Five New Picture Books to Brighten Up Your Classroom

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Just like the leaves (or snow!), new books are piling up everywhere. But there is never enough talk about the new picture books that will brighten up our classrooms! So much is offered for primary students these days and these new books don’t disappoint. They cover many diverse topics from what it’s like to be small, the importance of play and being silly, the importance of self-expression, being a good neighbour, and loving everyone. Not only do these stories speak to children’s interests but they respect our youngest readers and speak to them as intelligent, kind, and important members of our community. So just like my kids who don’t help me rake the leaves in our yard—let’s jump right into the piles of these new books and classroom discussions!

In Small in the City, author and illustrator Sydney Smith walks us through the blustery streets of a city we love from the perspective of someone small. The minimal text and gorgeous drawings illustrate how a little person can feel unseen in the bustle of city streets, the noise and chaos. I love that this story takes place in winter, when snow can sometimes be so heavy and lonely. The narrator of this story, who isn’t revealed until the end, tells of the best parts of the city for someone to escape and find beauty, like a favourite park bench or a church window to sit under during choir practice.

Classroom Connection: This a perfect book for storytime in the classroom, quiet and all about what it’s like to be small. It will work well with primary lessons of community.  It can lead to discussions of home and how cities don’t have to feel so big and also help teachers see our communities through the eyes of their students. Super sleuths will also have fun discovering the surprise narrator!

I love when picture books don’t shy away from important issues. In the story of Aunt Pearl, author Monica Kulling tells a story of one family’s experience with homelessness. When Dan and Marta’s Aunt Pearl moves into their very tidy house after spending time living “...on a friend’s couch...holed up in a hostel or sleeping on city benches” it isn’t easy. The children learn quite quickly that while their mother wants to help their aunt, the sisters are just too different and it isn’t going to work.

Classroom Connection: The illustrations by Irene Luxbacher are playful and make the story jump off the page. Follow-up activities could be having students create collages of their own in the style of the book. I love this book because it lets children see how people, even people they love, can be so different from one another without one being “right” and the other being “wrong.” It is a wonderful story of love and acceptance and will lead to classroom discussions about empathy. It would be a perfect read to go with any “Umbrella Project” lesson.

One thing all of these books have in common is a sense of community. In 1978, beloved children entertainers Sharon, Lois, and Bram sang about this in their song Skinnamarink. And now all these years later, our children are still singing and dancing to it, smacking their lips to make kissy sounds and clapping their hands. An illustrated book version of the lyrics (including new verses!) came out this year, by Randi Hampson and Qin Leng. The pictures are bright and happy and diverse. There are animals (of course, elephants!) holding the hands of children and families together waving Pride flags. It is about LOVE, in our communities, and has brought Canadians together for over forty years.

Classroom Connection: Being open with our little ones leads to empathy and a sense of taking care of others. But before that happens, students need to love themselves and embrace imagination and self-expression through storytelling, singing, and dancing. This would be a perfect primary read to take into gym class to shake those sillies out!

Another playful book is Unicorns 101 by Cale Atkinson. This hilarious book is written as a nonfiction guide to learning about unicorns, written by the most astute and well-respected unicorn academics in the field, including Professor Glitter Pants and Professor Sugar Beard (who has a PhD in hornology). The book is a party of colour and unicorns, and every detail a child could ever hope for about this most beloved mythical creature. The book is divided into sections with topics including: “Common Unicorn Questions,” “Unicorn History,” and “Diet and Digestion.” What sorts of food do unicorns eat? Not salads, that’s for sure!

Classroom Connection: This book will let the imaginations of primary students soar! Get students writing their own pretend manuals about made-up creatures. Art lessons and stories will fly around the room once all of the giggles are out! It’s also a fantastic first lesson into doing research.

Birdsong by Julie Flett tells the story of a mother and daughter moving to a new home and their relationship with their neighbour. It is told in short parts over the seasons of a few years. The love that grows between the daughter and her neighbour, Agnes is illustrated simply and beautifully.

Agnes sends me home with a cup of bulbs —
snowdrop bulbs to plant in the field next autumn.
They give me ideas for pictures.

The text is gentle and warm. As the seasons pass and Agnes becomes ill, our small narrator shares her love of drawing and uses her sketches of birds to decorate Agnes’s bedroom where the older woman spends most of her time.

Agnes says it’s like a poem for her heart.

Classroom Connection: This is another brave and tender story about love and losing those we love. It respects tiny readers and knows they will understand empathy and taking care of others. It will lead to classroom discussions of what it’s like to move house, what makes a family, being a good neighbour, and the importance of sharing our strengths and gifts with others.



Sarah Campbell has worked as an elementary school teacher and a children’s programmer and library assistant. You would think working at a library would keep her from buying all the books, but it doesn’t. She lives in Waterloo, Ontario with her husband, their sons, and dog, Bingo. You can follow her at Pink Fish Reads.
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November 22, 2019
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