Teaching Lessons Through Picture Books

Picture Books That Teach Lessons

life lessons with picture books
by Suzanne Santillan author of picture book, Grandma’s Pear Tree.

My favorite picture book as a child was “Mrs. Twiggley’s Tree” written by the late Dorothea Warren Fox. It was a quirky tale about a terribly shy woman who lived in a tree with her dog and some visiting bears. During the story Mrs. Twiggley rises above her shyness to step in and save others, including those who were the most critical of her.

Little did I know that while I was reading this story I was learning a lesson of tolerance and helping others. I memorized the story and to this day I can still recite portions of the text.picture books

The magic of a well written picture book is that it teaches a lesson without the child knowing it. As an author and a parent I seek out picture books with this trait. It takes true talent to teach a message without the reader even realizing it.

Today my favorite picture books are the books that look at things from a little different perspective. Below is a list of books that I have found that I feel have that magic. Each story is humorous and quirky and there is a little lesson tucked in there as well:

Daft Bat

Written by Jeanne Willis and illustrated by Tony Ross

This story features a bat who always gets things upside-down and wrong-way-round. Only when Wise Owl suggests a change of perspective does everything become clear to Bat’s young friends.

This picture book is a great way to share the message that things aren’t always as they seem and it’s always good to look at things from the other persons (or bats) perspective. The pictures are fun and colorful, a quick and easy read for the end of the day.

Bedtime for Mommy

Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by LeUyen Pham

This is a role-reversal tale where a child tries to put her Mommy to bed. Children will laugh along with Mommy’s antics. From five extra minutes to glasses of water, Mommy tries to drag out her bedtime as long as she possibly can.

Pham’s illustrations are light and fun and fit the text perfectly. This is a great cuddle up for fun picture book that would be a great addition for any family’s library.

Duck! Rabbit!

Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Two main characters in this picture book debate whether the creature at the center of this clever book is a duck or a rabbit.

This book is clever and funny and gives you an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective. Rabbit? or Duck? I’ll let you decide.

Once Upon a Time, The End (Asleep in 60 seconds)

Written by Geoffrey Kloske and illustrated by Barry Blitt.

This fun picture book book is filled with humorously edited stories and clever versions of the classic tales we have grown up with.

Falling for Rapunzel

Written by Leah Wilcox and illustrated by Lydia Monks.

Written in lively verse, “Falling for Rapunzel” tells the story of the Prince who hears Rapunzel’s distress over a bad hair day and attempts to rescue her with hilarious results.

For older children I would recommend :

Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse

Written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Josee Masse

This picture book is a series of reversos, or poems which have one meaning when read down the page and perhaps an altogether different meaning when read up the page.

The book is filled with poems for such favorites as Snow White, Cinderella, The Ugly Duckling and more.

Here is an example of “In The Hood” a take on Little Red Riding Hood:

In my hood

skipping through the wood

carrying a basket

picking berries to eat –

juicy and sweet

what a treat!

But a girl

mustn’t dawdle.

After all, Grandma’s waiting.

Here is the reverso that now sounds like it is from the wolves perspective:

After all, Grandma’s waiting,

mustn’t dawdle . . .

But a girl!

What a treat –

juicy and sweet,

picking berries to eat,

carrying a basket,

skipping through the wood

in my `hood.”

It takes a talent to write like this and the author gets it just right. The illustrations are colorful and really add a fun feel to this very clever book. This would be a great gift or addition to your family collection.

Author Jon Scieszka is the master of looking at things from a different perspective. I would check out any of his books especially:

“The True Story of The Three Little Pigs”

“The Frog Prince Continued”

“The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales”.

These twisted versions of fairy tales are fun and take you in a direction that you never expected to go and if you look very hard you just might find a lesson in there as well.

This is only a small sampling of the great picture books out there.

picture booksDo you have a favorite picture book that does a great job of teaching a lesson?

**All comments will be entered to WIN Suzanne’s picture book, Grandma’s Pear Tree!  One winner will be chosen at random July 2, 2010.

Congratulations to Maya!  Random.org picked you as the winner!

