Welcome! Picture books are a fantastic way to develop creative thinking and musical thinking in the elementary school music classroom. If you are looking for ideas to connect music learning to a picture book, you have come to the right place.

I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison

Rhythm is everywhere, and it’s contagious. Follow a joyful girl as she and the neighborhood feel the rhythm in lots of different ways. Students can learn the “Let’s Get the Rhythm” playground chant, or just jump in the rhythms of the book’s text. After reading, have students think about how they can feel the rhythm in their bodies.

The Listening Walk  by Paul Showers

This is a great book for getting young children to listen intentionally. Have the students actually go on a listening walk, document it, and then recreate the sounds with instruments. Read more here about how to build a mini-unit around this book.

Salam Alaikum: A Message of Peace by J. Harris

This book is based on the lyrics of young pop star Harris J. Read the book and watch the official music video. Saying “salam alaikum” is like saying “peace be with you”. Celebrate kindness, peace, and community by singing the song, and discuss what the children see in the illustrations. Students can make connections to the acts of love and kindness they see.

Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton 

Little ones never get tired of this one. When you first introduce it, you might just explain the different dance movements and have them practice them. “Let’s bow like this” or “This is how we promenade.” In the next round, students can chant each line along with the movement. Chanting this one is lots of fun, but you could make up a melody to go with it too. If you’ve got the capacity, play a little fiddle tune between verses and call it like you’re at a real barnyard dance!

More Than Enough by April Halprin Wayland

More than enough embraces the thankful spirit of “Dayenu”, a popular Passover Seder song. The chorus of the song is very catchy, and it’s easy for anyone to sing, because it is just one word: dayenu. Learn the song, and use the book as a starting point for learning about the celebration. Students can make connections to other festivals that incorporate traditional meals, or symbolic foods, or singing. As a bonus, the book mentions some other Passover songs that you could sing or listen to.

Let Freedom Sing by Vanessa Newton

Use this book to support students when learning “This Little Light of Mine”, and explore its history and how it developed within different contexts. Better yet take some time to explore the important role that music played in the Civil Rights Movement. It’s just a starting point, and there are so many great songs you can study from here. 

Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle

Make connections between gender stereotypes and gender “rules” in music, like major orchestras who have kept women out for such a long time. Or use it as a jumping off point for exploring different types of drums and percussion. After reading the book, have students learn some of the characteristic rhythms of son cubano, or simply improvise rhythms on different drums.

Stories aren't just entertainment. Develop your students' musical thinking using these picture books! #musiced Share on X

More books to explore

There are so many books to support music learning: books related to musical genres, books encouraging creativity, books empowering children to express themselves, books with fun sounds! Here is just a small selection of books to get you started.

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs – An inspiring story about folk/blues musician Elizabeth Cotten; sing her song “Freight Train” along with the story

Sing a Song by Kelly Starling Lyons – A great story about how the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, inspired five generations from its beginning to the present

Rap a Tap Tap by Leo and Diane Dillon – Chant “rap a tap tap–think of that” each time it comes up; ask the students where they can play the rhythms on their body, and add them to the story

Quiet Bunny by Lisa McCue – Great for exploring animal sounds, or finding your voice

Hana Hashimoto by Chieri Uegaki – Use this in a musician study, to see how practice and resilience are key to playing, and also for students to see they aren’t alone if they have a little stage fright

Drummer Girl by Hiba Masood – Another one to explore tradition and gender stereotypes. but also an opportunity to connect the role of music in different religious or cultural traditions

Listen: How Pete Seeger got America Singing by Leda Schubert – A brief rundown of Pete Seeger’s impact on American folk music and some of the social justice work of his time; mentions many of his songs and would be a great connection if you are teaching one of them

Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney – Look at the way Max is inspired by the sounds around him, and uses what’s around him to play his music; speak and play the rhythms in the book

I See a Song by Eric Carle – Use Carle’s unique and expressive art to inspire expressive compositions, or connect to recorded music

The Jazz Fly by Matthew Gollub – Nice to accompany a jazz unit

Mama Don’t Allow by Thacher Hurd – In addition to looking at the folk song itself, try some vocal exploration with character voices; there’s also a Reading Rainbow episode that might have some interesting material

