10 Picture Books to Read in the Middle School Classroom

We are thrilled to welcome Christina from The Hanson Hallway as our guest blogger today! Christina is an expert in all things books, and she's going to share her experiences using picture books in middle school. Last year, her classes read a book a day! Wow! Read on to find out Christina's tips & resources for getting started with picture books.

Using picture books in your classroom can engage reluctant readers, help introduce a lesson, and build community. Check out tips & resources for using picture books in middle school from The Hanson Hallway at The Secondary English Coffee Shop

You read picture books to middle schoolers?  Aren't picture books for little kids?  Aren't middle schoolers too old to be read to?  Whether you are three, thirteen, or seventy-three, picture books are for everyone!

I started reading picture books to my middle school students after attending a session last summer at nErDcampMI called "Picture Books at Every Grade, Every Day" presented by Jillian Heise and Angie Huesgen.  They explained their rationale for #ClassroomBookaDay, reactions from teachers and students, and shared examples of books they read.  Jillian even read an F&G copy of They All Saw a Cat by Brenden Wenzel, and the group came up with great discussion ideas to have with students about the book.  After that session, I was seriously considering doing this, but I was a little nervous about reading picture books to middle schoolers.  I often asked myself: What books am I going to choose?  What if the students think picture books are babyish?  Where do I have time in my already busy classroom schedule to read a picture book?  But a few weeks later, I took a leap of faith and decided we would try #ClassroomBookaDay.

With the help of my local librarian and friends on social media, I was able to find some engaging picture books that hooked students on to picture books at the beginning of the year.  After that, I searched for picture books centered around specific classroom topics, like figurative language and grammar; common themes like kindness, courage, and perseverance; and events or holidays, like September 11 and Halloween.  Sometimes, I would even pick picture books that were just fun and humorous to read aloud!

Our picture book read aloud was always at the beginning of class because it usually tied in to our lesson for the day.  Students got into the routine of entering class, putting their supplies at their spot, and gathering around in the front of the classroom for me to read that day's picture book.  If I missed a day of reading a picture book due to an absence or something else coming up in the classroom, the students were always good about reminding me to read two picture books the next day.  We even created a #ClassroomBookaDay bulletin board outside of our classroom to not only keep track of all the picture books we read each day, but to also share the books with students, teachers, and other school guests passing by.

Using picture books in your classroom can engage reluctant readers, help introduce a lesson, and build community. Check out tips & resources for using picture books in middle school from The Hanson Hallway at The Secondary English Coffee Shop
Beginning of the school year

Using picture books in your classroom can engage reluctant readers, help introduce a lesson, and build community. Check out tips & resources for using picture books in middle school from The Hanson Hallway at The Secondary English Coffee Shop
Halfway point of the school year - 90 picture books!

Using picture books in your classroom can engage reluctant readers, help introduce a lesson, and build community. Check out tips & resources for using picture books in middle school from The Hanson Hallway at The Secondary English Coffee Shop
End of the school year - 180 picture books!

By the end of the school year, we read 180 picture books!  You read that right: 180 picture books, one for each day of the school year!  On the last day of school, the students and I sat outside of our classroom and reflected on all the books we read. We talked about some of our favorite titles, characters, and illustrators.  It was still mind-blowing to all of us that we read that many books within the school year.

Every so often, maybe once or twice a month, I like to check in with students to see what they think of a picture book we read, so I will give them a picture book exit slip to fill out.  This exit slip helps me check their comprehension of a book, what they think are possible themes in it, and their personal rating of the book.  These slips do not get graded either!  I use the information from these slips to help decide future books and as discussion starters when I conference with students. You can grab the FREE exit slip here!

Picture Books in Middle School | Using picture books in your classroom can engage reluctant readers, help introduce a lesson, and build community. Check out tips & resources for using picture books in middle school from The Hanson Hallway at The Secondary English Coffee Shop

If you are a little leery to jump into reading a picture book-a-day, I have come up with a list of ten picture books that you can use in your middle school classroom throughout the upcoming school year.  

School’s First Day of School 
Written by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson

This picture book would be a great one to kick off the school year! School’s First Day of School tells the story of a brand new school. The story is told from the school’s perspective which is nervous on the first day of school. Things don’t start off so well for the school after overhearing students say they don’t like school, the fire alarm goes off, and being filled trash after lunch. But the school also notices that there are others who are nervous about the first day. As the day goes on, the school is listening and learning, and cannot wait to do it all over again tomorrow. Award-winning illustrator Christian Robinson brings this story to life with his signature simple and colorful illustrations.

They All Saw a Cat 

Written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

 “The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws…” They All Saw a Cat, a 2017 Caldecott Honor book is another story about perspective. Upon first glance, we see the expression of the cat when a child, a dog and a fox each see the cat. But then, we see how certain animals view the cat like a bird, a snake, and a mouse. The illustrations are spot-on in this book! Brendan Wenzel nails the perspectives of each animal perfectly. Students could practice point of view by choosing an animal from this book and writing their own story to go along with the illustration.

Each Kindness 
Written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis

“Each kindness makes the whole world a little bit better.” Being the new student is never easy. Trying to fit in and making new friends can be a challenge. In Each Kindness, a new girl, Maya, arrives in Chloe’s class, and she notices right away Maya’s raggedy clothes and broken shoes. When Maya wants to play with Chloe and her friends, they say no. Maya does not show up for school the next day when the class is talking about kindness. Chloe’s teacher demonstrates what kindness can do for others. Once Chloe realizes the importance of being kind, it is too late to apologize to Maya because she never returns to school. After reading this book to my students, I remember you could hear a pin drop in our classroom. This was a powerful book about kindness, and one that stuck with my students for a while after reading it.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors 
Written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Adam Rex

Rock, paper, scissors has been a schoolyard game for many years. But do you know the tale of how it came to be? In Drew Daywalt’s latest book, The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors, he uncovers the journey of each item and how they finally came together for one, epic battle. Coming from different kingdoms and realms, Rock, Paper, and Scissors defeat a variety of things along the way: Rock versus Apricot; Paper versus Half-Eaten Bag of Trail Mix; and Scissors versus Dinosaur-Shaped Chicken Nuggets. Because they are all looking for a greater challenge, they call converge in the great cavern of Two-Car Garage, and the rest is history. Students will not only love the illustrations, but they will be laughing at the story from the very beginning. Try reading this book by making up voices for each item, and it will really bring the characters to life!

Pink is for Blobfish 
Written by Jess Keating and illustrated by David DeGrand

The cover of this nonfiction picture book should grab students attention right away with the photograph of a blobfish. Pink is for Blobfish is a book full of information and pictures about animals in the world that are pink! Did you know that the blobfish was voted as the ugliest animal in the world? Did you know naked mole rats are talented architects? Did you know male pygmy seahorses become pregnant and carry the eggs in a pouch? Find these weird animals, facts, and more in this book. As an extension or in collaboration with a science teacher, students could choose one of these animals to research, or they could create their own book of animals that are a certain color (Example - Blue is for Poison Dart Frog or Yellow is for Banana Slug).

Illustrated by Aaron Becker 

Journey is a unique picture book because it does not have any words! It is the story of a young girl with a red marker who draws a door on her bedroom wall which then opens into a magical world. By drawing things like a boat, balloon, and magic carpet, she is taken on an adventure, but is uncertain where or how it will end. You may be asking yourself: How do I read a wordless picture book? Show the pictures to the students and have them write their own story! If your student enjoy Journey, share with them the rest of the trilogy, Quest and Return.

The Book With No Pictures 
Written by B.J. Novak

From a wordless picture book to a pictureless picture book, The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak (most notably known as Ryan from the television show The Office) is just what it is. The book has no pictures! It probably does not seem that a book like this would be very fun to read, but you would be wrong. You have to read the words on the page, even if there are words that make silly sounds or make you talk in a monkey voice. I mean, doesn’t everyone have a friend who is a hippo and named Boo Boo Butt? I’m guessing you just laughed out loud at that! And I can guarantee your students will too. After reading this book, it would even be fun for students to make up their own silly words!

