5 Winter Picture Books to Teach Figurative Language

In college, my beloved Reading Methods professor read us picture books at the beginning of class. As twenty-something-old college students, we relished those five-ten minutes it took for her to read a book. We could relax, get lost in something other than student teaching hours, seminars, and projects, and just enjoy a good story. When she read us a picture book for the very first time, she asked, “Did you enjoy that?” Our response was, “Of course, we did!” She went on to say that if we, as grown adults, enjoy a picture book this much, then don’t discount it for older elementary students, middle schoolers, or even high schoolers. It was one of those ah-ha moments I’ve clearly held onto ever since. Today, we are going to dive into 5 winter pictures books to teach figurative language.

As a teacher who has taught all three levels of students: elementary, middle, and high school, her philosophy has proven true as I have used picture books quite often to teach concepts, as a brain break, and to ignite a love of reading and writing in students.

Picture Books as Mentor Text

Picture books are being used as mentor text more and more. Just because a book is written for younger students doesn’t mean the author didn’t devote hours to that piece of writing, perfecting every word, every character, and every storyline. Just because it’s geared toward younger students doesn’t mean that the writing isn’t amazing. Using picture books to teach students how to write is the beginning of students connecting authentic, real-world literature to their own writing.

When teaching writing, I love to teach figurative language, a concept explored in literature classes as we analyze stories and novels. Think about your favorite author and you probably don’t think about how many similes or metaphors they used; however, you do think about how descriptive their characters were or how they got the setting just right for you to imagine it clearly. Great authors use figurative language so smoothly that you don’t even realize it. Figurative language takes descriptive writing to the next level. It adds a creative flair to help readers understand the words and descriptions even more clearly. That’s a writing skill I hope my students can grasp.

The following picture books can be utilized as wonderful mentor text to teach figurative language. Plus, they’re based in winter, so it fits in nicely with the season, and if your students are writing a winter story, these books will be great inspiration.

1. Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen

A Caldecott Medal winner, this book breathes figurative language. It is in almost every sentence. This book paints such a lovely, timeless, still scene of winter. It is a soothing picture book that students will enjoy and glean a lot from on how to use figurative language.

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird. But there is no answer.

Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is. Distinguished author Jane Yolen has created a gentle, poetic story that lovingly depicts the special companionship of a young child and her father as well as humankind’s close relationship to the natural world. Wonderfully complemented by John Schoenherr’s soft, exquisite watercolor illustrations, this is a verbal and visual treasure, perfect for reading around and sharing at bedtime.

Examples of figurative language:

Simile: The trees stood still as giant statues. / Somewhere behind us, a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song. 

Personification: A farm dog answered the train, and then a second dog joined in. They sang out, trains and dogs, for a real long time. And when their voices faded away, it was as quiet as a dream.

Alliteration: Our feet crunched over the crisp snow./ He looked up searching the stars.

Metaphor: The moon made his face into a silver mask. 

These are just a couple of examples from Owl Moon. This book is a wellspring of figurative language. 

2. Snowflakes Fall, by Patricia MacLachlan

Snowflakes Fall is a wonderfully descriptive picture book all about the beauty of snow, the winter season, the children who enjoy it, and even the blessings found at the end of the winter season. Not only does this book contain a blizzard of figurative language, but the deep meaning and motivation behind this book are also inspiring. 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow. Together, the words and pictures offer the promise of renewal that can be found in our lives—snowflakes fall, and return again as raindrops so that flowers can grow.MacLachlan and Kellogg, who are longtime friends, were moved to collaborate on a message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Kellogg lived in Sandy Hook for thirty-five years—he raised his family there and was an active member of the community. With Snowflakes Fall, they have created a truly inspiring picture book that is both a celebration of life and a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

Examples of figurative language: 

Personification: Snowflakes fall to sit on gardens and evergreen trees. / Frantic, icy snowflakes scratch the window glass./ Branches fly and shadows darken dreams. 

Simile: Snowflakes fall, drift, and swirl together like the voices of children. 

