15 Books, 15 Art Lessons

I love using books to inspire and supplement art lessons. This fact is especially evident from one of my previous articles 10 Books Every Art Teacher Needs.  In addition to the books from that list, I’ve compiled a list of 15 more stories, which each pair with a specific lesson from my elementary curriculum. Of course, this doesn’t even come close to the growing list of the fantastic books and series that can be used in the art room, but I hope it gets you started!




Below each pairing you will see the following abbreviations:

G – Describes the grade level I teach the lesson to, but all of these can be adapted for older or younger students.

O – Lists the lesson objectives

V – Lists any lesson vocabulary and artists as well as the elements and principals for the lesson

Notes – Includes a bit more information about the book and the lesson


1. Iggy Peck Architect by Andrea Beaty & Paint Card Cities

G: 2nd Grade

O: Study the silhouettes and different shapes of a skyline. Understand and create building shapes and skylines in the foreground, middle ground, and background. Observe and create details in nearby objects.

V: architect, silhouette, skyline, foreground, middle ground, background, line, shape, space, color, balance

Notes: This rhyming book is a fun way to introduce students to architecture. While reading, you can point out the shapes and details of all the different buildings. You can also notice how objects in the background and foreground have different levels of detail. (For even more fun, check out Rosie Revere Engineer)


2. The Pout Pout Fish Series by Deborah Diesen & Clay Pinch Pot Pout Pouts (inspired by Art with Mr. E)

G: 2nd Grade

O: Create pinch pots and attach fins and eye balls using the score and slip method. Begin basic understanding of the clay process.

V: pinch pot, score, slip, kiln, glaze, color, form

Notes: I have my students make their own versions of the pout pout character. For reference, as we read, I have the students pay close attention to the details of the fish’s body.


3. Sam’s Sandwich by David Pelham & Sandwich Collage

G: 1st Grade or 2nd Grade

O: Practice cutting and manipulating paper and other 2D materials. Practice working with glue.

V: collage, shape, line, color, texture, balance, unity

Notes: We make our own special sandwiches inspired by the colors and textures of the ingredients seen in the book.


4. Don’t Let the Pigeon Series by Mo Willems (+ Windblown by Edouard Manceau) & Shape Pigeons

G: Kindergarten or 1st Grade

O: Practice cutting skills. Draw and arrange basic shapes into a recognizable form. Practice writing.

V: collage, rectangle, circle, semicircle, triangle, shape, line, color, unity

Notes: Students love listening to Mo Willems’ entertaining and silly pigeon and are excited to create their own versions!


5. Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt & Oil Pastel Sunflowers

G: 1st Grade

O: Learn about and use warm colors. Blend and layer oil pastels. Follow guided drawing.

V: Vincent van Gogh, still life, line, warm colors, cool colors, pastels, shape, color, unity, pattern

Notes: This is a wonderful story about Vincent van Gogh’s life and his famous sunflower paintings that really inspires students.


6. Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister & Watercolor Resist Rainbow Fish

G: Kindergarten or 1st Grade

O: Learn about and use cool colors. Create a resist. Follow a guided drawing.

V: line, warm colors, cool colors, resist, shape, color, unity, pattern

Notes: I have students key in on the details and coloring in the fish’s body as we read before they create their own versions.


7. Happy by Mies Van Hout & Chalk Pastel Fish

G: 1st Grade or 2nd Grade

O: Discuss the connection between color and emotion. Use color and expression to convey emotion. Practice different chalk pastel techniques, including layering colors.

V: line, pattern, emotion, expression, shape, color, unity,

Notes: This fun book, with it’s amazing illustrations, inspires students to create their own emotion-filled drawings.


8. When Pigasso Met Mootise by Nina Laden & Cubist Clay Faces

G: 3rd Grade

O: Create slab faces inspired by Picasso. Properly attach clay pieces. Use texture to create interest.

V: Pablo Picasso, Cubism, slab, score and slip, layer, texture, abstract, shape, color, texture, balance, unity

Notes: Because this book includes the art styles of Picasso and Matisse, students gain a better understanding of each, making it a great jumping off point for a lesson about cubism.


9. Sandy’s Circus by Tanya Lee Stone & Contour Self-Portraits

G: 2nd Grade

O: Draw three different self-portraits using contour line. Fill in closed shapes with primary colors.

V: Alexander Calder, contour line, continuous contour line, blind contour line, primary colors, line shape, color, space, unity

Notes: Calder’s wire sculptures, especially that of the human head, inspire our contour self-portraits. I have students do one regular contour portrait where they can look at their papers and lift their pencils, one continuous contour line portrait where they can look at their papers but NOT lift their pencils, and one blind contour line drawing where they cannot lift their pencils but can look at their papers.


10. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak & Pattern and Texture Monsters

G: 2nd Grade

O: Discuss how line and pattern can make texture. Create monsters with different patterns. Discuss and experience the difference between two-dimensional and three-dimensional art.

V: Maurice Sendak, line, pattern, texture, slab, slip and score

Notes: While we read this book, I have the students notice how Sendak used line to create patterns and the illusion of texture on the bodies of the Wild Things. I also have them carefully look at the Wild Things for inspiration. Students first create two-dimensional wild things using Sharpie and watercolors, then make three-dimensional versions using clay slabs. In this way, they can see how the lines from their two-dimensional drawings become texture in their three-dimensional slab pieces.


11. White Rabbits Colors by Alan Baker & Color Wheel Gumball Machines

G: 1st Grade

O: Mix the secondary colors from the primary colors. Use simple shapes to construct a gum ball machine. Practice cutting circles.

V: primary colors, secondary colors, collage, variety, shape, balance

Notes: While reading this story, students discover what happens when the primary colors mix. The book also answers that question that always comes up, “What happens when you mix all the primaries together?”


12. Lots of Dots by Craig Frazier and & Kandinsky Concentric Circles

G: 1st Grade

O: Create multiple types of concentric circles using various methods such as painting, cutting and stamping.

V: Wassily Kandinsky, abstract, concentric circles, collage, printing, line, color, shape, pattern, unity

Notes: Read alongside The Dot by Peter Reynolds, students discover that circles, spheres, dots, and concentric circles are all around us.


13. Uncle Andy’s by James Warhola & Warhol “Pop” Cans

G: 3rd Grade

O: Draw from observation.

V: Andy Warhol, Pop Art, proportion, still life, form, line, color, shape, balance, unity

Notes: Students learn about Andy Warhol and recognize some of his most famous works hidden throughout the book before attempting to draw pop cans from observation. Students are encouraged to pay close attention to the cylindrical shape as well as the proportions and details of the logos on the cans.


14. Dear Tooth Fairy by Pamela Duncan Edwards & Tooth Fairy Pinch Pots

G: Kindergarten

O: Create a basic pinch pot with a slab lid.

V: pinch pot, clay, glaze, form, color

Notes: This book is a fun way to inspire students to create their own original tooth fairy pinch pots.


15. Raven by Gerald McDermott & Totem Poles

G: 2nd Grade

O: Discuss origins of totem poles. Create original totem pole designs.

V: totem pole, bold colors, shape, color, form, unity

Notes: Students are asked to observe the colors, shapes and overall illustration style of this story before creating their own totem poles.



What are your favorite book and lesson pairings? Would you add any to this list? 

What books or series do you absolutely have to have (or wish to have) in your art room library?



Alecia Eggers Kaczmarek


Alecia is an elementary art teacher in central Iowa who is passionate about teaching and reaching her students with an innovative and meaningful arts education.


  • Great article Alecia! I love using children’s books for inspiration.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Thanks Heather!

  • Julie Lamarche

    I also love the book Art Dog by Thacher Hurd- I use it when I need an entertaining time filler. I read Chameleons Are Cool by Martin Jenkins to 3rd grade before we do our chameleon pictures- great illustrations for texture of and color blending.

    • Alecia Eggers

      I will definitely be checking out those books Julie – thanks for sharing! :)

  • Natasha

    We used Camille and the Sunflowers with 2nd graders and oil pastels, cutting the extra long index paper to make tall, narrow panels. A proud student would bring in a real sunflower and the kids would go to it, making tall, gangly sunflowers with a wide variety of colors in their blends. “Mouse Paint” is another good one for color mixing. “Circles and Squares Everywhere” is more basic for building designs, first grade. They would sign up with the “city planner” to design a building, thinking about window trim, frames, shutters, etc. then make their building from colored paper, and we would line them up in a class mural, adding vehicles, trees, clouds, etc. Gerald McDermott has several good multicultural stories.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Thanks Natasha! I’ll definitely be checking out the McDermott books!

      • Natasha

        The Stonecutter by McDermott is a Japanese tale. The kids seemed to really be engrossed in it. It was made into an animation at one time. My first graders studied Japan in their curriculum for many years. Because the mountain was the main topic I would show them several “views of Mt Fuji” and do a collage of mt fuji where they would add drawn elements to complete the scene. A book that’s a little more twisted, but still my fave, is “Rotten Island.” Fabulous examples of warm and cool. But I didn’t want to encourage enjoyment of violence, instead we focused on the lesson to be learned, and everyone made flowers to decorate “Beautiful Island” at the end. So many books I used! Thanks for what you are doing here!

  • smoons

    LOVE this article!! Thanks so much for sharing all the possibilities. I love pairing a book with a lesson, and you just gave me so many ideas!

  • Amy Hartman

    An Eye For Color: The Story of Joseph Albers. First grade students explore color theory by mixing and matching different color paper squares to create collages. Yale University recently came out with a great interactive color study iPad app for Albers.

    • Amy- we’re reviewing the app on Wednesday!

      • Alecia Eggers

        So excited to try this app!!

  • Tracy

    Great ideas, I really like the way you presented the lesson idea and vocabulary. I like the story Bed Head to read to first grade and create a self portrait collage with paper sculpture hair.

    • Alecia Eggers

      I’ll have to check that book out! Who is the author?

  • This is very, very helpful. I rely on children’s books to bring that crucial element of story into my lessons. Favorite books I return to are: The Spider Weaver: A Legend of Kente Cloth, to accompany my 2nd grade weaving project; and The Cat and the Bird: A Children’s Book Inspired by Paul Klee, also for 2nd grade. I am about to use the Curious Garden for a spring seed packet illustration project for 3rd grade, because it’s lovely and inspiring and has great illustrations.

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