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.
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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.

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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?


Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Timothy Bogatz

Tim Bogatz is AOEU’s Content & PD Event Manager and a former AOEU Writer and high school art educator. He focuses on creativity development, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills in the art room.

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