Are you with me when I say that Read Aloud is my favorite part of the school day? Yep, even more than lunch. 🌮 (but maybe because that is so rushed anyway😬)
It is such a calming part of the day that helps you connect to your students and build a reading community. It helps students understand what it means to get wrapped up in a story. AND it exposes students to books they otherwise might not read on their own, particularly your students who struggle. I could go on and on about why your read aloud is important, but let’s keep this moving.
Using your read aloud to support the skills, strategies, and standards you are teaching is a win-win. Story elements are foundational when it comes to reading comprehension. I wanted to share with you some of my favorite read aloud books to teach story elements. Because story elements are usually taught at the beginning of the year, these are also books that I like to read towards the beginning of the school year. But really, you can use *almost* any fiction book to teach story elements. Also, please note that this list is just a few of my personal favorite books when it comes to teaching story elements. It is not comprehensive – there are so many wonderful books that you can use! 🖤
But first…I do have some tips when it comes to selecting which books you will use to teach.
Tip #1: Go for the easy book!
Choose books and stories to model the skill/strategy that you know are going to be easy for you to explain and easiest for your students to understand. Go for the low-hanging fruit on the tree! Don’t be afraid to use a book that would be considered “too easy” for your students. It’s actually beneficial to use an easier book at first so that you have a solid foundation. You want the story elements to be obvious at first. This will build confidence as you apply the same strategies to harder texts.
Tip #2: Use the same books for both reading and writing.
I also like to chose books that I can use for BOTH reading and writing (narrative) so that I can get the most out of the book. Even if you don’t teach narrative right off the bat, come back to that book during your unit. Your students will already be familiar with the book. That way you can focus on the writing strategy rather than understanding the story. This strategy applies to any concept that I teach.
Tip #3: Use both picture books AND chapter books to teach story elements.
Picture books are short stories and you can cover (not teach, but expose/review) all the story elements as you read the story in one sitting. They also require students to hold on to less of a story. That doesn’t mean the text is easier. It just means that it requires less of a time period to complete the story. However, chapter books take days/weeks to complete the story. You can use the chapter book to help students track story elements over a longer period of time, which is what they are required to do any time they read a chapter book independently. Using both types of books in your teaching helps your students become more flexible readers.
The books are linked to Amazon, but you can most likely find these books in your school or local library.
Here are the 25 Picture Books to Teach Story Elements
1. Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
I’m starting off with my favorite! Jeremy wants the trendy shoes that everyone has (aka insert the latest anything), but they are too expensive. Plus, he needs winter boots.
There is so much you can teach from this short, but powerful book. Story elements are only the tip of the iceberg. This book can also integrated into a discussion of needs vs. wants, social issues, and an excellent way to discuss theme or central message.
Blurb: All Jeremy wants is a pair of those shoes, the ones everyone at school seems to be wearing. Though Jeremy’s grandma says they don’t have room for “want,” just “need,” when his old shoes fall apart at school, he is more determined than ever to have those shoes, even a thrift-shop pair that are much too small. But sore feet aren’t much fun, and Jeremy soon sees that the things he has — warm boots, a loving grandma, and the chance to help a friend — are worth more than the things he wants.
Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
2. The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah
I use this book to teach so much, especially theme and story elements. In writing, I love to use this book for the lead and ending as a mentor text in narrative writing. (That’s another blog post for another day.)
Blurb: Lily and Salma are best friends. They like doing all the same things, and they always eat lunch together. Lily eats peanut butter and Salma eats hummus-but what’s that between friends? It turns out, a lot. Before they know it, a food fight breaks out. Can Lily and Salma put aside their differences? Or will a sandwich come between them?
The smallest things can pull us apart-until we learn that friendship is far more powerful than difference. In a glorious three-page gatefold at the end of the book, Salma, Lily, and all their classmates come together in the true spirit of tolerance and acceptance.
The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah
3. The Plot Chickens by Mary Jane & Herm Auch
This book is such a fun way to teach the story elements from the writer’s perspective.
Blurb: Henrietta loves to read. When she clucks buk, buk, buk at the library, the librarian knows exactly what to recommend. Then Henrietta decides to write a book. With the help of her three aunties, she hatches a plot. But when Henrietta publishes her story, the critics say she’s laid an egg! Is this the end of Henrietta’s career as an author?
The Plot Chickens by Mary Jane & Herm Auch
4. Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens
You can’t go wrong with Janet Stevens!
Blurb: Once a upon a time, there was a lazy Bear and a clever Hare. Bear had lots of money and lots of land but all he wanted to do was sleep. Hare had nothing but hungry children, so he came up with a plan to convince Bear to split his land down the middle—tops and bottoms. Hare can work all day and Bear can sleep.
It’s the perfect solution! Or is it?
Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens
5. Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
Break out the Patricia Polacco. She is always here for the teaching reading party.
Blurb: A loud clap of thunder booms, and rattles the windows of Grandma’s old farmhouse. “This is Thunder Cake baking weather,” calls Grandma, as she and her granddaughter hurry to gather the ingredients around the farm. A real Thunder Cake must reach the oven before the storm arrives. But the list of ingredients is long and not easy to find . . . and the storm is coming closer all the time!
