Work Smarter: Picture Books That Pack a Punch + Giveaways!

Work Smarter Not Harder

We all have that stack of books that make it into the workshop as a mentor text:

  • Owl Moon by Jane Yolen for teaching small moments and beautiful story language
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White for building a scene and using dialogue
  • Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman for teaching character description and strong leads
  • Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe to help students narrow their topic for personal narratives

and so many others!

Here are seven more to add to your pile that you may not yet know about that pack a punch when we enter the workshop with a job to do, inspiring writers. These books will liven up workshop time and offer more than just ideas! If you have used any of these books please share your own ideas in the comments below!



Bear Despair by Gaëtan Dorémus

Storytelling at its finest! This wordless picture book encourage the use of talk in the workshop. A story about the journey of a bear looking for his teddy bear, this book provides a catalyst for conversation and students can be the writers of this story. Allowing students to take the reins of the words allows for less pressure and multiple tellings! This book will provide a window into your reluctant writer while also teaching character description and feeling within those characters. Take a journey with the featured character in this mentor text and open a world of words for your students.


Use this book as a starter for your students to write their own wordless books.

Try pen illustrations, as this book does, to create texture.

Use this book to illustrate the importance of character’s expressions and feelings in a piece.

This book can be used to show conflict and character relationships.

Encourage students to try writing a story that introduces new characters along the way, throughout a story.


Fall Leaves by Loretta Holland Illustrated by Elly MacKay

By far a beauty among books, each illustration is a paper cutout and shows artistic expression even the youngest writers will appreciate. However, this story offers more than glorious illustrations. The poetic language taps into the poet in each child and shows them story language in a whimsical poem. Below each line of poetry, which graces each page, is additional information about the metamorphosis that is brought about by seasonal changes in the universe.


This book offers a peek into nonfiction ideas. Imagine allowing students to write a nonfiction piece and then pull out a word or two from each portion to create an accompanying poem. Yeah, I want to do that!

This could be done with any piece of writing! Taking bits and re-purposing them into a poem. Show students how to create a poem and pull the most important elements to tell a different, yet similarly connected story.


Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis Illustrated by Gilbert Ford

A bit biography, a bit narrative and a bit non-fiction, this book has it all! This is the story of George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., an inventor and eccentric idealist. The story of Ferris is amazing and inspiring with real quotations sprinkled in about the making of the Ferris Wheel. At the end there is a works cited page showing the origin of each quote, a bibliography of texts and websites that were used in the creation of the book. On nearly every page lays a small paragraph of informational text nestled into the illustration telling of different elements of the time period using rich vocabulary.


This book inspires ideas in students. What would they invent? What purpose would it serve?

Talk about the true art of research and telling the whole story, this book will encourage students to step out of the box when telling a story using factual information.

Combining genres, this book shows students how information and narrative can seamlessly work together.

There are connections to history, mathematics and engineering.


Feathers, Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart Illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

This book digs deeper into specific information related to the text, students will learn so much! The poetic language, offered by lines of text at the top of each page, model simile beautifully. The book is set up like a scrapbook with a collection of illustrations on each page. Text and illustrations offer this specified informational text related to a bird, sharing its region and name. Students will love learning about these animals. The similes that grace each page are supported by the illustrations and comparisons. There is even additional text about scientific findings and an author’s note.


Melissa Stewart offers wonderful resources to teachers related to all of her books.

A teachers guide for Feathers is here.

Also a readers theater page for further exploration of the topic is here.

This book would offer wonderful examples of simile, as I stated above, helping students make comparisons between everyday items and animals. Melissa even has activities directly linked to the simile examples and a video here.


If…A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David J. Smith Illustrated by Steve Adams

You will hit the jackpot with this title. I learned so much in the hour I poured over this book’s illustrations and information. It doesn’t actually take that long to read but I would suggest reading it once and then diving into each page to discover the true meaning of things. This book takes big ideas and breaks them into tangible pieces that children and even adults can appreciate. Did you know that all the water on the earth can be represented by 100 glasses or that the inventions for the last 1000 years can be scaled down to the size of a ruler when laid out next to each other? Yeah, I didn’t, but this author made everything that you wonder about easily understood in a matter of two pages per idea. It is brilliant.


