magic going and build leaders.  *Amazon Affiliate Links Used

Hello friendsies! 

 I'm so honored to be guest blogging for Courtney from Ramona Recommends, who I like to call the Madonna of Picture Books!

If you don't know me, my name is Jess, and I'm currently a middle school teacher (grades 6-8) transitioning into a digital literacy coach at my 1:1 middle school.  Before my middle school gig, I taught 5th grade for four years, and I subbed in grades K-12 for three years before becoming a bonafide teacher.  

I've always used picture books in my teachings, but I didn't realize that other middle school teachers didn't use them until I started the hashtag #picturebooksformiddleschool.  Since inventing the tag, I've received countless messages from middle school teachers, who are so excited to start using picture books in their lessons!  

If you're into picture books, but you aren't sure what will "fly" with sassy middle schoolers, I have a few recommendations for you down below.

Book 1: Blue Sky White Stars

written by Sarvinder Naberhaus
illustrated by Nadir Nelson

With just a couple words on each page and stunning Americana artwork, Blue Sky White Stars is a  good old fashioned picture book.  The statements are simple, but the pictures encourage the reader to look at America through a lens that ties its foundation to its growth.

Classroom Uses
Most middle schools have social studies classes which usually go over world history, current events, state history, and American history.  This book would be a great opener when discussing America and its changes or even the growth of a nation, patriotism, or diversity.

 Final Teacher Thoughts
I see every picture book as a journey, and this one takes me through a beautiful portrait of my America.  It also made me question the very definition of our United States.  I started to think that maybe I over-simplify what it means to be proud of one's country.  Perhaps being an American cannot be explained properly in words alone.
 I think it definitely needs a picture book.  

Book 2: Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

written by Kwame Alexander
with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth
illustrated by Ekua Holmes

A group of poets wrote poems about their 20 favorite poets from ancient times to modern times.  They are beautiful dedications to these well known poets, and each page contains rich, colorful, collage style paintings!

Classroom Uses:
Poetry is a difficult unit for some teachers to conquer as it gets a lot of eye-rolls from teenagers.  This book is written in a way that appeals to teens though.  The first line on the first page says "Poets love to make up their own rules about writing: that's what makes it so much fun".  Aside from a poetry unit, this book could pave the way for unconventional journal writing or sketch style notes.

Final Teacher Thoughts
While reading this book, I kept feeling like I was in the movie Inception because I was reading poems written by poets about poets.  The poems were short, clever, and thought provoking. The writings made me want to get to know these famous poets more and go read their poetry.

Book 3: Not Quite Narwhal

by Jessie Sima

An adorable sea creature named Kelp doesn't quite fit in with his Narwhal friends.  There's a reason why, but I won't ruin it for you.

Classroom Uses:
In middle school, I would use this book in advisory classes, study hall, or even writing classes.  Every student at some point feels weird and different.  These feelings are a part of growing up, and sometimes kids need reassurance that what they're going through is normal.  This book could also help kids stuck between two families due to divorce.
There's an important lesson at the end of the book:
once we figure out who we really are, we don't have to choose a "side" to be on.  

Final Teacher Thoughts
This book is quirky and unique for any age group.  I've read it several times as an adult, and I still find it enjoyable.  While the book has a happy ending, it wasn't the ending I predicted, so it made me like the story even more.

Thank you for checking out these amazing picture books for middle school!  If you have any questions, please email me at or send me a message to @the_whimsical_teacher on Instagram!

If you find any cool picture books for middle school, please use #picturebooksformiddleschool, so I can see them too!

Take care friendsies!


 whimsical blog

Building relationships is number one in my classroom.

There are several ways I promote building relationships, but the activity that I am going to share today is a TOP favorite. Think about your first day of 5th grade; were you nervous? Did you hope to have one friend in your class? Let me tell you about my 5th grade experience. I was the only friend who got the male teacher. As a 10 year old, that is heartbreaking not to be with your friends. My nerves were in full swing as I stood in line awaiting for the door to open. I did not know what to expect. I did have a male teacher in 3rd grade, but still I was NERVOUS. I am sure all of our students feel the same way even if we are the person they hoped to call teacher. Long story short, it ended up to be a glorious school year, and I have so many fond memories of 5th grade at Green Valley Elementary in Danville, California. Why? Because of the relationships Mr. Lucas made with his students. I can picture him now in his plaid dress shirt, khaki pants, and his ability to make almost any lesson come to life.