Melissa’s Note: I’m not sure I can pick one, Suzanne — hmmm . . . Right now we’re really loving Naked Mole Rat by Mo Willems encouraging individuality.

Suzanne, thank you so much for writing this guest post — what a valuable resource for all of us parents, teachers and human beings!

Suzanne Santillan is the author of Grandma’s Pear Tree(Raven Tree Press 2010) and the co-author of the blog Writing On the Sidewalk.

Good Picture Books to Own
Animal Characters in Picture Books
Outstanding Picture Books
Picture Books about Great Artists


    • says

      I love Aesop’s Fables as well. Be sure to check out Jerry Pinkney’s beautiful Cadecott Award winning version of “The Lion & The Mouse”, it is truly stunning with a great message.

  1. Kathleen Adams says

    I love books with a lesson or message, too. I teach 5th graders, and the words in the social studies book about the Civil War are just “boring textbook words” to the kids. Patricia Polacco’s book Pink and Say takes the students on an eye-opening, emotional, and powerful journey to the days of the Civil War. Our students are always greatly impacted by that story.

    • says

      Hi Kathleen,

      I was not familiar with this story but from reading the reviews it sounds like a powerful tale. My favorite book by Patricia Polacco is “The Keeping Quilt” but I am going to check out Pink and Say today.

  2. jennifer says

    One of my favorites for my daughter has been “Mary and the Mouse, The Mouse and Mary.” The illustrations are wonderful and the message profound. That you can come from different backgrounds but still succeed with a loving family and an emphasis on education.

  3. says

    Kathleen / Suzanne,

    Pink and Say makes me choke up every time I read it aloud – it’s the most beautiful book of friendship set in the Civil War. You’re going to love it, Suzanne!


  4. says

    I LOVE books with messages! Thanks for the recomendations. One of our favorites right now is “otto Grows Down” My kids think its silly and it teaches a good lesson too!

  5. Christine W says

    I love books that have a hidden meaning or have a teaching lesson within. The Pokey Little Puppy was a favorite of mine and then a favorite on my daughters. We have started reading it to my grandson. As a Grandma, I would love to read Grandma’s Pear Tree to my grandson.

    Thank you,


  6. says

    I love the message of Miss Rumphius that no matter what you do in life you should leave the world a more beautiful place. My children are the most beautiful addition to the world, and we planted some lupines this year, just like Miss Ruphius!

  7. Sophie says

    Talking about picture books with a lesson, I would have to say the series “FInance for Kidz” is way up there. You cannot get better teaching lessons on finance than these books. And they are written from a child’s perspective, are in a story form, and have exercises in the back that you could do with your child. I just love these books. My children have stopped saying “I want this.. and this…”
    I got them from the publisher’s website at http://www.finance4kidz.com

  8. says

    Another book with a lesson on finance is “Lawn Boy” by Gary Paulsen. While this is not a picture book this short chapter book is full of humor, yard care and a huge lesson on finances.

  9. Deon Jackson says

    I too love books with messages. Right now we’re enjoying What’s the magic word? by Kelly S. DiPucchio. It’s a simple story for younger children but definitely reinforces an underlying message of using manners.

  10. says

    My kids both love “The Big Orange Splot” by Pinkwater. It has a super message that it is OK to be yourself and go against the norm. You just might inspire others to follow your lead.

  11. Kelly says

    Wow!! Thanks for taking the time to post all of these wonderful book suggestions! My daughters and I will definitely have to read some of these. They just love The Pokey Puppy as well which was one of childhood favorites. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of Grandma’s Pear Tree.

  12. EWalsh says

    I am looking for picture books to read a loud that pose the opportunity for debate. The best example I can think of is Duel! – Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words by Dennis Brindell Fradin. In this book, I have kids debate who was “the villain”. I need at least 6 more to complete the unit I am writing. Anyone have any ideas?

    • says

      what a cool idea! Here are some quick ideas:

      Gaston by Kelly DiPUcchio

      Give and Take by Chris Raschka

      Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle

      My Name is Elizabeth by Annika Dunklee

      The Wreck of the Zephyr by Chris Van Allsburg


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *