Using Books in the Elementary Art Room

It’s OK to make mistakes!


The Beautiful Oops is a great introduction to art making for young children. Children can ease into art making while realizing that mistakes lead to wonderful surprises and opportunities to be creative!


The Book of Mistakes is another great resource to break the ice with young artists. Each mistake builds upon the next and opens the discussion with students about making mistakes in the art room. The humor used in this book gives young readers a sense of relief and risk taking by the end.



In this story, the girl is famous for never making mistakes. This puts pressure on her to avoid trying new things, and makes her worry about negative outcomes. When she finally does make a mistake, she realizes it’s not a big deal and continues to try new things as a result. In the art room, we are constantly trying new things and finding new challenges to work through, and this book is a great way to open the conversation with students about making mistakes, maybe even purposely!

Inspiration from others….

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Children’s books like The Dot and Ish also teach the value of experimentation in the art classroom, or even at home! Being an artist doesn’t always mean getting it “right”. Sometimes just the smallest mark can lead to big ideas, and inspiration can come from anyone or anywhere if you allow yourself to see things in a new way.

Dealing with feelings….


F is for Feelings illustrates the ABCs of possible feelings that children may face in all kinds of social situations. This book is a great opportunity to collaborate with fellow elementary teachers who could talk about feelings in the classroom, and then come to art class to draw something about their feelings.


What Do You Do With A Problem? is a beautifully illustrated adventure that taps into the imagination and problem solving skills. Our emotions can affect how we cope with a problem, and how we ultimately deal with it. This book provides a scenario to which children can relate, and shows how fear and worry can be overcome if we are brave and face those challenges. Students who struggle with emotions would truly benefit from this book!

Inspiration from Famous Artists…


Emily’s Blue Period not only speaks to how art can help kids process their thoughts and emotions, but also references famous artists such as Pablo Picasso, among others. In the video below, Lisa Brown, the illustrator of the book, talks about the creative process of bringing words and pictures together. Introducing this video with the book is a wonderful way to get students thinking about how children’s literature is constructed from beginning to end.


Funny Machines for George the Sheep is a curiosity driven tale that taps into exploring our ideas visually. Artists are not just storytellers; they can also be inventors, just like Leonardo Da Vinci. This book is a wonderful way to introduce Da Vinci, not only as the famous artist, but as successful inventor. It also opens the conversation about designing and building objects that have an intended function beyond just being “art”.


Artists are Storytellers…. Literally!

In this collection of children’s books, each author is also the artist!


In this childhood classic, the author tells a tale where the imagination runs wild and his beautifully illustrated images give life to these hybrid creatures. The journey begins and ends in a child’s bedroom, which makes the story relatable and mysterious… what really happened? There are endless possibilities with this book in the art room.



Kevin McCloskey is a professor at Kutztown University and becomes an artist researcher in this informative, non-fiction book all about fish. Aside from the artistic appeal from page to page, children always love learning about animals. I am especially excited about his books because of the cross-curricular connections that are possible; the students can play the role of scientific investigator and discover something new about something they love! Check out more of his work at

51-0fGpN4uL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg I have always loved Eric Carle’s books because the images are so bold with wonderful textures. Carle blends fact with fiction in these endearing stories about wonderful creatures in their natural habitats. Again, there is room for cross-curricular connections, especially if the are studying critters like caterpillars in their general classroom. Mixed-up or not, the chameleon is a fascinating species, and lends itself to storytelling and art-making for elementary students.



Elmer is a charming social story about acceptance and diversity. It is also a wonderfully visual portrayal of a popular animal: the elephant. What I like about David McKee’s Elmer books is the idea of individuality and uniqueness that we can embrace in our artwork, just like Elmer ultimately embraces his own unique qualities. This book opens up opportunities to create stories from the eyes of an elephant. Where might Elmer like to visit now? If you could be Elmer, what would you do? There is so much creative potential that stems from this book!


Ivan Brunetti’s Word Play is fun for elementary students to get them thinking about letters and words as pictorial symbols. Students can take something as simple as a letter and transform it into a character. This is especially helpful for bridging creative gaps, and thinking outside of the box when cartooning, and can lead to storyboarding with words and pictures.

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I found this book at Here you may find a number of age appropriate, award-winning books for elementary school students.


Cece Bell created a fictional yet autobiographical tale in her story El Deafo. This award-winning graphic novel uses humor and a positive perspective to portray an individual who is deaf and yet has super powers of her own. I love this book because it is so relatable to kids, to anyone really, and leaves us with a sense of empowerment and appreciation for who we are. It begs the question: What’s your superpower?

Click on this link below to read/ listen to the NPR interview with Cece Bell, the author/ graphic designer of El Deafo.


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