Top 5 Lists of Must-Have Classroom Books
Teachers share the books they can't live without and how they incorporate those titles into their curriculum.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
Each teacher's book list will be featured on the Book List Exchange on Scholastic.com. This book community for teachers is part of the new Teacher Book Wizard, a book search tool designed by teachers to help you match the right children’s books to your students.See below for each winning list. You can post your own list in the Book List Exchange as well.
Remember, too, to enter your ideas in our next Winning Ideas contest.
1. Books for Spring & Farm Units
Submitted by Jennifer Evans, Grade PreK, Cascade View Preschool & Kindergarten, Oregon
As the snow melts and I see the first signs of spring, I gleefully get out my lesson plans for March and April. I teach thematically all year long and during these months I teach spring and farm themes. These books remind me of great activities, science experiments, and most importantly the smiles on the children’s faces when they hear them for the first time.
Little Quack by Lauren Thompson and Little Quack’s Hide ‘n’ Seek by Lauren Thompson
When you are out and about keep your eyes open for unique items that go with the stories you will read during your units. I came across this great stuffed animal that looks just like Derek Anderson’s illustration of Little Quack. The best part of this find is that it has a zipper in the back to hide items for games that will reinforce what they heard in the story. I hide numbered little ducks to play a hide and seek game of our own. Hide the ducks around the classroom and have the children go in search of them. Keep one and tape it to your own back without the children seeing (sitting up against a wall helps). Then when everyone is not able to find the missing duck stand up, look around, and see which child notices that you have the missing duck on your back! It’s a good laugh! After the good time, have the children place the ducks in numerical order.
Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Giggle Giggle Quack by Doreen Cronin
These Caldecott Honorees are so much fun to read! After reading Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type I bring out a type writer. How many preschoolers have even seen one? I make sure that I leave it out in my dramatic play area for the rest of the month. The dramatic play area is set up with a child-size barn. I make a cow by free drawing one that looks like the cows in the story. Then I add a plastic glove filled with water for the children to “milk” the cow. Our new friend is named Betsy-the-cow (named after the illustrator, Betsy Lewin). Don’t forget to show the children Scholastic’s video of Giggle Giggle Quack. It helps the children know the characters even more. You will get a kick out of seeing some of them recite the story again in the Reading Center or during their dramatic play.
Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins
At library book sales, make sure to check the audio/visual sections to see what you can use for your units. I found a film strip and audio tape that went with Rosie’s Walk. If your school doesn’t have an old film projector lying around the media room not being used, that’s alright. Just use the tape while you hold the book in hand. It is good for the children to hear other voices reading aloud to them. Then, after story time go for your own walk. Set up an obstacle course in your classroom with tunnels, chairs, mats, and other items from your gross motor activities. Have a child wear a chicken hat (you can find a great one at www.orientaltrading.com) and have the other children line up behind her. Take a walk and remember to have the children go “around” the chairs, “through” the tunnels and “over” the mats. It is a fun way to teach these basic concepts.
Farm Counting Book by Jane Miller
I loved my used copy of this book and was disappointed when it fell apart. Don’t discard your favorite thematic books. Use them to create a learning center or in this case I laminated them and placed them inside our barn in our dramatic play area. The barn is filled with yellow Easter grass for straw and farm animal puppets. The photographs in this book are a great. The children are able to count while playing with the farm animals. Luckily, I later found another copy of this book to replace the old one.
What’s Inside? by Mary Jane Martin
I can trust this book to be a favorite among the children during story time. I love books that are interactive. Every time the photograph of the egg is shown, ask the children, “What’s inside?” Let them try to guess. Some of the eggs are easy for preschoolers and some are not. The book introduces children to animals that they may never have known “hatched.” Make sure to add it to your Reading Center for the children to read for themselves.
Wonderful Worms by Linda Glaser
I don’t truly care for worms. When I read this book and the following ideas came to me, I kept on saying to myself, “Yuck! I can’t believe I am doing this!” Then I would follow with, “It’s not about you it’s about the kids!” Worms, slimy as they may be, are great for our environment. How can you create memorable moments after introducing your children to Wonderful Worms? Place gummy worms at your art center with brown paint on brown paper. Bring the real thing into the classroom by bringing in some dirt from your own garden. Don’t forget the magnifying glasses at this center to get a closer look! Get faux worms from the fish bait section of your outdoor sporting goods store and put them in brown play-dough. It really looks like worms in mud!