Alliteration:On its loved library, And its familiar flagpole 

3. Bright Winter Night, by Alli Brydon

This adorable picture book has beautiful illustrations, incorporates the forest animals working together as a team, and has rhyming words. All of these elements will intrigue students, but it also has some great examples of figurative language. 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: The forest calls, and creatures come: big and small, one by one. They sense there is a task to do as night descends, replacing blue. On one bright winter night, a group of woodland creatures emerges from the forest. Despite their differences, they start to build something together, using items found on the forest floor. What are they making? And how quickly can they build it? Something special is happening tonight, and soon the animals are off—in a race to catch a glimpse of one of nature’s most astounding wonders! With lyrical text and sparkling artwork, Bright Winter Night is a celebration of the joy and beauty of nature and the special gift of friendship and togetherness.

Examples of figurative language:

Metaphor: The wolf pack launches with a start and races through the forest’s heart. 

Onomatopoeia: The sleigh careens, the rabbits jump as the rest go BUMP BUMP BUMP. 

Personification: The colors dazzle, glow, and blaze-the flashes sizzle, shock and amaze!/ The magic in the winter’s air drifts all around them, everywhere. 

4. The Snow Dancer, by Addie Boswell

Not only are the illustrations gorgeous in The Snow Dancer, but the word choice is the perfect example of descriptive writing. The figurative language is also amazingly abundant in this story. Additionally, if you wanted to choose one book to focus on onomatopoeia, this one is it! 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: Young dancer Sofia wakes up to a quiet, white world—it’s a snow day! She makes her way outside to the neighborhood park, where a field awaits her, white and shining and open. It isn’t long before the rest of the neighborhood wakes its sleepy head—and the other kids make their way to the park, scattering all of Sofia’s beautiful silence. But with the help of a new young friend, Sofia is ready to show everyone what a snow dancer can do on a perfect day like this. With lyrical language and gorgeous art, this book sparkles with all the joy and beauty of a snow day.

Examples of figurative language: 

Personification: All through the night, they fell-frosting the rooftops, fluffing the sidewalks, laying fuzzy hats on the fire hydrants. 

Alliteration: She sniffed the cold, clean air. 

Onomatopoeia: Whooomph! She fell down the hidden steps./ Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. She hopscotched down the invisible sidewalk.  (There are so many more examples of Onomatopoeia!)

Simile: The sun shone like a giant spotlight. The soccer field gleamed like a giant stage. /Outside the world sparkled and glistened. 

5. Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter, by Kenard Pak

I love this series of books. Kenard Pak has a picture book that says goodbye to every season and hello to another. These straightforward books with gorgeous illustrations use personification for the entirety of the story, as parts of the season speak as if they are animate. Not only is there a plethora of personification examples, but the author uses other figurative language examples as well. 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: As leaves fall from their trees, animals huddle against the cold, and frost creeps across windows, everyone knows―winter is on its way! Join a brother and sister as they explore nature and take a stroll through their twinkling town, greeting all the signs of the coming season. In a series of conversations with everything from the setting sun to curious deer, they say goodbye to autumn and welcome the glorious first snow of winter in Kenar Pak’s Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter.

Examples of figurative language: 

Alliteration: Autumn afternoon/Setting sun/wispy winds/…Swept into the sky

Personification: Now that the wispy winds have come, we fall from the oak tree branches and are swept into the sky! (Leaves)/ Our pine-needle branches shiver in the wind while you sleep. (There are many examples of personification!)

Metaphor: Hello, snowflakes. Hello. We fall in a white, misty curtain and muffle all the sounds around you. 

Simile: Hello, clouds. Hello. We cover the sky like a downy, soft blanket. 

Activities: 

To further practice identifying and writing figurative language, check out this FREE Picture Book Figurative Language Activity we have!

Grab yours today!

We also have Figurative Language Posters available in our store as well!

Click here to grab yours today!

Conclusion:

Using winter picture books as mentor text to teach figurative language is a great way to provide authentic examples for students. Picture books can be utilized for any grade level as a way for students to see real writing examples that have figurative language and to practice identifying figurative language. Also, winter picture books bring just the right coziness that makes reading so fun and delightful. 

Author of Blog

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

Picture Books: The Importance of the Written Word

This past week, my daughter and I created an activity guide for the picture book, Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polacco. If you have never read the story before, it is about a feisty librarian willing to protest to the entire town the importance of reading and the power of the written word. We geared this book guide for grades 4 through 7 because we believe it is so important that older students get the chance to enjoy the beauty and power of a well-written and illustrated picture book as younger students do. 

Pictures books can and should be read to younger students and to older students as well. With more life experience, older elementary to middle school students are able to appreciate and better understand deeper themes of these picture books in a powerful way. Some picture books, although traditionally thought of only for younger students, carry such heavy and mature themes, that it would be a travesty for older students not to read and analyze them. After all, a picture book is just a short story with illustrations. 

With this, I wanted to share with you some well-written books that honor librarians who distinctly know the true power of the written word. These books will challenge your older elementary to middle school students, inspire them to make the world a better place, and show them the significance of the written word. 

Love to grab our newest Aunt Chip and The Great Triple Creek Dam Affair Book Companion Activities, geared for upper elementary and middle school students, please click below. Also includes a FREE WRITING AND GRAPHIC ORGANIZER SAMPLE in the PREVIEW.

The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman

What if there were no libraries? What if the libraries in our country were destroyed on purpose? In this story, The Library Bus, your students will be taken along a journey with a young girl traveling through Afghanistan for the  purpose of sharing books and teaching young girls English. This is a truly touching story to show your students the importance of having the freedom to learn and read, where many others do not have this privilege. One of the quotes from this book is so moving.

“Never stop learning. Then you will be free.” 

In addition, the artwork covering the pages takes a glimpse of what the country of Afghanistan now looks like. We see young girls with patched clothing lined in front of their tents, knowing these tents are their homes as well. 

This book is a touching tribute to the power of teachers and librarians willing to do whatever it takes to show the importance of the power of the written word. This book is a perfect starting point for many deep discussions within your classroom. 

Publisher’s Synopsis

Author Bahram Rahman grew up in Afghanistan during years of civil war and the restrictive Taliban regime of 1996-2001. He wrote The Library Bus to tell new generations about the struggles of women who, like his own sister, were forbidden to learn.

It is still dark in Kabul, Afghanistan when the library bus rumbles out of the city. There are no bus seats—instead there are chairs and tables and shelves of books. And there are no passengers—instead there is Pari, who is nervously starting her first day as Mama’s library helper. Pari stands tall to hand out notebooks and pencils at the villages and the refugee camp, but she feels intimidated. The girls they visit are learning to write English from Mama. Pari can’t even read or write in Farsi yet. But next year she will go to school and learn all there is to know. And she is so lucky. Not long ago, Mama tells her, girls were not allowed to read at all.

Award-winning illustrator Gabrielle Grimard’s pensive and captivating art transports the reader to Afghanistan in the time after the Taliban’s first regime. Her rich landscapes and compelling characters celebrate literacy, ingenuity, and the strength of women and girls demanding a future for themselves.

This book would be a wonderful pre-reading source or supplement to I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. Read all about her book here in this last blog post.

Women’s History Month: 4 Activities for I Am Malala 

Schomburg: A Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston

Aunt Chip in Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polacco, knew the importance of remembering the past through the telling of stories and of taking care of books, a precious commodity. She knew books and stories were a significant way to hand history down to the next generation. In Triple Creek, it was almost taken completely away from the community because of decisions made by people who really weren’t thinking about the next generation or even history, for that matter. 

In the book, Schomburg: A Man Who Built a Library, a young man who collected books, stories, letters, and more his entire life wanted to make sure the next generation knew of their heritage. He does this in such a special way by creating his own library, where he stored precious works of written words that he had collected his entire life. Why did he do this? What was his motive for collecting so many books and sharing them with others? This is due to when he was in fifth grade, he was told that Black children did not have a history. With this in mind, he spent the rest of his life proving otherwise. This is definitely an amazing book to explore.  

By the way, this would be a perfect time to let your students know what a bibliophile is. It is one who loves to read, admire, and collect books. With that, Mr. Schomburg, like Aunt Chip, was definitely that. 

Publisher’s Synopsis

Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro–Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk’s life’s passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to overflow his house (and his wife threatened to mutiny), he turned to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that was the cornerstone of a new Negro Division. A century later, his groundbreaking collection, known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, has become a beacon to scholars all over the world.

