The one with MUST HAVE picture books for upper elementary

I’ve always loved using novels in the classroom, but in more recent years, I’ve recognized the power of picture books. They’re short and easily have multiple ways to be used in the classroom. They can be inspirational and mentor texts. While virtual for most of 2020-2021, I relied heavily on picture books because they were much easier to share with my students.

Image: stack of books, Text: Must Have Picture Books for Upper Elementary

This is my MUST HAVE picture book list for every upper elementary classroom. I’m constantly adding new books, but these are ones I’ve come back to or used in multiple ways. With each title, I’m adding a little snippet to give you some ideas for how to use these in your class. These are in no particular order, just however I thought of them.

Each book is linked to Amazon. You can also find the whole collection in my shop. BUT if you need ideas for how to buy without spending $$$, check out this blog post.

  1. Do Unto Otters: review manners with students, discuss “golden rule” and terms like cooperation and respect.
  2. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates: discussing empathy and what it means to be the new person. And it includes a dinosaur
  3. Our Class is a Family: how our class is like a family, defining families and how we need to function as one. It also shows great illustrations of how families look very different!
  4. Your Name is a Song: the beauty of identity and how your name is important, also why we need to pronounce names correctly. The author created a YouTube video that helps readers pronounce the characters’ names, which emphasizes their importance.
  5. Miss Malarkey Leaves No Reader Behind: character trait of perseverance, plus I always say I’m like Miss Malarkey because I’m obsessed with reading and will always try to find something they like.
  6. Our Subway Baby: fabulous TRUE story about the adoption of a boy by two men, love the representation plus we talk about how families can look different.
  7. 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World: This is a favorite for Black History Month. Each day represents a different person or event in Black history. While we celebrate BIPOC all year long, I use this book as a special 5 min focus each morning of February.
  8. Ada Twist, Scientist: theme- curiosity & women as scientists, plus I love Ada’s drive, even at a young age! There are also other books in this series that students enjoy.
  9. What Should Danny Do?: this is a choose-your-own-adventure type book about making good choices. Fun way to remind students how our choices affect each part of our day. There is also a school and vacation version. I had a class that wanted to choose all the negatives to see what would happen. It was fun to make that connection!
  10. The Night I Followed the Dog: Funny story about how a boy who follows his dog one night and goes on a big adventure. Great for discussing parts of a narrative in addition to inspiring creative writing. We use the prompt “The Night I Followed…” and students write about their own pet or favorite animal. Here’s a blog post that talks more about it.
  11. When Aiden Became a Brother: identity and gender is an important theme here. Aiden is so thoughtful and kind towards his future sibling!
  12. Before She Was Harriet: Harriet Tubman was an epic woman. This non-fiction book is BEAUTIFUL and reflects the theme of identity, because Harriet Tubman was so much more than an Underground Railroad conductor.
  13. I’m Trying to Love Math: I love when I can find a book related to another subject. This book has multiple purposes. It shows all the reasons why math is an important subject, which is great for reluctant learners. Also, it’s great for an opinion writing piece on math (or any subject!).
  14. The Day You Begin: Jacqueline Woodson is simply amazing. This book is about acceptance and differences. It also pushes students to share so we can connect to each other. Great for encouraging sharing during community meetings.
  15. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore: This book shows how we all have a story and they’re all important! It’s great to start personal memoirs/narratives and to show the power of books.
  16. Counting on Katherine: A non-fiction favorite, this is great for a biography example, modeling taking notes, showing perseverance and discussing racism and women in math. The best part…explaining Katherine’s job as a computer.
  17. How to Read a Book: I can never decide if I like the poem or the illustrations best. Encouraging kids to read however they want, using poetry exploding with figurative language, and inspirational art is a powerful combination.
  18. Lift: The illustrations and graphic novel style of this text are what make it EPIC. A girl goes on an imagination adventure in the elevator. There are very few words, which makes it perfect for making inferences about visuals. It’s also great for launching writing!
  19. A Bad Case of Stripes: This is one I keep going back to as a mentor text. Camilla is a great person to explore character traits, how a character changes over time, and theme (be yourself!).
  20. Memoirs of a Goldfish: Another mentor text extraordinaire! This story is told from the point of view of a goldfish, in diary form. The goldfish learns to accept change and friendship by the end. Great for using as a writing prompt. (Check out this free resource I made and this blog post about more point of view activities.)
Hand holding three picture books: Counting on Katherine, How to Read a Book, and Lift

The first five books are a huge part of my beginning of the year classroom management strategy. For more about that, see this blog post. The other books are sprinkled throughout the year, based on what we’re learning or needing. Many of these are brought up multiple times, by myself and also by my students! Even when I switch up our mentor texts, they’ll bring us back to one of these, which is how I know these books are keepers.

Check out this entire collection of books in my Amazon shop here. What books would you add to my list?

Not ready to spend too much? Check out this blog post for how to build your classroom library without blowing your budget.

P.S. Are you working on building community this year? Try these free morning messages!

Print and Digital Morning Messages

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