5 Picture Books for Christmas – Part 2

Last week, we introduced our first five favorite holiday picture books. This week, we are going to show our final five Christmas books we adore! Some of these books are classics. On the other hand, you may not have heard of another book or two. That’s why we love these kinds of blog posts! Introducing you to new stories that you can share with your students is what warms our hearts, just like a cup of hot cocoa! Let’s dive into our 5 Picture Books for Christmas – Part 2.

#1 The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

A lot of our students know The Polar Express from the beloved and magical movie. When I would tell my elementary kiddos that it was first a book, some were quite shocked! Nevertheless, they quickly loved the book as much as the movie, if not more. The beautiful illustrations are just as enchanting as the motion picture. Chris Van Allsburg’s classic tale of a young boy on his journey to the true belief of the magic of Christmas captivates students as they also struggle with believing as they get older. The timeless dark train against the backdrop of the falling white snow creates a classic scene of Christmas. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: A young boy, lying awake one Christmas Eve, is welcomed aboard a magical train to the North Pole . . .Through dark forests, over tall mountains, and across a barren desert of ice, the Polar Express makes its way to the huge city standing alone at the top of the world, where the boy will make his Christmas wish.

#2 Gingerbread Friends by Jan Brett

Any Jan Brett book is filled with gorgeous whimsical illustrations of the Swiss snowy countryside. Her books are filled with fun storylines, and beautiful imagery mirrored by detailed and enchanting drawings. When I think of a picture book that evokes Christmas and wintry magic, I think of Jan Brett. Gingerbread Friends is a sweet story perfect for the littlest elementary students. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: This Gingerbread Baby is looking for friends and finds an adventure he’ll never forget. The Gingerbread Baby is lonely and decides to do something about it. At a bakery, he dances and prances in front of a sugar cookie girl, trying to make friends. But she just stares and doesn’t say a word, like all the other sweet treats he tries to meet. Discouraged, the Gingerbread Baby runs home, chased by a long line of hungry creatures, where Mattie has a fantastic surprise for him–gingerbread friends that fill a giant fold-out page.

Check out our Gingerbread Friends unit here!

#3 The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

Ready to cry in front of your students? The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey will do just that! This was a classic tale I read to my elementary students every Christmas season. Filled with heartache, hope, and redemption, this story is thought-provoking and moving for students and adults alike. This story contains depth as well, making it wonderful for older elementary to middle school students. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Jonathan Toomey is the best woodcarver in the valley, but he is always alone and never smiles. No one knows about the mementos of his lost wife and child that he keeps in an unopened drawer. But one early winter’s day, a widow and her young son approach him with a gentle request that leads to a joyful miracle. The moving, lyrical tale, gloriously illustrated by P.J. Lynch, has been widely hailed as a true Christmas classic. 

#4 Radiator the Snowman by Tami Parker

Written and illustrated by my mother, Tami Parker, Radiator the Snowman is a wonderful tale with deep lessons of true friendship, celebrating uniqueness, and being comfortable with just being yourself. Students will fall in love with Radiator, the snowman, and his furry friends. The author, an elementary school librarian, truly knows how to weave a story together to capture to hearts of students. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Radiator the Snowman knew he was different from the other snowmen of his most distinguished village. These feelings had always been with him since he was first formed in the hands of the children of the local junk man to the present time period in which he was kept away from the finer snowmen on display in his village. However, Radiator’s chance to join this prestigious league soon arrives. Will he take this opportunity or decide to stay in the junkyard with his friends? Radiator the Snowman is a wonderful story to read to little ones when you want them to know how important they are to each person in their life and why they should never compare themselves to others.

#5 The Christmas Pine by Julia Donaldson

Newly published two months ago, the author of Room on the Broom has written a book that celebrates the joy and warmth of the holiday season as it follows the story of one Christmas tree on its journey to Trafalgar Square to become London’s official tree. The sweet and snuggly illustrations will charm your students as well as create that magical feeling around your classroom rug. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Deep in a snowy wood stands a little pine tree with a special destiny: when it grows up, it’s going to be a fabulous Christmas tree! The tree travels far across the sea to shine in a city square. Crowds gather to admire it, children sing carols around it, and the tree brings joy and the spirit of the season to all who pass by. Inspired by the annual journey of London’s Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square, this story includes back matter detailing the tree’s history as a gift to the United Kingdom from the people of Norway in remembrance of the UK’s support during World War II – an enduring symbol of friendship and peace.