Building a solid relationship base with students can change their life. Did you know I reunited with my 5th grade math teacher, and she came to my classroom- like LAST YEAR? After retiring, she is the award winning author behind Quickly The Magic Spatula. You can read about her books here. Want to see a picture of our 21 year reunion--open the magic here.

See? Building relationships can create special moments for your whole life.

Now on to my top favorite book and activity to use on the first day of school.

I open the conversation by saying, "I am sure everyone in this room including me is nervous!" The unknown can be different and sometimes it makes us feel a little funky. Today I am going to read First Day Jitters. The ending is the BEST part. Even the kids who have heard this story still get a big kick out of it. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend going to Amazon now. :) 

After reading the story, I explain how it is important to build trust with our classmates. Then, we do the post-it note activity.
I make sure they understand their peers will be reading the anonymous note so to make sure whatever they write, they are ok with the class seeing. Most students write about making friends, test scores, or if their teacher is nice. The last one is my favorite because after this activity we always have a dance party. #seeimnicebutstrict 

I pass out one post-it note to each student. They write down one worry and then crumple up the post-it only 3 times. When I say 3, I mean three. This is a great way to see who follows the rules and who needs some redirection. This takes about 5-7 minutes. 

Then we go outside and get in a big circle.  We have a snowball fight where the students all throw their paper in the air. Lastly, each student grabs a note, and we take turns reading them out loud in a circle. 

I close with, "Today you learned something personal about each student in the classroom. We are a family, and I  hope that you will take this news and become a friend to someone new in this class." Always be kind because everyone deserves a standing ovation. We are all the same, we laugh, cry,  and all hope to be accepted.

The Deets:
First Day Jitters
3x3 Post-it Notes
Ticonderoga #2 Pencils

Amazon Affiliate links were used in this post

"There is a picture book for every reader, and there is reader for every picture book". This is one of my favorite quotes from Harvey and Goudvis. It sends a message to all teachers and parents that picture books are never going out of style. Did you know fanny packs are back on the fashion 411?

A picture is worth a thousand words. How many times have you heard that line? I think it is even more true today with social media, especially instagram. We look at pictures constantly, and in our heads we create this wonderful magical world through the shapes and people in the photographs. Picture books speak to children in the same way. They touch our emotions, delight our senses, appeal to our whimsy, and bring back memories of our childhood (Mitchell, 2003).

Picture books give us a sense of childhood. I can remember sitting on the couch in the family room cuddled up against my mom as she beautifully read picture book after picture book to me. The vibrant pictures and soft spoken words built such whimsical moments of pure happiness in my heart. Do you remember when you were little; did picture books soothe your soul as much as they did mine?

No matter what grade you teach, picture books should be your jam. Think back to my last paragraph. Did you feel joy while reading it? Think about your students for a minute~they have this SAME joy! Lets not deplete it by saying picture books are only for primary students. I challenge you to bust out The Little Engine that Could with your upper elementary students and see how many different answers you receive to this question: "What is the theme of this book?"

Are you a believer yet? Below I have listed just a few ideas that will make you a believer. No, I did not say "Belieber" #despacitoanyone

While I fully support having students infer, cite evidence, and learn from their reading, I think we are doing a disservice to our upper elementary, middle school, and high school students by not using more picture books. Many of my students tell me that their parents do not read to them nor buy picture books because they think chapter books have all the answers. Let me tell you, PICTURE BOOKS teach more life lessons than most chapter books. With the exception of WONDER! Wonder is the best chapter book I have read in years. OK, back to picture books.

