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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