How to Create Your Own Art Lessons Inspired by Children’s Books

Kindergarten art inspired by Dr. Seuss

Kinder­garten art inspired by “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket” by Dr. Seuss

If you love kids’ art, you’ve prob­a­bly had the expe­ri­ence of being totally charmed and inspired by a book writ­ten and illus­trated for kids!  And chances are, the book that cap­tured your atten­tion will have the same effect on your stu­dents… espe­cially when your enthu­si­asm shines through!  Why not cap­i­tal­ize on the won­der and magic of that spe­cial book and use it as the launch pad for your own self-created art lesson?

No one knows your stu­dents bet­ter than you.… their inter­ests, their skill level and abil­i­ties, and their place in the cur­ricu­lum you’re teach­ing. So why not cre­ate lessons that are tai­lored specif­i­cally to your stu­dents? It’s eas­ier than you might think! Here are the five steps I fol­low when cre­at­ing a new art les­son inspired by a spe­cial children’s book:

1. Choose a children’s book you love and iden­tify why it res­onates with you.

Why do you love the book you chose? Is it the illus­tra­tions that first attracted you, or it maybe the story or theme?  Ask your­self, “What is it about this book that cap­tured my attention?”

2. Con­nect with your curriculum.

Whether it’s the story or the art­work that first drew you in, you need to con­nect the book with your cur­ricu­lum. This could be con­tro­ver­sial, but I’m going out on a limb here to say that I rarely teach a les­son just for the fun of it, or just because it would pro­duce a suc­cess­ful fin­ished prod­uct. I believe our teach­ing time is too valu­able to do a project with­out hav­ing a spe­cific goal in mind of what you want your stu­dents to learn in the process. In my cre­den­tial pro­gram we called these “objec­tives”. So, iden­tify your objec­tives before you begin or you may miss a valu­able teach­ing opportunity!

If you teach Art to mul­ti­ple grade lev­els, it will help to have your state stan­dards handy so you can zero in on which of your classes this project will best apply to. If you teach a sin­gle grade level, you’ll want to look at your stan­dards as well as the over-arching themes for your grade level to deter­mine where and how you can work this book into your cur­ricu­lum. Keep in mind that your school’s ESLRs (Expected School-wide Learn­ing Results) can often be addressed through children’s lit­er­a­ture as well.

3. Choose a medium to work in.

Your choice of medium may be deter­mined by a stan­dard you need to meet, an art sup­ply you have an abun­dance of, or maybe a new medium you’d like to expose your stu­dents to. It may also involve a time restraint (How many ses­sions can you spend on it?), class­room lim­i­ta­tions (Do you have room to store 28 3D projects?), or how much help you might need (Will you have any par­ent vol­un­teers that day?).

4. Con­sider your end pur­pose, if you have one.

Will this project be dis­played, and if so, how and where?  You may have some restric­tions or require­ments you’ll need to plan around, such as size.

5. Design your project.

If the illus­tra­tions are what first attracted you to a book, deter­mine what makes them spe­cial and use that for inspi­ra­tion. Rather than just copy­ing an artist’s images, teach your stu­dents to be inspired by a unique style and use it as a start­ing point to express their own ideas. Some of my favorite books I’ve done this with are “There’s a Wocket in My Pocket” by Dr. Seuss, “Ish” by Peter Reynolds, and “Matthew’s Dream” by Leo Lionni. Some artists’ styles will lend them­selves to using a spe­cific medium, but often there will be more than one way you can get a par­tic­u­lar effect.

If the story or theme is what drew you to a book, you may have to think about it a lit­tle harder, but the les­son idea will come! I cre­ated a les­son from “Max“s Words” by Kate Banks in response to that book’s theme of “col­lect­ing words”. With this les­son my 5th graders learned how to design their own unique font. They also began col­lect­ing words in inter­est­ing fonts that they found in mag­a­zines and on prod­uct pack­ag­ing. This addressed our 5th grade stan­dard (5.3) of learn­ing about art careers — graphic artists design the fonts we see all around us in our every day lives… and it also gave them lots of inspi­ra­tion for cre­at­ing their own unique let­ter­ing styles for all kinds of school projects.

Another exam­ple of turn­ing a book’s theme or mes­sage into a suc­cess­ful art les­son is my project from “How Full Is Your Bucket — for Kids” by Tom Rath and Mary Reck­meyer, and “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud. I used these inspir­ing books to cre­ate a school-wide project that we dis­played at our County Fair, sup­port­ing our school’s “no bul­ly­ing” pol­icy and school ESLRs. I’ll be post­ing my “how-to” for that project next!

What children’s books have inspired you? 


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5 Responses to How to Create Your Own Art Lessons Inspired by Children’s Books

  1. Kristi Johnston April 6, 2013 at 10:13 am #

    Great Post! I have been inspired to have kids cre­ate col­lage pic­tures inspired by Eric Carl and sponge and glit­ter paint­ings of fish inspired by “Rain­bow Fish”. The kids love to hear the story and see the pic­tures before they paint and we talk about how it relates to their worlds.
    Thank you for shar­ing these other great book ideas!

    • Cheryl Trowbridge April 6, 2013 at 11:19 am #

      Thanks, Kristi! Eric Carle is one of my all-time favorite author/illustrators, and I LOVE the Rain­bow Fish story, too! There is SO much inspi­ra­tion out there in the world of children’s lit!!!

  2. Kim April 6, 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Very help­ful post. Thanks for putting ot together and sharing.

  3. Sugirdha April 17, 2013 at 7:36 am #

    Thanks for this idea, it would be very help­ful in plan­ning our own lessons. I recently picked a copy of Are You Blue Dog’s Friend? by George Rodrigue. It has very good illus­tra­tions. It’s on my list now.
    Sugirdha recently posted..Into the woodlandMy Profile

    • Cheryl Trowbridge April 17, 2013 at 10:35 am #

      I’m not famil­iar with that book, Sugirdha. I’ll have to check it out! Thanks for the tip!

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