Conclusion:

December is a month full of wonderful opportunities to enchant readers with heartwarming holiday picture books. Take advantage of those cozy Christmas stories and create an atmosphere that highlights reading this holiday season in your classroom. It’ll make your heart melt like a gooey marshmallow in hot cocoa. 

Author of Blog

10 Best Thanksgiving Read Alouds

The holidays are such a magical time in the elementary classroom. The excitement, the busyness, the crafts, the fun games,  and the anticipation of a much-needed school break make holidays such as Thanksgiving so fun! Grab our 10 Best Thanksgiving Read Alouds Virtual Library now and enjoy your holidays even more.

I love to take the opportunity to read lots of picture books during this time of the year. Whether students are intently listening on the classroom rug, or coloring or completing a craft, a read-aloud picture book is just the calm in the chaos of the holiday season.

We have put together 10 Best Thanksgiving Read Alouds for you! Want to make your life even easier, grab our virtual library today and sip your coffee at your desk while your students enjoy their Thanksgiving Virtual Read Alouds until the madness begins again!

The Very Stuffed Turkey by Katharine Kenah

Publisher’s Synopsis: A Thanksgiving story featuring a large turkey with a big problem…he’s been invited to EVERYONE’S home for dinner! With five homes to visit — Horse’s, Pig’s, Sheep and Goat’s, Cow’s, and Mouse’s –Turkey knows there’ll be a ton of food to eat. But there’ll also be friends and their families who can’t wait to celebrate the holiday with Turkey! Can this very plump bird make it through every meal without bursting? A silly, read-aloud story featuring food, friends, and one hilarious turkey!

Run Turkey Run by Diane Mayr

The repetition of this book is perfect for students to read aloud with you and practice their fluency!

Publisher’s Synopsis: The perfect picture book for the holiday, this hilarious twist on the traditional Thanksgiving feast features Turkey as he hops from hiding place to hiding place to avoid ending up as the main course. With Thanksgiving only one day away, can Turkey find a place to hide from the farmer who’s looking for a plump bird for his family feast? Maybe he can hide with the pigs . . . or the ducks . . . or the horses . . .Uh-oh! Here comes the farmer! Run, Turkey, run!

Thanksgiving in the Woods by Phyllis Aldurf

The illustrations are so beautiful in this picture book. It may inspire your students to color or paint a beautiful fall scene! It is heartwarming and inspiring. It shows that family is the center of the holidays. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Every year a family and their friends gather in the woods to celebrate Thanksgiving among the trees. Everyone brings something to share and the day becomes a long celebration of family, faith, and friendship. Told in a gentle, lyrical style, this picture book includes warm illustrations of people gathered around bonfires and long tables adorned with candles and food, singing songs and sharing laughter. Thanksgiving in the Woods is based on the true story of a family in Upstate New York who has hosted an outdoor Thanksgiving feast in the woods on their farm for over twenty years.

Thanksgiving Rules by Laurie Friedman

Publisher’s Synopsis: Percy Isaac Gifford’s Official Thanksgiving Decree: I officially command you to eat EVERYTHING you see! Percy knows just what to do to get the most out of this delicious holiday. And so will you if you follow his ten simple rules. From “the early bird gets the turkey” to “life is sweeter when you eat sweets,” his rules will help you eat your way through the big meal. But is there more to Thanksgiving than stuffed turkey and sweet potatoes with marshmallows? See how Percy discovers the true recipe for a perfect Thanksgiving holiday.

Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving by Dav Pilkey

This narrative poetry book follows along the same pattern as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. We have a unit to teach narrative poetry using this book. Check it out here!

Publisher’s Synopsis: From Dav Pilkey, creator of the New York Times bestselling Dog Man and Captain Underpants series, comes a charming story about eight children and eight turkeys on the night before Thanksgiving. On the day before Thanksgiving, a group of children visit a turkey farm and meet Farmer Mack Nuggett and his coop of cockerels: Ollie, Stanley, Larry, Moe, Wally, Beaver, Shemp, and Groucho. The children and turkeys giggle and gobble, and everything is gravy. As the trip comes to an end, the children leave the farm with full hearts — and bulging bellies — reminding people and poultry alike that there is much to be thankful for. This hysterical read-aloud and fan-favorite picture book is now available for the first time in a paper-over-board format!

How to Catch a Turkey by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton

Publisher’s Synopsis: A turkey is running loose in a school right before a Thanksgiving play. Can YOU help catch it so the show can go on? Follow along as students turn their school upside down trying to catch the turkey, ending with a twist that ensures no turkeys are harmed (or eaten!). This hilariously zany children’s picture book combines STEAM concepts and traps with a silly story and fun illustrations, perfect for starting a new fall family tradition this autumn or giving as a Thanksgiving gift for kids ages 4 and up! Thanksgiving time is here again, but there’s a turkey on the run! Can you catch this tricky bird before the school play has begun?

Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

Publisher’s Synopsis: Meet the master puppeteer who invented the first balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Melissa Sweet brings to life the inspirational story of the puppeteer who invented the giant balloons floating in the sky during the annual parade celebrating Thanksgiving. The Caldecott Honor artist brilliantly captures the essence of Tony Sarg, a self-taught immigrant with a fascinating imagination. The collage illustrations coupled with Sweet’s storytelling portray Sarg’s joy in his childhood inventions and his ingenious balloon creations that still bring delight to viewers around the country. This nonfiction illustrated book will capture the hearts of all ages.

A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting

This book is beautifully illustrated and tells an adorable and quaint story. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Mr. and Mrs. Moose invite all their animal friends for Thanksgiving dinner and the only one missing is Turkey. When they set out to find him, Turkey is quaking with fear because he doesn’t realize that his hosts want him at their table, not on it.

Dino Thanksgiving by Lisa Wheeler

Publisher’s Synopsis: Follow along as dinos travel over the river and through the woods to join together with family. They enjoy favorite activities, including a corn maze, a televised parade with giant balloon creations, and of course a football game! The dinos share in not one but two feasts – one for the carnivores and another for the veggie-saurs. Join in the fun as the dinos find much to be thankful for on this special holiday!

I Am Thankful by Sheri Wall

This is a wonderful book that reminds us to be grateful: the reason for Thanksgiving!

Publisher’s Synopsis: Thanksgiving books for kids teach us about coming together with our loved ones and to give thanks for all that we have. I Am Thankful is an adorable, rhyming storybook that follows three different families as they celebrate the holiday with their own traditions, acts of kindness, and ways of giving back. Kids will learn how to be thankful for the people and world around them as they delight in the sweet illustrations that show diverse families and exciting Thanksgiving adventures. This heartfelt, poetic story will show young ones the meaning of giving and sharing.

Conclusion

We hope your students will enjoy these picture books, from a funny one like How to Catch a Turkey to an educational one like Balloons Over Broadway. These books will not only entertain your kiddos, but it will warm their hearts with the reason behind the season, with the stories of I Am Thankful and Thanksgiving in the Woods. Even though holidays in the classroom can be chaotic, remember to sit back and enjoy the magic with your students!

Author of Blog

5 Picture Books to Read and Use in the Middle School Classroom

Pictures books are amazing to read in the middle school classroom. When I was in college, my favorite education professor, who taught literacy, read picture books to us. When she first read us picture books, she said something that made a profound impact on me. Today, I would like to share with you 5 picture books to read and use in the middle school classroom.

She basically asked if we enjoyed hearing the picture books. We all nodded eagerly. It was a nice break to sit back and listen to a book being read aloud, look at the pretty pictures, and relax for a few moments. Then she said, “If you, as a college student enjoyed it, why wouldn’t big kids as well?”

Wow. That hit me. Ever since then, I’ve been a teacher that tries to incorporate picture books at whatever level I’ve taught, which has been from 3rd-12th grade. (I know! That is an odd range of grades, but that is another blog post in itself!)

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When I taught high school English, I incorporated such books as The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss to explore the Holocaust before teaching Night by Elie Wiesel.

I read aloud folktales to teach allegory. I read The Day the Crayons Quit to teach diversity. I was the weird high school teacher who seemed like I had forgotten I had left the elementary classroom.

I knew fine and well what I was doing. Reading aloud picture books is a must for any grade level, even in middle school.

Additional Favorite Picture Book for the Christmas Season:

Searching for the perfect book to read to upper elementary and older students this Christmas? Check out Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares.

Publisher’s Synopsis: Separation and miles cannot keep a determined cardinal from his loved one in an ode to serendipity and belief that is destined to be a Christmas classic.

Red and Lulu make their nest in a particularly beautiful evergreen tree. It shades them in the hot months and keeps them cozy in the cold months, and once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree. But one day, something unthinkable happens, and Red and Lulu are separated. It will take a miracle for them to find each other again. Luckily, it’s just the season for miracles. . . . From Matt Tavares comes a heart-tugging story combining the cheer of Christmas, the magic of New York City, and the real meaning of the holiday season: how important it is to be surrounded by love.

Plus, would you love a book companion to Red & Lulu geared toward upper elementary and older students? Something that will last a while during the Christmas season? If so, then grab yours today.

Click below for more.

