Welcome to Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video series that features new releases from Canadian book publishers ideal for use in K-12 classrooms and school library collections. Throughout the year, we dive into new titles, highlighting relevant curriculum links and themes.
Written by secondary school teacher Spencer Miller
With a new school year approaching, you may be preparing to select some new picture books for your classroom storytime. With so many to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. What makes a picture book perfect for a classroom readaloud? I asked my mom, a veteran library programmer, for help generating some advice for teachers.
1. Start with the text
Search for stories with a strong hook and exciting story elements to keep students engaged. When reading in a group, having to pause or go back to explain can be a distracting interruption, so choose a story with an easy-to-follow narrative. For readaloud, shorter stories with less text on the page are ideal to keep the pages turning. Seek out stories with positive messages and happy endings.
2. Captivating illustrations
Do the illustrations capture your attention? Look for vibrant colours and interesting shapes. While pages full of intricate detail are great for one-on-ones, reading in a group requires images that are clear and visible at a distance. When students can make connections between the pictures and the words of the story, this helps them develop important visual literacy skills.
3. Interactive Elements
Storytime should be fun! Find books that can bring interactive elements and engage multiple senses. These might include rhyme and rhythm, predictive text and repeated phrases that invite students to join in on the storytelling, or funny sounds and humorous images that bring laughter. Get students to take action by clapping, dancing, or singing along.
4. Spotlight diverse stories
Highlight characters that are relatable and endearing. Students will be more engaged when they connect with the characters in the story. Bring in a variety of texts that feature diverse main characters and spotlight books that reflect the cultures and backgrounds of the students in your classroom. Prioritize books by authors and illustrators who share an identity with the characters in the story.
5. Include different genres
Mix it up and choose books from a variety of genres that cover different interesting topics. Picture books are helpful tools to introduce new ideas. Don’t be afraid to mix in nonfiction titles with historical or scientific elements.
6. Choose books you love
Sometimes, the best reason to choose a book is that you personally enjoy it. If there’s a picture book that makes you smile or brings you joy, share that feeling with your students. There’s a special excitement when a teacher brings in a book they love.
To help get you started, I’ve created a list of eight brand new Canadian picture books that are a perfect fit for storytime!
Saajin is excited about his first day of school, but things take a turn when the teacher mispronounces his name. After days of trying to live with the different version of his name, Saajin realizes the importance of reclaiming his name and embracing his identity. My Name Is Saajin Singh is a debut picture book that explores the importance of pronouncing names properly and celebrates cultural identity.
In Class: Read this book in the first days of the school year and invite students to share exactly how they want to hear their name. Give everyone the chance to practice pronouncing each other’s names.
Raven and Loon are best friends. But when Raven won't hold still to be measured for a new coat Loon is making, Loon gets mad. What happens when these two friends disagree? The Story of the Loon and the Raven is a traditional Inuit story retold with highly engaging illustrations and bold text for developing readers.
In Class: This is the type of story to enjoy over and over again! With English and Inuktitut words sharing space on every page, this bilingual edition is well suited to classroom read aloud in either language.
When a fire sweeps through the Australian bush, wombats Dig and Scratch have a cool, damp burrow to keep them safe. But other animals aren’t so lucky. While Scratch is worried that they won’t all fit, Dig humorously invites all the other animals to squeeze into their burrow to escape from the smoke and flames. Room for More reveals important truths about environmental disasters, climate change, and the importance of welcoming refugees.
In Class: This story is an empathy builder and is a great way to introduce students to what it means to be a refugee. Talk to your students about what they can do in their families to welcome refugees in your community.
When Tanna finds a small, grey lemming she takes it home to keep as a pet. After learning Fluffi is specially adapted to live in the Arctic cold, Tanya decides the kind choice is returning the lemming to its natural home. Students will connect to the heartfelt and sincere storytelling of Tanna’s Lemming as they gather insights into life in the North.
In Class: Tanna is a sweet and relatable character. Help students in making a personal connection to her story. Ask them, when did you have to make a difficult choice? Did you make the right one?
Based on the song from award-winning Cree icon Buffy Sainte-Marie, Still This Love Goes On is a lyrical celebration of seasons, nature and community. Cree-Métis artist Julie Flett does a beautiful job turning these lyrics into a remarkable visual story.
In Class: Listen to the original song together to introduce students to the words. Then sing the song together as you read. Sheet music is provided in the back of the book for those who can play along!
One Tiny Bubble is the story of our Last Universal Common Ancestor a.k.a LUCA, the itty-bitty organism that every unique life-form on Earth can be traced back to. This poetic and informational picture book shares scientific concepts using easy-to-understand language and reveals how all living things are connected.
In Class: This story invites curiosity and creativity. What little life forms exist around us? Let your students explore with a magnifying glass or challenge them to draw the smallest living thing they can imagine.
“Mammals have mammary glands. In other words, mammals have boobies”. And that’s all mammals, including dogs, cats, cows, tigers and even YOU. With the help of a silly group of animals, Nancy Vo teaches curious readers everything they need to know about boobies, or breasts. Fresh, funny and full of facts, Boobies encourages us all to celebrate our bodies!
In Class: Be prepared for giggles. Expand on the similarities and differences between humans and other mammals. How are they different? How are they the same?
When a monster meanders down a beach, dragging a stick behind them and leaving a line in the sand, a group of friends becomes curious about the line that now seemingly divides them. The Line In The Sand is a powerful wordless picture book with distinctive illustrations. Perfect for introducing conversations about conflict, communication and perspective.
In Class: Sharing a wordless picture book allows you and your students to come up with the words together, making them highly interactive. It also means the story is different each time you revisit it. Wordless picture books are great in multi-language classrooms and help break down language barriers.
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Spencer Miller graduated from the University of Calgary with degrees in English and Education. He participated in various projects examining the potential of children’s literature in the classroom as an undergraduate researcher. He is currently a secondary school teacher in Montréal/Tiohtià:ke. You can follow more of Spencer’s passion for books on Instagram @YACanadaBooks.
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