You might wonder HOW DO I teach using a picture in an upper grade classroom? Debbie Miller, author of Reading with Meaning, and I both agree that children can learn from the reading while listening or engaging with a picture book. When teaching the TOUGH reading skills: synthesis, inferring, asking questions, or making connections, don't be afraid to USE picture books to preteach, teach, and reteach those skills. Picture books are not just for babies or little kids;they are for everyone. They send different messages depending on the reader's insight.

Have you ever had a student come up to you and share something that you were not ready to handle? Maybe a student had a death in the family, saw someone steal, did not have enough money for lunch, wants to know about political issues, or doesn't know how to make friends. Whether you are a newer or seasoned teacher, those conversations can be tough. Picture books open a window that help students see through different panes. 
Paul Meets Bernadette is about two fish with multiple perspectives of how they see the real world. Paul was a single fish, but then Bernadette swam in. She opens Paul's eyes to think outside the fish bowl. Look at the picture above. In the beginning of the story, Paul would have seen glasses. With Bernadette's  open mind, she has taught Paul to think deeper and see a lunetta butterfly. I think this story is great when teaching multiple perspectives.

That one book you read tomorrow in your classroom could change the world for your student. Help them OPEN THE MAGIC!
*Amazon affiliate links were used in this post 

I am so glad you are here! Today I will be sharing how to find picture books for FREE. I remember when I was a first year teacher and peering into other's classrooms to sea of book spines. I want to tell you IT IS OK not to have every book ever published. Yes, that last line was really for me. #sorrynotsorry. This past weekend, I shared my top tips for finding picture books on Insta Stories and I received an overwhelming response with other ideas. It was pretty bookfully awesome. Picture books can be like Waldo, but if you look on Ramona Recommends she will find you ways to READ for free.

Head to your public library and ask the children's librarian to help you. They are a wealth of information. When I was little, I was a total Matilda with picture books. I could sit there for hours reading different books. Tell the library staff you are a teacher, they will most likely let you check out more books. #thisiswhyweteach
If you google "Where is my public library?" all the closest libraries in your city will auto populate.

 Check out Youtube for someone reading the picture book that is geared for your lesson. My colleagues and I do this all the time because they do not have all the titles I recommend for us to use. Here are a few picture book read alouds on youtube that we use in 5th grade.

Storyline Online is a free website of actors and actresses reading popular picture books. It is kinda of amazing. They do a great job with selecting diverse texts with an array of characters.

Epic is an online warehouse of ebooks that is FREE for teachers. I have not used it yet, but I hope to dabble this school year to find different ways to reach my 180 picture book goal this year. You can also import books into Google Classroom- how awesome is that!
You can search by reading level, AR, or Lexile Level. OR! The Best way--> just search by topic! They have an incredible non-fiction section.

Check your school library. This is usually the place that has older titles.  Can anyone say The Lotus Seed? *Amazon affiliate link My favorite -->teachers can check out as many books as they want #librarydayeveryday This year my students are going to be strongly encouraged to pick out one picture book a month or more to share with their family. Then maybe! We will do a picture book museum, oh my gosh. I need to start writing this stuff down. #cuethenotesapp
Want this free printable from Jen Jones? Open the Magic --> Here!

Scholastic is so good to schools and book people. They are such a warm and welcoming company that spreads bookful joy everywhere. I learned from one of my readers that Scholastic gives book money to anyone who volunteers at their Scholastic Warehouse sales. What a great idea. I can see this in my future. #whitehairramonashelvingbooks If you want to learn how to get involved open the magic HERE. I believe they also have some great deals for NEW teachers. Check with your school librarian for more info!

Now, hear me out before you are like, No! I had one reader suggest that you record yourself and create a video log of each genre/subject. Now, I agree it sounds scary, but think of all the voices. If this is your jam, can't wait to hear about it if not, start googling YouTube videos.

One of my favorites is to ask your colleagues. Think of all the years of teaching at your school. Think about how many picture books are located in the primary grades and upper grades. One person has to have The Lotus Seed. *Amazon affiliate link #thisbookeveryoneusesforreadingskills

Ask for gift cards to Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Follow Ramona Recommends because you never know when she might surprise you with a book for your classroom.

Share this printable with new teachers to help them know how to get books for their classroom for FREE! Open the Magic HERE!

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