Here are some reasons why I read pictures books to older students:

Picture books are a quick and easy way to teach focused mini-lessons.
They demonstrate strategies you are trying to teach in a concise, concrete way.

You can use picture books to teach writing. Explore the story structure, character descriptions, plot, setting, and any other elements to learn how to write a story.

Picture books are just short stories with pictures added. You can teach a variety of concepts such as figurative language, grammatical structure, and so much more.

Students are still reading when teachers read picture books out loud. Think of it as an audiobook.

It gives students a chance to relax for a couple of minutes and reminds the big kids of the simpler days of childhood.

Middle schoolers can also benefit from the timeless moral and social-emotional lessons in picture books.

After teaching middle school for four years now, I find that this age especially loves a good picture book.

Middle schoolers are at that fun, yet awkward age of trying to be very grown-up-like but also being sweet and lovable.

5 Picture Books to Read and Use in the Middle School Classroom

Here are some picture books I have incorporated while teaching 6th-8th English and some concepts you can teach alongside them.

1. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt De La Pena is about a young boy and his grandmother enjoying the scenery of their neighborhood and the people in it, while on the bus.

Educators can teach imagery from this book and students can explore ideas for their own descriptive writing pieces.

“He saw sunset colors swirling over crashing waves. Saw a family of hawks slicing through the sky. Saw the old woman’s butterflies dancing free in the light of the moon.”

De La Pena uses wonderful word choices to highlight imagery. Students can learn all about the importance of word choice in their writing with Last Stop on Market Street.

This sweet picture book highlights the theme of looking for beauty in the mundane and that it is important to celebrate all the diverse neighborhood inhabitants.

2. The Dark by Lemony Snicket

The Dark by Lemony Snicket is a picture book I normally save for around October, but it can be taught at any point in the year.

A young boy, Lazlo, is scared of the dark, but the dark talks back to him. I used this book to teach personification. As the dark starts to communicate with the boy and take on actions, readers get a great idea of how to write and recognize personification.

Dark is also a great book to read around Halloween for upper elementary to middle school students. We have a whole unit on it, with emphasis on teaching personification among other skills, for grades 4-7. Check it out now! 

I also like to explore themes with this book as students inevitably find out not to fear and that the big things we are scared of are not always as they seem. This could be the first day of middle school book as students may have fear of starting middle school.

3. The Name Jar by Yanksook Choi


Speaking of the first day of school, The Name Jar by Yanksook Choi is our third book on the list. I always read this picture book during the first week of school to my sixth graders.

It is a longer picture book, so I like to break it up over a couple of days. It is about a young girl, Unhei, who has just moved from Korea to America. She decides to choose an American name for her classmates to call her. Her peers help her out by putting their name ideas in a jar. Unhei also means Grace and Unhei explores her Korean identity with the choice of another name.

I use this book for several lessons. I ask students to explore their name meanings and to ask their parents how they received their names. We explore how names shape identity.

4. After the Fall by Dan Santat

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat is a sweet continuation of the original nursery rhyme. Readers learn that Humpty Dumpty becomes afraid of heights because of his fall and must overcome this fear. The themes of perseverance, courage, and facing fears is present in this wonderful book. It is a perfect choice for social-emotional health that any middle schooler needs. It has a growth mindset as Humpty Dumpty overcomes his biggest challenge.

Some ideas you can teach with this book include having students write their own epilogue to a popular nursery rhyme.

Students can compare and contrast this version to the original nursery rhyme and explore how Humpty Dumpty becomes a dynamic character who changes and has varied depths to him. Dynamic and static characters can be a mini-lesson taught with this particular picture book. There are so many things you can do with After the Fall. An author study would be particularly interesting as Santat wrote and illustrated the book himself.

You can teach the concept that even if a picture book is on a lower reading level than we are accustomed to, writers, particularly Santat, went to college and needed great knowledge to write a book like this. Writing a picture book is in and of itself a science.

5. Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy is a great picture book to read during the first week of school. With its focus on social-emotional learning and anti-bullying, we see how the protagonist deals with an unkind peer who makes fun of her hair and what she eats for lunch. We see how she overcomes this conflict in a wise way. The reader learns that it’s wonderful to be yourself and not to change due to peer pressure, which is a central point many middle schoolers struggle with.

Conclusion

Middle school students benefit from picture books read to them in a variety of ways. 5 Picture Books to Read and Use in the Middle School Classroom explores just a few. There are so many more sitting on the shelves of your local library. From learning writing skills, comprehension strategies, ELA objectives, and morals and life lessons, picture books can and should be used frequently in the middle school classroom.