Tuesday by David Wiesner
Some teachers shy away from wordless books during story time. I think it is a great way to get the children to interact, take turns observing, and communicating what is happening in the story. What better way to get your children excited about frogs than decorating your room in them? There is almost always a teacher in a school that collects frog-everything! (I love you Mrs. Hughes!) Ask to borrow a few of her things to make your room look special for the day. Bring in a real frog for the children to look at with a magnifying glass. My favorite frog center is our Frog Habitat Center. Purchase river rocks and silk ferns from a craft supply and place them on the table. Add plastic frogs for the children to play with. I found a frog-croaker at a party supply store. I place the croaker inside my pocket and while the children play during Center Time, I walk by the Frog Habitat Center and push the button inside my pocket. The look on the children’s faces when they think that their frog is croaking at them is priceless!
Counting in the Garden by Kim ParkerIn the Children’s Garden by Carole Lexa Schaefer and Flower Garden by Eve Bunting
If you love gardening as much as I do, you have to bring the outdoors into the classroom! Having child-safe plants in the classroom can also create a warm and inviting environment. Some great activities to do with the children are: Greenhouse Bags - Have the children plant beans in soil-filled sandwich bags. Try and put the seed where the children can see the roots form through the bag. Hang them either in a window or place them on a bulletin board with a measuring tape to see how much they grow every day.
- Flower Garden Counting Game - Not everyone can have a large garden as Flower Garden shows us. I love this four-player game for Center Time. Place floral foam inside four plastic window boxes. Purchase silk flowers and cut them so that each bloom is separate. Place the flowers in the middle of the table. Have the children take turns rolling a dice and adding that number of flowers to their window box.
- Flower Still-life - Have a bouquet sitting out with white paper and black art pens. Let the children draw the bouquet and then color them with crayons or markers. Giving the children true art tools helps them feel special. I have noticed that the nicer the tool the better the artist becomes. The pictures are beautiful and decorate the classroom perfectly.
Backyard Books: Are You A Butterfly? By Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries
Halloween clearance can be a great time of year to buy items for your thematic units. I bought butterfly wings to wear for the day we read this book at story time. If you ever have a chance to go to a butterfly garden - do! Take loads of pictures and use them as teaching tools. I like to load the pictures into a slideshow on my laptop. Items like these make this book even more special!
Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polaeco
Check out the book and Reading Rainbow’s Rechenka’s Eggs from your local library. I have purchased my own copy and love to show it to the children during our spring theme. This video shows the author creating unique eggs as she did when she was a child. When I was in high school I had several exchange students from Russia give me some eggs painted like this. I bring these cultural items in the classroom for the children to explore and learn about other traditions around the world.
Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming
This book has fun illustrations and shows all the farm yard animals. Read the story with a sound effect CD that has farm animal sounds. It brings a lot to the story by having the sound effects of the animals in the background. After reading the story, make a time to play Barnyard Bingo. Pre-make bingo cards by using clipart of the different animals in the story. Use the sound effect CD to play an animal, have the children guess the animal they hear, and put a button on the picture of the animal. When they have filled the card have them call out “Barnyard Banter.” We are all winners at preschool!
The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash by Trinka Hakes Noble; illustrations by Steven Kellogg
I finish my farm unit by reading this book. Steven Kellogg is one of my favorite illustrators. He has a lot of the same characters in his books, and when you open one of his books it is like finding an old friend. Trinka Hakes Noble writes of a conversation between a mother and child about the class’ adventurous field trip to the farm. After reading the story my class goes on our own field trip to a kid-friendly farm with a petting zoo. I remember one year we decided to see the local Reptile Man instead of the trip to the farm (http://www.oregonreptileman.com/). Now, I have to be honest and say that I am not very fond of reptiles, but I do have a love for my children. So, when the Reptile Man asked for volunteers to hold a boa constrictor the children were raising their hands so patiently. I saw as other children were picked and thought that maybe he couldn’t see our little ones… so I raised my hands trying to get his attention. He saw me and said, “We have enough children, but we could use an adult. Could you please come up and help?” Ahhh! Did I do it? Of course! It was for the kids. I just stood up there trying to smile and look cool. All I have to say to that is my mother still doesn’t believe me. Never forget the class camera on field trips - you just might have an adventure of your own.
