The Best Books to Read Aloud in Your High School Art Room

I have no problem with a loud art room. I rather like it, actually. Students in my room are active, they are learning, they are moving. They are noisy, they are messy, they are creating.

Yet, I also enjoy a quiet art room a couple of times each week; I think it’s good for my students to have a balance. The question is, how do we manage that dichotomy? What can we do to give quiet time to our students who work best during that time? How can you change your expectations and have students still have the continuity needed for a positive classroom environment? Quick answer: I have them follow my lead and the sound of my voice. I read to my students.
books to read 2
I like the idea of books on tape in the art room, but I’ve found my students prefer listening to me–in my voice–reading aloud to the entire classroom. My reading gives them a reason to listen instead of talk, and an opportunity to focus on their work for an extended period of time.

The idea of reading aloud came up in conversation when we were recording the pilot episode of the AOE Live Podcast. I received a lot of questions in response to the idea of reading to my students, so I thought I would share a few of the books that really engage high schoolers (as well as a few books I haven’t gotten to just yet). Some are art-related, some are not, but all are entertaining for my students and me.
Here are some of my favorites.

books to read1
From the Mixed-Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
This museum-based mystery was written in 1967, but it still keeps my kids’ interest. Yes, it’s for young adults. Yes, it still interests my freshmen. The story of kids running away from home and staying in the Met always gets kids wondering, imagining, and daydreaming.
Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland
I love this book, and my students love this book because it travels backward through time. It tells the story of a Vermeer painting from present day back through its history, all the way until the day Vermeer began the painting. Each chapter is its own story, and each chapter is a great story.
David Sedaris’ Short Stories
Hilarious. Sometimes inappropriate, but hilarious. My kids love the quirky stories and the writing makes them laugh out loud. I love that they are short stories that I can pick and choose from (and edit out the inappropriate ones). My favorite is Me Talk Pretty One Day, but you really can’t go wrong with any of his books. Just preview before you read aloud.
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
The question about this book is this: exactly how much time do you have? This sprawling tale from the Middle Ages enthralls as it tells the story of the construction of a cathedral. There is history, there is art, there is drama, and there is a whole lot of book–about 1,000 pages worth. You can get through it if you’re reading often, and I’ve never had a class that doesn’t love it.
Naked by the Window by Robert Katz
This is not a novel, but a fact-based account of the story of artist Ana Mendieta and sculptor Carl Andre. For those unfamiliar, Mendieta fell 34 stories to her demise one early morning in 1985. Andre was charged with her death, but never convicted. It’s a fascinating read, giving us a deep look into both the police investigation and the New York art scene that protected Carl Andre.
There are also a few books out there that have been recommended to me, and I’ll give them a try eventually. If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

Claude and Camille: A Novel of Monet by Stephanie Cowell

The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

Do you ever read aloud to your students? What books have you found they like the best?

What books would you recommend for reading aloud?


Timothy Bogatz

Learning Team

Tim is a high school teacher from Omaha, NE. His teaching and writing focus on the development of creativity, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills.


  • This is an intriguing idea. When you teach multiple classes per day, do you re-read the same section each period, or do different books for different classes?

    • Tim Bogatz

      I like to re-read the same section, so everyone is starting and ending at the same place and I have less to keep track of :) When that gets boring, though, I will definitely switch to different books for different classes.

      • Jen Ogden

        “Becoming Naomi Leon” earned me applause from my 5th grade artists. (It’s a mood piece and is set around a budding artist). They also really liked “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, “The Little Prince” and titles by Sid Fleischman. “Holes” has short chapters and has definite appeal to upper middle school boys, as well as “How Angel Peterson got his Name”. A wonderful new title is “Under the Egg”, for a solid art history tie in and likable main characters. Lately we’ve been sprinkling in a little place-based roadside history and my students don’t seem to mind.

  • Karissa Gropper

    I love this idea!!! Any suggestions for 5th grade books? I think this would be a great way to get them to focus and not rush through projects.

  • Jennifer Patterson

    Are any of these appropriate for middle school (7th/8th grades?)

    • Tim Bogatz

      Make sure you check them out first, but the first two I listed should be appropriate for middle schoolers.

  • Dawn Kruger

    I am currently reading Winnie-the-Pooh to grades 1 and 4, but have used it in the past with 7-12. The chapters are 10-15 minutes to read which works well. I have also used Exupery’s The Little Prince.

    • Tim Bogatz

      Great suggestions! Thank you!

  • Sarah

    I LOVE this idea. Especially when we’re deep in a project and they’re just working I can see how useful this would be. I teach middle school so I might lean toward different books for different levels of student. (Oh and seeing your pic on this post I was like, “I know him! I met him at the conference!” But of course it was virtual so not really. I did have that moment though!)

    • Sarah – If you are coming to NAEA next week you can meet Tim for real!

      • Sarah

        2 older kids + 1 six month old + husband that works weekends = I love artofed online conference and won’t be in NOLA.

  • marilynpeters

    I have read My Many Colored Days to my high school students and moved into an activity based on color. They love it. I have read several poems to them from Langston Hughes,Shel Silversten and Hailstones and Halibute Bones and had them illustrate them. I have read The Girl With The Pearl Earring. I like the book but I am a little leary of reading it to the students. I would not recommend below high school level–some mature scenes in it.

    • Tim Bogatz

      Definitely important to check those things out first. There are a lot of times where I skip over or summarize a part so we can avoid the more mature scenes.

  • Jennifer Carlisle

    man… my summer reading list just got a little longer. Thanks for the great books!

    • Vicky Siegel

      Exactly, Jennifer! I keep checking back to see if I’m missing any good titles! :)

  • Mr. Post

    Tim you are giving your students a great gift!

    I fondly remember the times my 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Flynn read to us.

    I read all of the Harry Potter books and the Eragon series aloud to my son at bedtime when he was in elementary school. His most frequent comment “C’mon dad, just one more chapter, pleeeease.

    When I taught junior high art I gave the paperback book “The Thief of Always” by Clive Barker to one of my students to read. She loved it so much that she passed it on to other kids in the class. At one point I had several books of mine passing from kid to kid without me intervening. The kids had created their own little book circle.

    The Abarat series by Clive Barker is also wonderful. It’s about a high school student named Candy who is literally swept away from her hometown by the sea and ends up in a world made of islands. Each island is a different hour of the day and full of magic – sometimes amazing and sometimes terrifying… Clive Barker’s books are full of wonderful imagery.

    • Tim Bogatz

      Great ideas for the class . . . and what a cool story about the impromptu library!

  • Peg Medcraft

    A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park would be an excellent choice for a ceramics unit or course.

    • Tim Bogatz

      I haven’t read this! I need to check it out!

    • Kristine Alder

      Love this book! I have read it to my students, and they were very caught up in the story.

  • Jamie Pettit

    One of my favorite high school art memories was being read Ray Bradbury stories while working on a project during an art summer camp. Great imagery in his books!

    • Tim Bogatz

      What a great suggestion! I feel like some of his short stories, like the Martian Chronicles, would work great for reading aloud.

  • Rudy

    I think my heart just skipped a beat when I read the first on the list, From the Mixed-Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Oh! Take me back! Love it, and just love this article, Tim!

    • Tim Bogatz

      Thank you!

  • Julie Bulissa Kohl

    What do you do if students need help while you are reading?

    • Tim Bogatz

      Always stop and help. Kids will raise their hand, I will see them and tell the class “to be continued . . .” or “we’ll be back in a moment”. I help them and return to reading. My classes have always been accommodating.

  • Denise

    Aha! This hits home, as I do exactly the same thing in my middle school classes. I also read a lot of short stories/folk tales that correlate with their soc. studies classes. Matter of fact, a GREAT read by an author (Gary D. Schmidt)who just happens to be visiting our school tomorrow, is called OKAY FOR NOW….John James Audubon’s bird images are weaved throughout the book. Our awesome librarian found this book and wrote a grant for 150 copies, a field trip to The Huntington Library for us, and the author visit! (it revolves around a 7th grader, so middle/upper elem./even hs would like, I think)

  • Denise

    I would love to get a list for primary school (1-4) :) Awesome! I always read to my children, too :)

  • Magen Pike

    The little price is great too for all ages! :-) :-) so many ways to inspire creativity and a new perspective.

  • Carissa Zill

    What a great idea! I’ve done short read alouds in class, but never read a novel – I bet it would make for a good change of pace!

  • Jessica Blumer

    Love David Sedaris. I always loved it when teachers read to us as a kid.

  • Christa Knox

    I have a homeroom class after lunch and read them classics (To Kill A Mockingbird, Where the Red Fern Grows, Lord of the Flies) while they work on their art. They choose The Time Machine for this week. I will have to bring in some of your choices. Thank you

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  • Sarah

    I liked the format of the “Girl in Hyacinth Blue” but I’m not sure about reading it to classes. It definitely has some mature moments. I’d give it a PG-16 or 17. The book I’m in love with right now and may read aloud to my AP and upper level classes if I can’t get it as a “textbook” is Art and Fear. It does a great job of telling us artists to get to WORK! It’s not a novel but an encouragement to keep working and being creative!

    P.S. In the pic it looks like the bird is reading over your shoulder!

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  • Mrs.Newton

    I really love readin the “Who Was” books to my upper elementary students they have ones on Andy Warhol, Leonardo da Vinci, Monet, and Frida Kahlo. I am excited to add some of the books you listed to my summer reading list. Thank you for sharing.