Discover Picture-Perfect Projects

Use classic, well-loved picture books as a means of infusing visual and language arts in the elementary classroom.

By Christen Amico

Stack of books with apple on top

Early readers are often intrigued by classic picture books such as No David and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom because of the vivid and interesting illustrations coupled with fun, kid-friendly language. Parents and teachers know these books as fun read alouds, but in actuality they can serve as a strong mentor text for teaching valuable lessons in line, shape, and color. Moreover, using visual arts as a multi-modal response to literature can help struggling readers convey their thoughts regarding the book without the pressure of writing. English Language Learners in particular may actually comprehend a story but not have the vocabulary or language skills to write their answers on paper. Here are some unique art projects that teach a specific art concept and help develop reading comprehension skills based on a popular picture book.

A Portrait of David

David Shannon’s series, No David, is humorously illustrated and loved by kids of all ages. These books are typically used in September to help ease students back into the school routine and to cover the rules of the classroom. Another great teaching point with this book is the artistic concept of self-portraits. The style of David, the main character, is appealing to young artists and lends itself to teaching about proportion, bust, depth perception, and background in a self-portrait. You may also want to try:

  • Water color resist: portrait in crayon, background in watercolor.
  • Tracing over the lines in thin black marker.
  • Cutting out magazine pictures of the kids’ favorite things to add to the portrait.

Tearing up Shapes with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

Bill Martin Jr.’s rhythmic words of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom capture the attention of anyone who wants to listen. But the illustrations are unique and can serve as a great way to learn about the ABCs in an artful way.  First, have students notice the border on each page. This is one of the few picture books with a patterned border. This is an essential artistic element that children can learn and recreate. The coconut tree can be made in many ways. For young hands, tear art is a great way to create an imperfect coconut tree. No scissors are allowed and only green and brown construction paper is needed. Lastly, the letters are drawn going around the tree! Keep an eye out for students who include “loose tooth T” or “black eyed P” in their project, as this demonstrates some great listening/ reading comprehension skills!

You may also want to try:

  • Foam letters to be stuck on rather than written
  • Water color resist on the border: circles in crayon, water color over
  • Brown pom-poms as coconuts
  • Bulletin board idea: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom! Can you name the letters in our room?

Creating Texture with Where the Wild Things Are

Maurice Sendak’s classic story of a faraway island filled with terrible monsters beautifully illustrates how horizontal lines can create texture which impacts the overall mood and tone of the book itself. Even adult artists struggle with how to create the sense of how something feels using lines. Readers can create their own monster by cutting out a monster, sponge painting it, and then using a thin, black marker to draw lines to create texture. Adding teeth, claws, and eyes will make the monster complete. You may also want to try:

  • Adding adjectives to describe each monster in class
  • Using felt, fabric or other texture for the eyes, claws or teeth
  • Creating a background for the monsters

Taking the Color out of What if the Zebras Lost Their Stripes?

Although this is a lesser-known picture book, it is definitely one filled with a plethora of valuable teachable moments about racism and color. After reading the story aloud, give each child a randomly selected piece of colored paper, two paint brushes, one cup of black paint, and one cup of white paint. Set no rules and see where the art takes each child. It is absolutely amazing to see how each child understood the story. Some will naturally mix the two colors to make shades of gray, while others will leave them as is. Some may even try to create a rainbow using the different shades (think of the amazing art lessons here). It is also interesting to see if the children will paint zebras or automatically transfer the concepts to humans. You may also want to try:

  • Having each child share his picture and explain why he painted it the way he did
  • Add speech bubbles to the pictures

These are just a few of the amazing artistic opportunities that can stem from the classic picture books found in most elementary classrooms. Challenge your class to think about how the style of each book fits the story itself.

Just think:

  • What if the monsters were drawn in the style of the coconut trees?
  • Or why did the author write about zebras (black and white) instead of a cheetah that lost its spots?
  • Or what if the self-portraits in No David resembled the self-portraits of Frida Khalo?


Rhythm, Patterns and Color in Poetry

Middle school readers can work together to integrate art components with writing and poetry. This plan is extensive and covers a variety of modalities and types of art, including music.

Where the Wild Things Are Vocabulary Lesson

Here is a great 2nd-3rd grade lesson that introduces vocabulary words and concepts to young readers. It would be a great companion lesson the art lesson above.

I Said Boom Chicka Boom!

This is a great way to teach language arts using Chicka Chicka Boom Boom as a way to teach the /oo/ sound using rhythm and rhyme. This is most applicable to first or second graders, but also includes challenge lessons that would work for high-achieving kindergartners.