Read aloud picture books to exemplify how writers use smilies and metaphors to convey meaning. Use these mentor texts to teach similes and metaphors in your writing workshop.
Picture Books to Teach Similes and Metaphors
I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
An exuberant celebration of a young boy’s infinite possibilities and many ways of being, illustrated in bright colors and painty textures. This picture book about black male joy is a masterpiece of culture, writing, and art! Not to mention, the perfect book to read when you’re teaching children about metaphors. “I’m the BOOM-BAP== BOOM-BOOM-BAP when the bass line thumps and the kick drum jumps. I’m the perfect beat, the perfect rhyme, keeping everything on point and always on time — but you already knew that.”
Being Edie Is Hard Today by Ben Brashares and Elizabeth Bergeland
Edie is having a difficult day. She imagines she’s a bat hiding upside down in her cubby or a fast and fierce cheetah or maybe a chameleon sitting so still no one can see her. “But inside, she felt like a naked mole rat.” Edie shares her tears and fears with her mom. And that makes everything feel better.
Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes
A little girl sits sadly on her porch steps thinking about the colors of the rainbow and how black isn’t in the rainbow. Poignant, lyrical metaphors and luminous illustrations tell readers what black is — a crayon, a feather, braids, rhythm, blues, trains, dreams, and so much more. “Black is the color of ink staining page. Black is the mask that shelters his rage. Black are the birds in cages that sing– Black is a color. Black is a culture.// …My color is Black.” Her narration celebrates black culture, showing pride and context and history. She ends with the statement that in her box of crayons, black is a rainbow, too. Every single part of this incredible book is meaningful, beautiful, and memorable.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
This beautifully written gem celebrates Native American culture through the lens of the food Fry Bread. The repetitive text starts each two-page spread, “Fry bread is…” then descriptive, lyrical verse follows each statement, elaborating on the meaning. “Fry bread is sound / The skillet clangs on the stove / The fire blazes from below / Drop the dough in the skillet / The bubbles sizzle and pop.” This rich text paired with evocative illustrations culminates in a wonderful book that will show children Native American traditions of family, food, and love.
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho
“I have eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” I can’t get enough of this beautiful book. It’s a sensory, lyrical celebration of Asian eyes; a body-positive ode filled with self-acceptance and confidence as a little girl shares her thoughts on who she is and who the women in her family are including her little sister and her Amah. “My eyes crinkle into crescents moons and sparkle like the stars. Gold flecks dance and twirl while stories whirl in their oolong pools, carrying tales of the past and hope for the future.”
A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon
A black boy expresses a myriad of feelings that wait inside him for him to feel each one. Joy that glows bright and warm as the sun when he’s playing basketball, sorrow that is cold & dark when he sees the news about a police shooting, fear that stalks him and “seeps like a poison into my dreams”. He expresses his anger, hunger, pride, hope, love, and compassion in lyrical phrases and illuminating illustrations. This is an essential picture book filled with figurative language and will help you start conversations about racial injustice, emotions, and what it’s like to be black in the U.S.
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr
Lyrical, evocative language captures a quiet winter evening when the little girl and her Pa treck through the woods to find owls.
My Rotten Red Headed Older Brother by Patricia Polacco
Based on Patricia’s own life, she shares all about her rivalry with her annoying brother and the turning point that changed everything between them. “He had orange hair that was like wire; he was covered in freckles and looked like a weasel with glasses.”
Honey by David Ezra Stein
I’m in love with the wonderful words, smilies, and descriptions Stein uses throughout this new picture book. The language pops with sweetness, just like the honey there bear so anxiously awaits. The world around bear “spicy, aromatic, sparkling with sunlight“, reminds him of honey but it is too soon, he must wait.”Clouds cracked and grumbled in a heavy sky.” Until finally, he hears a buzz — and that means honey! This is an exquisitely written and illustrated masterpiece that leaves readers with the satisfaction of savoring life’s precious moments.
The Whole Wide World and Me by Toni Yuly
A little girl compares herself using very simple text (with only a few words per page) to the natural world around her. She is a part of the world just like a flower in a field. The best part about this book is the bold illustrations — they are totally captivating. The similes are obvious making this a good book choice for younger children who are just learning about similes and metaphors.
Love by Matt de La Pena, illustrated by Loren Long
Each page shows a beautiful illustration and description of the many activities and feelings that love can be. “Love, too, is the smell of crashing waves…” or “And it’s love in each deep crease of your grandfather’s face as he lowers himself onto an overturned bucket to fish.” Books like this that don’t have a storyline often work well in the classroom for mentor text and make beautiful gift books for graduation or other occasions. This book artfully shows how authors use metaphors to convey meaning.
My Hair is a Garden by Cozbi A. Caberera
A neighbor helps the little girl comb her hair in this sweet story about accepting your unique beauty just like the plants in a garden who are unique, beautiful, and require cultivation. “My hair is a garden. And like every good garden, it must be/cared for, every day.” Also on: Delightful Picture Books That Celebrate Hair.