Please enjoy Schomburg: A Man Who Built a Library read by the author herself, Carole Boston. This beautifully written book of poems teaches the life of Schomburg. It definitely should be shared with all readers. 

In addition, I must note the beauty of the gorgeous illustrations. Velasquez’s richly detailed oil paintings aptly capture Schomburg’s zeal for learning and for teaching others…A must-read about a bibliophile extraordinaire. Horn Book. 

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence

In the book, Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Dam Affair, we see just how important reading is to a community. The community had done away with books on their own free will, all except Aunt Chip, of course. However, how heartbreaking and tragic would it be for a whole community to not only lose the ability to read its language, but to actually speak those words as well. That is just what has sadly occurred in this picture book for all ages, Stolen Words by Melanie Florence. 

In this beautifully, heartbreaking story, we catch a glimpse of time between an innocent granddaughter as she gently learns some of the things her grandfather experienced at her exact young age. She learns of why her grandfather doesn’t know his true language of Cree, a language that was taken away from him after he was taken from his home and his mother. 

However, we then see the beauty of love as the granddaughter brings her grandfather a book from her school’s library, titled Introduction to Cree, the language he first knew. We experience how the words in the book flow through time and help heal the old man’s heart as he begins to speak his true language for the first time since he was a child. 

Who says picture books are only for the very young? As a librarian, I fully do not believe a very young child can appreciate the beauty or understand the extent of a book such as this. This book is definitely meant to be shared with older students in upper elementary and middle school. It is meant to touch their hearts and show them the importance of the written word. 

Publisher’s Synopsis

The story of the beautiful relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. When she asks her grandfather how to say something in his language – Cree – he admits that his language was stolen from him when he was a boy. The little girl then sets out to help her grandfather find his language again. This sensitive and warmly illustrated picture book explores the intergenerational impact of the residential school system that separated young Indigenous children from their families. The story recognizes the pain of those whose culture and language were taken from them, how that pain is passed down, and how healing can also be shared.

My Librarian is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Rurrs 

Have you ever wondered what other libraries look like? Would you like your library books delivered to your students in a wheelbarrow or by an elephant? I have often jokingly remarked that I hope they never put the library on a cart. However, after reading this, I see many possibilities. If I have to use a cart, I want that elephant to go with me down my halls. Nevertheless, in this amazing non-fiction book, you will explore the world of libraries all over the world. I am sure your students will tell your librarian all about it the next time they visit. 

Publisher’s Synopsis

Do you get books from a public library in your town or even in your school library? In many remote areas of the world, there are no library buildings. In many countries, books are delivered in unusual ways: by bus, boat, elephant, donkey, train, even by wheelbarrow. Why would librarians go to the trouble of packing books on the backs of elephants or driving miles to deliver books by bus? Because, as one librarian in Azerbaijan says, “Books are as important to us as air or water!” This is the intriguing photo essay, a celebration of books, readers, and libraries.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” Toni Morrison. 

I must admit that I saved this one for last. In this beautifully written and illustrated picture book, we learn of the life and times of a librarian and storyteller, Pura Belpre. She first began her happy and content life in Puerto Rico, but soon traveled to Manhattan for her sister’s wedding. Once there, she finds work as a seamstress, but it just doesn’t fit. Soon she leaves this cramped job to work in a library as an interpreter. This is especially awesome since she speaks 3 languages. 

However, while putting books on the shelves and telling stories to children, she realizes that she doesn’t see any books written for children with a Spanish heritage. Well, if you don’t see the book you want, then you must write your own. With that, she does. Soon, she leaves the library to travel the world, sharing her writings and her love of books with many, many others. However, in due time, she returns to the library and her one true love: to share her written works with the children so desperately wanting to hear her stories. 

Conclusion

Picture Books: The Importance of the Written Word begins with a picture book about Aunt Chip, one feisty lady who stood against a community to protest a television tower. She did this because she felt it would destroy the love of reading in her community. On that same note, we finish with the life and times of a bilingual librarian storyteller who changed the world for so many through her love of the written word as well. Picture books are so elegantly written, full of verse, and full of the beauty of language. Please share these wonderful books with your students. Maybe, just maybe, their power will be the one thing that will make the world a better place.

Author of Blog

To read more about reading picture books in upper elementary and middle grades, please visit our blog post…

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