Reaching once again into her rich childhood experience, Patricia Polacco tells the memorable story of how her grandma–her Babushka–helped her overcome her fear of thunder when she was a little girl. Ms. Polacco’s vivid memories of her grandmother’s endearing answer to a child’s fear, accompanied by her bright folk-art illustrations, turn a frightening thunderstorm into an adventure and ultimately . . . a celebration.
Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
6. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
I think every adult and child should read this book. It is so good for teaching about dealing with conflict and how characters respond. Translate that into real life!
Blurb: It was the perfect summer. That is, until Jeremy Ross moved into the house down the street and became neighborhood enemy number one. Luckily Dad had a surefire way to get rid of enemies: Enemy Pie. But part of the secret recipe is spending an entire day playing with the enemy! In this funny yet endearing story one little boy learns an effective recipe for turning a best enemy into a best friend. Accompanied by charming illustrations, Enemy Pie serves up a sweet lesson in the difficulties and ultimate rewards of making new friends.
Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
7. The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
This classic is SOOOO good and should be a staple in any classroom library. ❤️
Blurb: Clover’s mom says it isn’t safe to cross the fence that segregates their African-American side of town from the white side where Anna lives. But the two girls strike up a friendship, and get around the grown-ups’ rules by sitting on top of the fence together.
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
8. The Memory String by Eve Bunting
Blurb: Each button on Laura’s memory string represents a piece of her family history. The buttons Laura cherishes the most belonged to her mother—a button from her prom dress, a white one off her wedding dress, and a single small button from the nightgown she was wearing on the day she died. When the string breaks, Laura’s new stepmother, Jane, is there to comfort Laura and search for a missing button, just as Laura’s mother would have done. But it’s not the same—Jane isn’t Mom. In Eve Bunting’s moving story, beautifully illustrated by Ted Rand, Laura discovers that a memory string is not just for remembering the past: it’s also for recording new memories.
The Memory String by Eve Bunting
9. Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
Blurb: When a giant panda named Stillwater moves into Michael, Addy, and Karl’s neighborhood, he tells them the most amazing stories! To Addy, he tells a tale of a poor man who gives gifts to a robber. To Michael, he tells of a farmer who learns not to judge luck. And to Karl, he tells the tale of a monk who continues to carry the weight of a burden long past.With vibrant watercolors and elegant ink drawings, Jon J Muth–and Stillwater the bear–imaginatively present three classic Zen stories that abound with enlightenment and love.
Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
10. The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
Blurb: When young Trisha finds out her class at the new school is known as “The Junkyard,” she is devastated. She moved from her old town so she wouldn’t be in a special class anymore! But then she meets her teacher, the quirky and invincible Mrs. Peterson, and her classmates, an oddly brilliant group of students each with his or her own unique talent. And it is here in The Junkyard that Trisha learns the true meaning of genius, and that this group of misfits are, in fact, wonders, all of them.
Based on a real-life event in Patricia Polacco’s childhood, this ode to teachers will inspire all readers to find their inner genius.
The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco
11. Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
Blurb: Patricia Polacco is now one of America’s most loved children’s book creators, but once upon a time, she was a little girl named Trisha starting school. Trisha could paint and draw beautifully, but when she looked at words on a page, all she could see was jumble. It took a very special teacher to recognize little Trisha’s dyslexia: Mr. Falker, who encouraged her to overcome her reading disability. Patricia Polacco will never forget him, and neither will we.
Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
12. A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
Blurb: “What we have here is a bad case of stripes. One of the worst I’ve ever seen!” Camilla Cream loves lima beans, but she never eats them. Why? Because the other kids in her school don’t like them. And Camilla Cream is very, very worried about what other people think of her. In fact, she’s so worried that she’s about to break out in…a bad case of stripes! “Shannon’s story is a good poke in the eye of conformity…and his empathetic, vivid artwork keeps perfect pace with the tale.” -Kirkus Reviews
A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
13. First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
Blurb: Everyone knows that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach just before diving into a new situation. Sarah Jane Hartwell is scared and doesn’t want to start over at a new school. She doesn’t know anybody, and nobody knows her. It will be awful. She just knows it. With much prodding from Mr. Hartwell, Sarah Jane reluctantly pulls herself together and goes to school. She is quickly befriended by Mrs. Burton, who helps smooth her jittery transition. This charming and familiar story will delight readers with its surprise ending.
Fun, energetic illustrations brighten page after page with the busy antics surrounding Sarah Jane. FIRST DAY JITTERS is an enchanting story that is sure to be treasured by anyone who has ever anticipated a first day of school.
First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
14. Fables by Arnold Lobel
Blurb: A pig flying through marshmallow clouds? A camel pirouetting through the desert? Where else could a reader find such marvelous things but in a fable? From the author-illustrator behind beloved Frog and Toad, Arnold Lobel, comes a collection of humorous, silly fables that will delight readers young and old.
Fables by Arnold Lobel
15. Aesop’s Fables by Jerry Pinkney
Blurb: In this elegantly designed volume, more than sixty of Aesop’s timeless fables have been carefully selected, humorously retold, and brought gloriously to life by four-time Caldecott Honor-winner Jerry Pinkney. Included are the Shepherd Boy and The Wolf, the Lion and the Mouse, the Tortoise and the Hare, plus many other characters and morals that have inspired countless readers for centuries. With more than fifty magnificent full-color illustrations, this handsome edition is a must for every bookshelf.
Aesop’s Fables by Jerry Pinkney
16. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
This book is usually the first or second book I read at the beginning of the year.
Blurb: One summer’s day, ten-year-old India Opal Buloni goes down to the local supermarket for some groceries—and comes home with a dog. But Winn-Dixie is no ordinary dog. It’s because of Winn-Dixie that Opal begins to make friends. And it’s because of Winn-Dixie that she finally dares to ask her father about her mother, who left when Opal was three. In fact, as Opal admits, just about everything that happens that summer is because of Winn-Dixie. This updated edition of Kate DiCamillo’s classic novel invites readers to make themselves at home—whether they’re experiencing the book for the first time or returning to an old favorite.
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
17. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Blurb: Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte’s Web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
18. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Blurb: Having spent twenty-seven years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
19. Third Grade Angels by Jerry Spinelli
This book goes right along with Fourth Grade Rats (see below). Perfect for your 3rd graders and your 4th graders will be looking for it as their next read after Fourth Grade Rats.
Blurb: George, aka “Suds,” has just entered third grade, and he’s heard the rhyme about “first grade babies/second grade cats/third grade angels/fourth grade rats,” but what does this mean for his school year? It means that his teacher, Mrs. Simms, will hold a competition every month to see which student deserves to be awarded “the halo” – which student is best-behaved, kindest to others, and, in short, perfect. Suds is determined to be the first to earn the halo, but he’s finding the challenge of always being good to be more stressful than he had anticipated. Does he have to be good even outside of school? (Does he have to be nice to his annoying little sister?) And if Mrs. Simms doesn’t actually see him doing a good deed, does it even count?
Third Grade Angels by Jerry Spinelli
20. Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Blurb: Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory is opening at last! But only five lucky children will be allowed inside. And the winners are: Augustus Gloop, an enormously fat boy whose hobby is eating; Veruca Salt, a spoiled-rotten brat whose parents are wrapped around her little finger; Violet Beauregarde, a dim-witted gum-chewer with the fastest jaws around; Mike Teavee, a toy pistol-toting gangster-in-training who is obsessed with television; and Charlie Bucket, Our Hero, a boy who is honest and kind, brave and true, and good and ready for the wildest time of his life!
Charlie & the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
21. Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
Nobody outfoxes Fantastic Mr. Fox!
Blurb: Someone’s been stealing from the three meanest farmers around, and they know the identity of the thief—it’s Fantastic Mr. Fox! Working alone they could never catch him; but now fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don’t know is that they’re not dealing with just any fox—Mr. Fox would rather die than surrender. Only the most fantastic plan can save him now.
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
22. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
I have read this book to 3rd, 4th, and 5th Grade. It is probably the book that most students have said stuck with them for years to come.
Blurb: Walking through the misty Florida woods one morning, twelve-year-old Rob Horton is stunned to encounter a tiger—a real-life, very large tiger—pacing back and forth in a cage. What’s more, on the same extraordinary day, he meets Sistine Bailey, a girl who shows her feelings as readily as Rob hides his. As they learn to trust each other, and ultimately, to be friends, Rob and Sistine prove that some things—like memories, and heartache, and tigers—can’t be locked up forever. Featuring a cover illustration by Stephen Walton.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
23. Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli
I love to kick off 4th grade with this funny and light read. This book has its cheesy moments in the best way. It is the perfect level of difficulty for beginning 4th graders. It’s a short read so students will find it easier to follow, particularly at the beginning of the year.
Blurb: Fourth graders are tough. They aren’t afraid of spiders. They say no to their moms. They push first graders off the swings. And they never, ever cry.Suds knows that now he’s in fourth grade, he’s supposed to be a rat. But whenever he tries to act like one, something goes wrong. Can Suds’s friend Joey teach him to toughen up… or will Suds remain a fourth grade wimp? Now with brand-new illustrations, this sequel to Jerry Spinelli’s THIRD GRADE ANGELS is a classic story of fitting in (or not) and friendship.
Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli
24. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Blurb: Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia. One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
25. The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
I went ahead and saved the best for last. This is hands-down my favorite book to read aloud to my students. I recommend this book for later in 4th grade and 5th grade. It’s pretty heavy, but has such a strong message and is just sooooo good!
Blurb: Walking through the misty Florida woods one morning, twelve-year-old Rob Horton is stunned to encounter a tiger – a real-life, very large tiger – pacing back and forth in a cage. What s more, on the same extraordinary day, he meets Sistine Bailey, a girl who shows her feelings as readily as Rob hides his. As they learn to trust each other, and ultimately, to be friends, Rob and Sistine prove that some things – like memories, and heartaches, and tigers – can t be locked up forever.
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
There you have it! Twenty-five of my favorite books to teach story elements! If you are looking for more resources to teach story elements, grab the freebie below.
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