I Am the Storm by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Comforting and beautiful! When there is bad weather like a tornado, a blizzard, a forest fire, and a hurricane happen, the girl shares what she does with her family that feels safe and comforting. Then, after it stops, as it always does, the girl and her family do something helpful like pick up or fix things The predictable text structure also feels reassuring. The book ends with children finding similarities between themselves and the weather. “I am loud like the tornado. I am wild like the blizzard. I am hot like the fire. I am fierce like the hurricane. I am the storm.”
Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration by Samara Cole Doyon, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
Lyrical, figurative language (filled with similes, personification, and vivid imagery) not only celebrates people of color living life fully but transports readers into scenes rich with sensory imagery. “Deep, secret brown. Like the subtly churning river currents playfully beckoning me through my grandmother’s kitchen window, winding steadily past banks of tall grass and wild rose buses.” Or “Feathery brown. Like the jagged shadows of hemlock branches thrown over me and Daddy on a gentle mountain hike.” A stunning, joyful tribute.
Dangerously Ever After by Dashka Slater, illustrated by Valeria Decampo
Princess Amanita loves dangerous things — daggers, scorpions, and plants with spikes. When Prince Florian slices grapes that blow up a wheelbarrow, he apologizes with roses. Of course, Amanita only likes the thorns. It’s a great story about a not-your-ordinary princess who grows noses instead of roses and becomes best friends with Prince Florian. “It smelled like candy and lemons and cloves. It smelled like sleeping in the sun and staying up late for a party.”
Saturdays and Teacakes by Lester L. Laminack, illustrated by Chris Soentpiet
Saturdays are the days the boy pedals to his Mammaw’s house to pass the time cooking and eating. Laminack uses all the senses in his vivid imagery. “This was where my tire gave up their humming on the pavement and began the crunching of gravel. Just before reaching Mammaw’s back porch, I slammed on my brakes, sending a shower of tiny pebbles into her flowers.” Not only is the language use exquisite but the story shows a loving relationship between boy and grandmother.
How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (and Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion by Ashima Shiraishi, illustrated by Yao Xiao
Written by one of the world’s youngest and best climbers, she shares her experiences with climbing difficult “problems” which is what climbers call the boulders that they climb. This personal narrative focuses on a growth mindset of perseverance and facing challenges like difficult climbs with grit. “One part was arched like a question mark, another part stuck out like my father’s elbow in a photo I have seen of him dancing…”
The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Shelley Jackson
This young girl loves chasing chickens when Big Mama isn’t looking, especially her favorite, Miss Hen, who is as “plump as a Sunday purse“. But that chicken is too fast. Then she finds Miss Hen sitting on her nest and in a nice character arc, decides not to catch her.
Seashells More Than a Home by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
Informative and beautiful, this picture book will make you long to visit the seashore to find your own seashells. Written in dual-layered figurative language text, readers will learn the basics of shells in the first layer of bigger text size — “Seashells can pry like a crowbar . . . or bore holes like a drill bit. // Seashells can flit and flitter like a butterfly . . . or curl up tight like an armadillo.” Secondary text elaborates on the specific types of shells.
Picture the Sky by Barbara Reid
The best thing about this book is the three-dimensional, eye-catching artwork. But the text is also impressive — with how the author personifies the sky and gives readers metaphors that make us see the sky differently.
I Am Peace A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
This is the goal — to feel the ground, take a deep breath, to be still, to say what you feel, and so on. Reading this book shows kids what mindfulness is. It truly is peace. Reynolds’ whimsical watercolor illustrations make the concepts visually appealing and accessible.
Wilfrid Gordon MacDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas
I love this story so much — and used it frequently in the classroom. This little boy exemplifies kindness! He learns his friend, “Miss Nancy,” is losing her memory. He tries to figure out what a memory is and how he can help her remember.
I Will Fight Monsters for You by Santi Balmes, illustrates by Lyona
This clever parallel story of a young girl (and a young monster) who are both frightened to sleep because of the upside down world of monsters (and humans) beneath and above their beds. Luckily, dads will fight monsters for their kids and they give good advice: “the size of the monsters depends on how scared you are. If you feel very brave, the monster will shrink and run away” and “fear is elastic, like bubble gum. As you grow braver, fear shrinks smaller and smaller until it disappears.”
Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hen Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
Lavish, richly colored illustrations immediately draw me into this beautiful book of shapes from an Islamic perspective. “Hexagon is a tile, / bold and bright, / painted with an ayah / I love to recite.” Learn about the geometric shapes like circles, squares, and octagons from the daily life and architecture of someone who is Muslim.
How Do You Feel? by Rebecca Bender
This is a literal (tactile) feelings book with lots of beautiful similes. Toad feels bumpy like the trunk of a gnarly tree. Duckling feels fuzzy like tall grass reaching for the sun. Rabbit feels silky like a web carefully spun.
Wild Feelings by David Milgrim
Do you ever feel . . . ? asks this book. Do you feel as stubborn as a mule? as chicken as a chicken? as daffy as a duck? Simple illustrations and metaphorical text show that everyone feels different feelings — and all are okay.
Green on Green by Dianne White, illustrated by Felicita Sala
Strong on figurative language and sensory description about the colors and seasons make this not just a beautiful reading experience but a good mentor text for young writing. Sparse, lyrical language with evocative illustrations capture the colors of the seasons. “Brown the squirrel. Brown the mouse. Brown the trees around our house.” Absolutely lovely.
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