The Best Beach Reads for Art Teachers (Ep. 44)

Like most teachers, Cassie can’t quit learning, even during the summer. This episode is all about the books that keep you inspired throughout the summer months and help you generate ideas for the coming school year. Listen to Cassie share her favorite reads and what those books have taught her, including drawing instruction (3:00), how to set up and introduce painting (9:00), and the personal takeaways that the best books have (11:15). Full episode transcript below.


Resources and Links




The other day, my specials team and I, we were commiserating because, and I know y’all can relate to this, sometimes we feel as though the classroom teachers think of us as simply baby-sitters, that our job or role in the school is basically just to give them a playing time. Now, we were just commiserating because it’s the end of the year. We all are feeling a little bit overwhelmed and underappreciated, but it got us thinking that we should make Baby-Sitters Club T-shirts, which then got us all started on this huge tangent about all of the fun books we read as kids during the summer, and of course, Baby-Sitters Club, for all of us, seemed to be at the top of the list along with all the scandals of Sweet Valley High, and, oh, V. C. Andrews, don’t even get me started.

Today, I thought I would share with you my favorite beach reads for art teachers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t involve any V. C. Andrews or Jennifer Weiner; however, these are my favorite books that I like to comb through to keep me inspired throughout the summer and help me generate more ideas for the school year. Here are my favorite desert island art teacherin’ books, all 13 of them. I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room.

I’m one of those people that likes to read nonfiction books over and over again. I love to go back, and I highlight books. I write all over the books. I love to go back and reread what I have written from years’ past, kind of what I was thinking about or planning for my art room that year. It’s kind of fun for me, and it really inspires me for the upcoming year.

One book that I discovered my very first year teaching, which saved me so much, is one that I revisit every single summer. In fact, I recently had to purchase another copy of this book because I read through it so much that the pages were starting to fall out. This book is called Drawing with Children, and it’s by Mona Brookes. This book is an older book. I want to say maybe it’s some time written in the ’80s. I remember going into Barns & Noble my first year teaching and just kind of pouring over the book section. In 1998, there weren’t a lot of books out there on teaching children art.

I remember discovering this book and feeling like I had just discovered gold. I love this book so much because Mona does a beautiful job of explaining the developmental stages of children, how they learn, and she shares a ton of drawing lessons in the book for ages ranging all the way down to pre-K all the way up to fifth grade.

The book is really heavy on guided drawing, but I feel like with a good balance of guided and open-ended drawing, it can really benefit your students. She also even has sheets like drawing sheets to give your students practice that you could either make your own version of or simply copy from her book. One thing that I love about her book is that she was the one who introduced me to something called palming, which is a great way to get your students calm and relaxed before they start drawing, which for some kids, if they have that idea that they can’t draw or they don’t know how, drawing can be a little bit stressful for them. This book is just a wonderful resource, and it’s definitely one that I go back to all throughout the year, and every single summer, I love to pour over it.

Now, if you are a teacher of students who are in intermediate or middle school grades, she also has another book that’s called Drawing for Older Children and Teens. It’s kind of like the part two to our first book. I have them both. Love them both. That’s one of my favorite geeky beach reads.

Another one that I always seem to revisit, although I struggle with how to really apply it to my art room, is Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. Talk about a classic. I’m pretty sure this book was written in the ’70s. There are a ton of editions where she’s updated the book and they’ve come up with newer editions.

By the way, the books that I’m mentioning, don’t buy them brand new, y’all. You can get them used off of your favorite bookseller website, and then you can usually get them very inexpensive that way.

I love Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain because when I first started teaching, I wasn’t really confident with my drawing skills. I wanted them to be better. This book really helped me with that because this book is filled with exercises that you as a teacher can do. It’s hard to teach something that you don’t feel comfortable with, you don’t feel like you’re good at, and this book, to just spend time getting a sketch book and pouring over the exercises over the summer, just even one a day will really make you feel confident, and you’ll be better at teaching drawing to your students if you’re actually better at doing it.

Now, like I said a moment ago, the book is a little bit advanced. It’s for adults. It’s a little bit dry to share with students; however, thinking of, as you’re working through the book, thinking of ways that you could share what you’ve learned with your students is something that could be really fun for you to do. I always want to start my year bringing drawing to my students and getting them excited about drawing. That’s why I love going back over this book, to kind of get myself excited about drawing again.

Another book that I feel like is a good follow-up to Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is Hooked on Drawing by Sandy Brooke. The reason I love this book is because it is written for students in fourth grade and up, although I’ve done a lot of the drawing activities with kids as low as second grade little bit later in the school year. The reason I love this book is because she has drawing lessons that are in the book, filled, the book is filled with drawing lessons for kids in fourth grade and up. She introduces kids to all the art supplies that I didn’t become familiar with until I was in college: charcoal sticks, kneaded erasers, chalk pastel, just different kinds of pencils and how to hold a pencil like an artist, and how to draw from observation. Love this book, and I can’t encourage y’all to get your kitten mittens on it.

Another book that I love, because it really kind of delves into the developmental stages of drawing, is one that’s called Observation Drawing With Children. Like I said, I’m hooked on drawing books, especially in the summer time because that’s how I always mean to kickoff my school year. It doesn’t always happen, but it kind of gets my creative juices flowing on lessons that I can share with my students. This book is by Nancy Smith. Again, like I said, it kind of covers the developmental stages, but this time, it goes a lot in depth into observational drawing, whereas the other books don’t necessarily do that.

What I love about it is she shares how, developmentally, how students will draw from observation. It’s great to get kids drawing from observation at a young age. That way, they aren’t hooked on … Excuse me. That way they’re not hooked on drawing what they think a house looks like or a sun looks like, which is what in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, what Betty Edwards has to spend a lot of time breaking people of that habit. Why not get your students drawing from observation and understanding how to do so from the get-go? Observation Drawing with Children is a great book for that.

Those are beachy kind of reads, but the next couple of books that I’m going to mention aren’t necessarily books that you would just kind of comb through and read. These are actually how-to books, which I love. They’ve been in my art teacherin’ library forever, and they will always be books that I recommend. One is called Children and Painting, and it’s by Cathy Topal. Cathy’s actually written several really great books. One is Children with Clay. Another one is called Printing with a Line, which I absolutely love, but Children and Painting is a favorite of mine. Again, that was one that I found my first couple of years teaching, and it really helped me understand how to even set up painting supplies for kids and how to introduce them to all of the elements of art while getting them painting. Love that book.

I also love the book, this is one I tell everyone about, it is called You Can Weave, and it’s by Kathy Monaghan. Y’all, if you aren’t comfortable teaching weaving to your students, you’ve gotta check this book out, and then just spend your summer walking through all the fun weaving projects. You’ll absolutely love it. I’ve met Kathy. She’s a fabulous person. I went to a workshop where she was teaching us how to weave. She spent her entire year while writing this book doing nothing but weaving projects with her students, so this book is very in-depth.

If you are like me, and you still have all of your 20 pounder art history books from college, and you feel very overwhelmed by those books and how to condense it to share art history with your students, well, then you need to get The Annotated Mona Lisa. It’s by Carol Strickland. This book, again, is an oldie but a goldie because it breaks down all of the major art movements and artist into this very thin book that you not wouldn’t necessarily want to just share with your students, but for you to have on hand as a reference so you can share the history of art with your students. Love it.

If you’re just looking for a couple of fun books to read, to inspire you as you’re traveling, one of my favorite books is Educating Esmé. It’s by Esmé Raji Codell, and I love it because she … It’s essentially a diary, which I love reading people’s diaries. Shh. Don’t tell, and do not leave your diary out around me. I love reading it because she goes through what her first year teaching fifth grade in an intercity school in Chicago was like. That wasn’t my teaching situation when I first started out, but I could relate a lot to her tales of just navigating the waters of how to teach and not having a clue how to do it but having a whole lot of fun while doing it, even if the people that you are teaching around just don’t get you or your teaching style. In that respect, I felt like as an art teacher, I could really relate to that book, and the stories are a lot of fun to read.

Another fun read is a classic, The Essential 55 by Ron Clark. Everything Ron Clark writes is so inspiring, and this book is great. He covers his essential 55 rules for his classroom. 55 rules sounds like a lot to me, but it always inspires me because they aren’t just rules on behavior, but they’re kind of like life rules, the kind of things that you want to instill in your students so they become better people, better humans. I am always inspired by this book and always read it over and over again to bring something new to my art room.

Of course, more inspiring books that are great, fun reads, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess is amazing, like I said, as an art teacher, I feel like I can apply so much of what he does in his room to my room. We get to teach so many fun art history movements and get to teach about artist. Why not bring those movements and those artist to life? He really shares fun ways for you to do that.

Teach, Breathe, and Learn is a great book. I’m trying to … It’s my little goal this coming year to bring mindfulness and growth mindsets to my art room. I’m starting with books like Teach, Breathe, and Learn by Meena, I’m going to, unfortunately, say her name probably incorrectly, so I’m going to apologize in advance, Srinivasan? Just Google search Teach, Breathe, and Learn. It’s fabulous because she talks a lot about how to bring mindfulness to your classroom.

The book does focus a lot on middle school kids and up. There are a lot of books out right now about bringing mindfulness to your elementary room, so you might want to check those out, but also, Teach, Breathe, and Learn, it can inspire just you as a person to, and kind of experience mindfulness because, again, if you don’t understand it or know what it is, then it’s going to be really hard for you to teach.

A book that I love is The Growth Mindset Coach by Annie Brock and Heather Hundley. Like I said, I’m trying to bring more mindfulness and growth mindsets into my room this year. I feel like that’s something that is lacking in my teaching. I love this book because it’s filled with lessons, videos to share, songs to play, and it is written for the elementary teacher. It’s even broken down month by month so that you can just pour over that month that you are in to share those lessons, videos, songs with your students, wherever you can weave them into your very-packed and business art teacherin’ day.