This book hits every content area, not an exaggeration. You could make links to population, continents, the economy and so much more.

It is a great example of non-fiction text features and the way they draw in a reader.

The illustrations make direct links to the content, a great resource for visual learners.

You can take in bits of each piece. Students could take one idea that they wonder about, research it and make their own page for a class book of big ideas. Imagine the learning that would take place by all your students. A class project that will never be forgotten encouraging so much collaboration between peers.

At the end of the book there are two pages of parent and teacher notes that guide you with activities and ideas to create understanding of big ideas through small parts. He even invites you to share your own ideas and activities at his website. What a great resource for teachers to collaborate and share.


The Scraps Book by Lois Ehlert

I am a fan of Lois Ehlert and her artwork. Her books are so unique, colorful and wonderful for children. I found this book to be especially unique in that it is set up like a scrapbook, highlighting the events of this writer. She takes children on a journey through her writing life and shares how she gathers ideas. She lays out pages of materials she uses as a writer as well as items that create ideas for later in her writing space. She talks about the fact that everything she creates doesn’t end up in a book but she is patient and waits for the right time. Ehlert explains that many revisions are necessary for both her artwork and her writing.


What a wonderful opportunity to share with students that we all need a writing space. This would be a great book to launch ideas for what this might look like in students’ homes.

Have students begin to keep scrap books of items that might be a writing idea.

Why not write about your life? This book would be a great mentor to students writing about their own lives and the things that are most important to them.

This book also shows how things change and evolve as we write, a great thought when talking about revision with students.

Also, Lois Ehlert has a website that features information about the book here!

  • One more worth mentioning:

 Sebastian and the Balloon by Philip C. Stead

Wow! This book taps into imagination like no other. Exploring and noticing the world around you comes alive in this story about a boy who takes a ride in a homemade hot air balloon. This book allows students to use this idea of noticing to tap into their own imaginations and gather ideas as writers. With detailed descriptions of tiny moments and partial repeating lines this book takes you on a journey and will inspire your writers.


Where would they fly? What would they see on a journey in a balloon? What an ideal topic that would allow imagination and creative expression.

This book will help students notice what is already around them and idea lists could be made following a reading of this book.

What about trying a repeating line!


Phew! Lots to take in and I’m sure your cart will be full at your nearest favorite book dealer. This post is sure to empty your pocket book, but well worth it. Wait, did I mention I might be able to help out? Six of these publishers are offering a giveaway of their book! See giveaway information below and maybe you will be a winner!

Giveaway Information

  • This giveaway is for a chance to win:
    • Bear Despair-Thank you Enchanted Lion Books
    • Fall Leaves-Thank you Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing
    • Mr. Ferris and His Wheel-Thank you Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing
    • Feathers, Not Just for Flying-Thank you Charlesbridge Publishers
    • The Scraps Book-Thank you Beach Lane Books
    • If…A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers-Thank you Kids Can Press Publishers
  • Last minute addition! I just heard from the publishers of Sebastian and His Balloon and they are offering a giveaway as well. I am still waiting to hear from all the winners. I will post them on here as soon as I know!


Kim-Mr. Ferris and His Wheel


Carol Wilcox-If…A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers

Cara Cahill-The Scraps Book

Laura-Bear Despair

Erin Radway-Sebastian and His Balloon

MJ- Fall Leaves

  • For a chance to win a copy of one of these wonderful titles, please leave a comment about this post by Thursday, November 13th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Sunday November 16th.
  • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contacts will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)

Remember to join us next Monday evening, November 10th, when we host a Twitter Chat about working smarter, not harder.  The chat will begin at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time.  Just search and tag #TWTBlog to participate.


Click on the image for more information about the Twitter Chat.

Click on the image for more information about the Twitter Chat.