2. Alphabet Library
Submitted by Laura Gartung, Special Education, Rivermont School Tidewater, Virginia
As a kindergarten teacher, my method of teaching was based around the alphabet with a letter for each week. For each letter, I tried to find at least 5-10 books that would emphasize something that began with that letter. These were books that would span across subjects, incorporating Social Studies, Art, Science, Math and Language Arts. If I had to just pick one book for each letter, here's my abbreviated, must-have alphabet list:
A - The Apple Pie Tree by Z. Hall - perfect intro to short a and the seasons
B - Little Blue and Little Yellow by L. Lionni - art lesson and cooperation
C - Caps for Sale by E. Slobodkina - concepts of math and patterns
D - 10 Black Dots by D. Crews - counting and basic intro to art (Monet in the simplest form)
E - Elmer by D. McKee - great self esteem lesson about being yourself, plus color recognition
F - Swimmy by L. Lionni - intro to ocean life & same as letter E lesson
G - Goldilocks & Three Bears - various versions; teaches sequencing
H- Henny-Penny by J. Wattenberg - great for acting out w/ puppets (oral communication)
I - The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by T. dePaola - intro to Native Americans, folk tales/ legends
J - Jamberry by B. Degen - fun story about jam, bears, and boys
K - A Pocket for Katie by H.A. Rey - classic story of overcoming obstacles (disabilities)
L- The Jolly Postman by A Ahlberg - intro to community workers and letter writing
M - The Mitten by J. Brett - sequencing and seasonal wear
N - There's a Nightmare in my Closet by M. Sendack - emotions/ fear
O - The Big Orange Splot by D. Pinkwater - lesson on individuality
P - Harold & the Purple Crayon by C. Johnson - Give your students their own purple crayon and watch their imaginations run wild after this story!
Q - The Quilt Story by T. Johnson - Make your own class quilt with fabric crayons and fabric scraps. (Actually, I was quite amazed at all the picture books about quilts. I thought Q would be a lot harder to find books than it actually was!)
R - Little Red Hen - various versions; great story on the value of hard work!
S - Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by W. Steig - value of family and being careful of what you wish for
T - Thundercake by P. Polacco - intro to weather and storms
U - Deep Down Underground by R. Crowther - animals that live underground
V - Growing Vegetable Soup by L. Ehlert - the minimalist of the children's book world; great intro to where we get our food and plants
W - What Will the Weather Be Like Today? by P. Rogers - weather unit
X - The Skeleton Inside You by P. Showers - body parts
Y - The Yellow Ball by M. Bang - This is a great story to make a class book spin off with
Z - The Accidental Zucchini by M. Grover - great story to lead in to making your own alphabet books
3. 3rd-Grade Picks
Submitted by Laura Ingoglia, Grade 3, Timothy Christian School, New Jersey
The Story of Jumping Mouse by John Steptoe
Inspirational story, teaches love and selflessness.
The Wretched Stone by Chris Van Allsburg
Used for making inferences.
Weslandia by Paul Fleischman
Teaches creativity and being yourself.
The Best Part of Me by Wendy Ewald
I read this the first day of school. I then use it as a model for students to write about their own best parts.
All the Miss Nelson books by Harry Allard
The kids love them!
The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller
Very funny picture book; we read them when we study the 50 states.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling
Beautiful illustrations, excellent plot, lots of action, the kids love it!
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
Very funny fractured fairy tale, and it is perfect to teach point of view.
Awesome Fiction Read-Alouds:
As a class we love to come together, sit on the floor, and read from a chapter book each day. It is a time for us to relax, enjoy wonderful literature, and have class discussions on what we read.
From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Great for predictions and putting yourself in the character’s shoes.
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Hilarious story, I was laughing more than the kids!The
Girl Who Owned the City by O. T. Nelson
A younger version of Lord of the Flies. Teaches that you can do anything you set your mind to. This is an excellent read!
Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Heartwarming story, excellent for connections, questioning, and compare/contrast. I have it on CD too and the kids love listening to the different voices.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
Extremely funny story that the kids love to hear, and they always end up wanting to read it again on their own.
Chapter Books Used for Units in Social Studies and Reading:
When the Soldiers Were Gone by Vera W. Propp
Historical Fiction, excellent to use for plot because it has a clear cut problem, rising action, climax, and resolution. Overall, a heartwarming story.
My America Series by Various Authors
Historical Fiction for so many different time periods. These books match perfectly with many of our 3rd grade social studies units.