There you have it, my very favorite beach reads for art teachers. Now, trust me, I’m going to throw in some fiction every now and then. I do love a really trashy novel, so if you know any, hook a girl up, but if you’re looking to improve yourself as an art teacher, then these are the books that I would recommend. Thanks, guys, for letting me share.

Tim Bogatz: Hello. This is Tim Bogatz, the host of Art Ed Radio. Thank you for tuning into Everyday Art Room. If you’re looking for graduate credits in the next few months, make sure you check out under the Courses tab. We offer over 20 online courses to designed to help art teachers at every stage of their professional career. Whether you’re looking to develop a new art curriculum, get help with classroom fundamentals, incorporate new technology into the classroom, or just brush up on your own art-making skills, we’ve got the course for you.

Our online graduate courses are practical, relevant, and highly engaging. They’re also fully accredited and perfect for relicensure, logging hours, or earning credits towards your master’s degree. Again, you can check out everything related to these courses at Now, let’s turn it back over to Cassie as she finishes the show.

Cassie: Let’s take a little dip into the mail bag, shall we? This question is about oil pastels. What do you do with your oil pastels one they are tiny, broken, and just covered with yuck?

Oil pastels. I love them, but I’ve noticed that if they are just chucked into a bin altogether, then they all kind of get mixed-up looking where all the different colors rub off on each other, and next thing you know, none of the kids want to use them because they just look disgusting.

Well, first of all, don’t get rid of them. They’re still completely usable. When my oil pastels look like that, I usually have my students grab a piece of scrap paper, whatever color of paper they’re also actually working on, so if we’re using black construction paper, we’ll grab a little tiny scrap of black, or if we’re using white, you get the idea.

Before they draw on their artwork, they just, quote, “clean” their oil pastel a little bit, just by doing a little scribble scrabble on that testing paper. It also allows them to test out the color too. Then that way the tip of the oil pastel is clean.

Early finishers could clean your oil pastels by rubbing them on a piece of paper to clean off the edges of it, but there is no real trick. It’s not like chalk where if chalk gets yucky looking, you could throw it with a bag of rice in a zip-lock bag and shake that up, which will then knock off and clean the chalk. Doesn’t quite work the same with oil pastels; however, once you either get your oil pastels cleanish, or you order a new set, my new favorite thing to do is to store my oil pastels in I think they call them bead bins. You can find them at the craft store. It’s what jewelry makers use to sort their beads. They are usually about 9 x 12, and they open with a little plastic hinge, and inside, there’s little compartments, and they are just the right size for oil pastels. I keep my oil pastels in those bins, organized by color, which really helps to keep them clean.

When my students use them, I try to always have one set of art supplies per every two students. That way, it just sits in between them. I don’t love the idea of having one set right in the middle of the table. I’ve noticed if my students have to do more reaching and grabbing that they usually just won’t, and they’ll just stick with whatever color they happen to have in their hand. That’s why I like to keep my supplies super accessible for my students. I splurged and got two of those little oil pastel bins, is what we call them, per table.

That’s usually how I keep my oil pastels clean, but there is no magical way to clean them off, but kids can still use them even if they’re a little bit dirty. Just have them wipe them off a bit.

Another question I recently received was about how to color-code your tables. Like I mentioned in a previous podcast, when I set up my art room, I have everything color-coded. It just makes it so my students know where their supplies are. It’s visually-pleasing. It just makes more sense for me and for my students to function in that space, but how do you color-code your table? I cannot hang anything from my ceiling. Previously, before the fire marshal came and made me take it down, I had something hanging from my ceiling to indicate the color of that table.

Another thing that I used to do was I used to also just cover the tables in paper. That was always a lot of work because I would have to change the paper out once a month. It would get pretty dingy looking in between times. It did make it so that I could use a color-coded table for the tables, but it was just too much hassle.

This year, what I did that worked out really well was I got color-coded duct tape. I simply wrapped that duct tape around the edge of my table. Surprisingly, my kids didn’t pick at it, and I think it’s because duct tape is so strong and so sticky that it adhered right away and was such a great seal that it made it so they couldn’t pick it off. That’s what I’ve done, and that’s what I plan to stick with. In fact, I don’t even need to redo it because it stayed on there so well.

I also have Dollar Tree caddies that I spray painted to have those match the colors of the table because, unfortunately, I couldn’t find every color in the rainbow, but spray painting that, having the edge of my table match the color-coding, and I also have Ikea carts in between my tables that have been color-coded to match, that really helps with color-coding in my art room.

Great questions, guys. If you have a question for me, you can find me Everyday Art Room at

Back to my specials team. Tell me what you think of this. We are dying for Book Character Day to get shirts made that say on the front Baby-Sitters Club with the name of the baby-sitter that we are on the back. Of course, I’m Claudia because she was the artsy one. We already have our names all picked out. We kind of think that if we keep it on the down low, none of the classroom teachers will be any of the wiser of our little inside joke. Okay. It’s probably a little too snarky, but you gotta admit, it’s pretty good.

I hope you guys have an awesome summer. Hopefully, for you, it’s either here or quickly approaching, and enjoy some summertime beach breeze. Thanks, guys. Have a fantastic week.

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.