I am a firm believer that music educators should use children’s books in the elementary music classroom. I have seen how they can reinforce musical concepts, but I have also seen students learn about social responsibility, self-confidence, and self-expression through these stories. There is so much great children’s literature out there, and I am always looking to add to my ever-growing collection.
I personally read a book in each of my Preschool, Kindergarten, and First Grade lessons. Now, I’m not saying that I will only read books at these levels, but I will have a book that I read them in each lesson at these grades.
Ok, so part of why I do this might be due to the fact that I tend to hoard picture books, especially those with any type of rhyme scheme, but I think there is value in it just the same! Starting a few years back, whenever I would go to a thrift store or a budget book store, I would look for children’s books that I thought I could easily use and/or adapt to serve a musical purpose. And boy did my collection start to grow. My current collection of personal children’s books takes up the better part of two shelves, and that isn’t including any of the books I inherited at school. I have on many occasions had bookstore clerks make mention of how they can tell that I am a parent by how many books I am buying. I always give a little chuckle and mention that I am a teacher, and they usually say something along the lines of “well that’s a good reason too!.”
While I wouldn’t shy away from recommending any of the books by John Feierabend, I do have a few books that are my absolute favorites, and for a variety of reasons. Some teach social lessons, especially those that relate to self-expression and confidence, some easily lend themselves to rhythmic or melodic exploration, and let’s be honest: sometimes it’s just too cute not to share! I thought I would share a few of the books I am currently in love with, and how I use them in my classroom:
1. Please, Baby, Please. By Spike Lee & Tonya Lewis Lee
I love this book for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the illustrations by Kadir Nelson are gorgeous. Secondly, it depicts a person of color, which I believe is very important for children to have that representation in the books I choose for my class. Lastly, the text lends itself quite easily to reinforcing Ta and Ti-Ti. There is a quarter rest thrown in there on one verse, but I usually just extract that parts with Ta and Ti-Ti and have students repeat the words. I usually use this book on a day that I plan on transitioning into some sort of Ta and Ti-Ti practice, usually some sort of notation.
2. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. By Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
To me, this book is such a classic that I had to include it on my top-five list! Its a book that I had a huge personal connection to as a child, and its also a book that I think a lot of my students will already know. I usually use this book to have my kiddos do some sort of steady beat demonstration as I am reading it. Usually I will have kids keep the beat on their knees, or something along those lines. To make it even more interesting for them, I often invite them to chant the “chorus” whenever we get to it, allowing them to be even more engaged in the story.
3. Peanut Butter and Jelly. Illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott
This book was one of those “lucky finds” at the thrift stores. At the absolute most, I only paid like ten cents for this book, which still blows my mind! This book tells the story of the classic rhyme, and the illustrations are very playful and entertaining. I use this book to introduce the Peanut Butter and Jelly song with my kids! Alternatively, I have also taught the song to my students without the book, and then used it at a later lesson, and allowed students to sing with me as we went through the book.
4. Ellie in Concert. By Mike WuThis book holds a special place in my heart, and thats in part to the fact that I originally received this book as a gift. I worked at the lab preschool at my university for most of my college career, and they always purchased books at the end of the year for those graduating seniors. Knowing I was a music educator, they found this adorable book for me! The story is all about an Elephant named Ellie that wants to help her friend be able to fall asleep, so she takes all the sounds that are happening in the zoo, and get everyone to work together to make beautiful music. I think this a good book to reinforce the fact that a lot of the time in music we have to work together to make something truly special!
4. My Princess Boy. By Cheryl Kilodavis
Ok. So this book is fairly new to me, but I think it can be very helpful in certain situations. While this book is all about a child exploring a “non-traditional” gender identity, I think it is also a good social story on empathy and encouraging students to be the person that they want to be. I think that the music classroom is the perfect place to begin these discussions about self-expression and self-confidence. I don’t have a full-on discussion about gender-identity, but I do talk about how students would feel if others were laughing at them because of the clothes they wanted to wear, or the toys they wanted to play with.
All in all, I honestly believe that picture books can serve a variety of purposes in the music classroom. I use books to reinforce literacy, teach social skills, and to prepare and practice musical concepts. As I have said before, I love finding new books, so I would love any recommendations you have for things I should add to my collection! If you happen to use any of these books in your classroom, I would love for you to share how you use them!
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