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardner
Great for a unit on Problem/Solution and summarization.
Lady Lollipop by Dick King Smith
Very cute story about a princess and a pig, the kids love it! I use it for compare/contrast. We also study characters and see how they changed from beginning to end.
Series the Kids Must Have (all mysteries):
My class loves to read mysteries during D.E.A.R. time. I have more collections of mysteries in my classroom as well, but these are their favorites.
A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy
Cam Jansen by David Adler
4. Books to Fall in Love With
Submitted by Jessica Brauchle, Grade 1, Central Elementary School, Missouri
My list really isn't in any particular order, but the first few are some of my definite can't live without books.
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess
I absolutely love reading this book to my students. When I read it this year for Christmas, I asked my 1st grade class, "What is the author's message in this story?" and one of my students responded, "Christmas is not about presents and getting things. Christmas is about family and giving to each other." I almost teared up when he said because he really got Dr. Suess' message.
Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard
This is probably my favorite book of all time. It is wonderful if you have a wild class because you can pull this out of the woodwork to teach them a good lesson.
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
This book is a must have to teach self-to-text connections, the effects of bullying, and never giving up.
Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin
This is a must have because it lends itself to so many lessons. It is great to show how fiction and non-fiction are sometimes together in books and it is also a great book to use when teaching journal writing.
A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
Great book for teaching about just being yourself and how you should be proud of who you are.
The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Sczieska
This is a great book to teach point of view, compare/contråst, and how people see things differently. I love reading a group of different versions of fairy tales and then talking about how they are similar and different.
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
This is a wonderful book to read-aloud to students. They really enjoy all of the different characters and really become attached to them. Only read it if you feel your students are emotionally ready for it.
Alexander and Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
I absolutely love this book. It is great to read to students for writing. It has so many details and it is great for teaching small moments because the whole book is about one day that is absolutely horrible.
The Mixed-Up Chameleon by Eric Carle
This is a wonderful book to teach students about being happy with themselves.
The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash by Trinka Hakes Noble
This is another book that I fondly remember from my childhood. Not only is it hilarious, but it lends itself very well to teaching cause and effect and using speech bubbles.
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Awesome book of poetry to read to get the day started or finished. Kids love the poems and so do I. This is another book that I adore from my childhood, and making that connection to my class is amazing.
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Falling Up by Shel Silverstein
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
This is a great book about how we can't always keep asking for more and more because eventually there won't be any more to give. The book lends itself to a great discussion about how it is nice to give to make someone happy, but you can only give so much without allowing the person to be selfish.
Matilda by Ronald Dahl
Another book I adored from my childhood. It is important to read chapter books because they give students a chance to connect to the characters and it really get a detailed glimpse into their lives.
Oh The Places You'll Go by Dr. Suess
My 2nd favorite Suess book of all time. It is a great book to read towards the end of the school year to help your students feel reassured that they will do great in the next grade. It is a timeless book and is wonderful for any grade.
The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
This book is great to teach cause and effect and to also spark discussions about the environment. I love how many lessons this book lends itself to.
Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne
Another great series of books to use to teach fiction and non-fiction at the same time. Kids really enjoy them, and most of the time, after you read the first few as a class, they will want to read the rest themselves.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Great one from my childhood that I remember reading over and over in the corner of the library. Great illustrations and it lends itself to some discussions.
The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog by Mo Willems
A hilarious tale of a pigeon and a duckling. It only works as a read aloud if you really get into character.
5. Can't Live Without Them
Submitted by Edythe Buehring, Grade 3, Fremont Intermediate School, Illinois
These are the books I couldn't live without in my classroom library.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
This book is wonderful on so many levels. I use it for character counts, to build an understanding of friendship, and to just share an amazing book with so much feeling and so little words.
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
This classic story brings me and at least one other 3rd grader to tears every year. This is the story I read aloud to my class and then we watch the movie on Valentine's Day to talk about the true meaning of friendship.
Muggie Maggie by Beverly Cleary
This is another favorite I like to have on hand. Third grade is a time when we focus in on using cursive for assignments and perfecting the craft. This book is a great reminder that cursive may not be something you like, but you should still give it your best shot.
Parts by Tedd Arnold and More Parts by Tedd Arnold
I love to use both these books not only as a grammar lessons but just because they really make students think about the way we say things to each other. "You'd loose your head if it wasn't attached."
If these were the only books in my class library, I would be off to a wonderful start!