The Invisible Boy 

Written by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton

In The Invisible Boy, Brian is never really “seen” by his classmates and teacher. His classmates don’t pick him to play in kickball games or invite him to birthday parties, and his teacher always seems to be dealing with other students to notice Brian. But there is one thing Brian loves to do: draw! One day, a new student, Justin, joins their class. As Justin is trying to find his place in the class, Brian is the one who steps up to make him feel welcome by drawing a picture for him. When the time comes for a group project, Justin invites Brian into his group and the rest is history. This is wonderful story to use with your students about the importance of including others. Pay close attention to the illustrations as these tell the story just as much as the words. Don’t forget to check out the endpapers too!

Henry’s Freedom Box 
Written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

“Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was. Henry was a slave. And slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays.” Henry’s Freedom Box is the dramatic, true story of Henry Brown. When Henry’s slave master falls ill, he is sent away from his family to work for his master’s son in a tobacco factory. Henry is lonely in this new place until he meets Nancy. Eventually, he and Nancy get married and have three children. But Nancy’s master lost a lot of money, and one day, she and her children are sold at a slave market. Henry is heartbroken as his whole family is taken from him in an instant. He knew right then that he wanted to be free. Enlisting help from some friends, Henry decides he wants to be mailed in a crate to a place where there are no slaves. Despite a rocky journey, Henry eventually makes it to freedom in Philadelphia. This would be a great book to use when studying the Underground Railroad or when learning about themes like courage and perseverance.

Be Quiet! 
Written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins 

Fans of Mother Bruce will love Ryan Higgins’s newest picture book, Be Quiet! Rupert the Mouse wants to create a wordless picture book. But his two talkative friends, Nibbs and Thistle, want to help out. The pair tries to give Rupert suggestions on what he should include in his picture book, and Rupert is not having it. He just wants them to STOP TALKING! The “vishery strigulating” illustrations reflect the emotions of each of the characters perfectly from the facial expressions to the large, bold print words. There is even a cameo appearance by Bruce the bear from Mother Bruce! Read this book with lots of expression, and your students will laugh out loud at the subtle jokes and situations these mice get into. Be sure to show your students what is under the book jacket and the endpapers too.

This list will definitely get you started, and feel free to reach out to Christina and the Secondary English Coffee Shop if you have any questions. Pin this post for later:

Picture Books in Middle School | Using picture books in your classroom can engage reluctant readers, help introduce a lesson, and build community. Check out tips & resources for using picture books in middle school from The Hanson Hallway at The Secondary English Coffee Shop

As always, thanks for visiting The Coffee Shop!

Christina Hanson is a sixth and seventh grade language arts teacher in north central Illinois. When she isn’t sharing books with her students or reading books from her never-ending TBR pile, she loves to spend time with her teacher/coach husband and very energetic kids. She also has a love for photography, especially taking pictures of books! Christina is a member of the #BookJourney crew, a group of nine educators from across the United States, who “Read, Post-it, Tweet, Repeat.” You can find Christina on Twitter and Instagram @hansonhallway or on her blog The Hanson Hallway.


  1. I have honestly never even thought of reading picture books with middle school students, but this sounds incredible! I particularly loved the idea of having the wall growing with all the books read - really helps provide a visually reminder of students' growth and learning.

  2. I have taught 2nd grade for 29 years and am now teaching 4-6 grade Reading/Writing. I have been searching for good picture books to read with them. I wish I could see the titles of all 180 books. i am unable to make out all titles from the picture. Do you have the complete list somewhere?

  3. This topic intrigues me quite a bit. However, how in the world did you afford all these books? Did you borrow a lot from your local library? How did you compile your collection?

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  5. Do you a complete list that you wouldn't mind sharing? Please!

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  13. I LOVE using picture books in the classroom. It's interesting to see how engaged the older kids are with the stories and illustrations.


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