How to Speak Moo by Deborah Fajerman – A fun exploration of the different ways to say a word

RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford – Simple text touches on parts of Aretha’s biography; use the words to make a chant or ostinato as students improvise melodies

Clap Your Hands by Toyomi Igus – Not exactly a quick read-aloud, but you could use snippets as it gives a nice context around gospel music, with historical notes

The Song of Six Birds by Rene Deetlefs – Another good one for nature sounds, but works really well with exploring the recorder to make different “bird calls”

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin! by Lloyd Moss – You probably already know this one, but it’s a fun way to introduce some (albeit random) instruments, and learn the definitions of “solo”, “duet”, “trio”, etc. It even lends itself to a great interdisciplinary math and music lesson.

To Everything There is a Season by Diane and Leo Dillon – A beautiful set of illustrations, if you happen to be listening to The Byrds singing “Turn Turn Turn”

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle – Sing the book, and then continue the solo singing game with other animals (I use soft toys), or even names

The Roots of Rap by Carole Boston Weatherford – Sparse rhyming text celebrates the four elements of hip-hop culture, which can be a great introduction to the origins of hip-hop music

Ojichan’s Gift by Chieri Uegaki – Lends itself to expressive music: soundtrack of the peaceful garden, the longing to be in the garden when she is home in the city, the anger she feels, the satisfaction of her own small garden, etc.

Listen to the Rain by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault – Pairs well with a body percussion rainstorm, or creating a soundscape with percussion instruments

Jazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler – Fun to explore different sounds or connect to a jazz unit

Khalida and the Most Beautiful Song by Amanda Moeckel – A girl looking for a song that is in her heart and her head, wonderful for discussion about where inspiration comes from and how we inspire others with music

When the Beat Was Born by Laban Carrick Hill – A story about the origin of hip-hop music

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith – Pairs nicely with a lesson on jingle dancing or other ceremonial First Nations music/dance, connecting contemporary practice to its ancestry

What a Wonderful World (versions illustrated by Tim Hopgood or Ashley Bryan) – Visualization of the song as sung by Louis Armstrong; pair it with a lesson about this amazing artist and the staying power of his song

Floating on Mama’s Song / Flotando en la Canción de Mamá by Laura Lacámara – A fun fantasy story about the power of music, or more specifically the power of someone singing

Strange Fruit by Gary Golio – A powerful look at the context of Billie Holiday’s signature song, giving a glimpse into the social circumstances at the time; a great addition to a study in protest music

Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! by Wynton Marsalis – Explore sounds and rhythms all around a young trumpeter’s New Orleans neighborhood. The publisher has a few resources to go with the book as well.

We All Sing with the Same Voice by J. Philip Miller – A cozy Sesame Street song all about diversity

For the Love of Music by Elizabeth Rusch – A look at the life of Maria Anna Mozart, growing alongside a brother who got to continue his musical career; a small piece of the story of why we know so many male composers and not as many female composers

Through the Town by Katie Howarth – Trace the paths and follow them with your voice; then students can make their own paths 

Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk – A lovely bedtime poem by a well-known Inuit throat singer, it is a great example of a lullaby

Music All Around by Gema Sirvent – This book comes with a recording and brings attention to the music in nature all around us

Little Melba and her Big Trombone by Katherine Russell-Brown – Listen to some of the musicians and styles mentioned in the book, learn about (and listen to) Melba Liston, and jazz instruments

My Family Plays Music by Judy Cox – Students can play the instruments played by the narrator, and you can use each spread to talk about a different genre of music

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters – An artefact of its time and the development of Chicago blues, this shows how his commitment and creativity led to a legendary sound

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock – Learn about the connection between visual art and music, and develop interpretation and abstract thinking through the eyes of Kandinsky 

The Song Within My Heart by David Bouchard – Look at the emotional and cultural connection to one’s community through musical participation, and how an individual listens to their heart and connects to their culture through music

Stand Up and Sing by Susanna Reich – A longer book about Pete Seeger, sharing and participation in folk music, and how music was a vehicle for activism; pair with any number of his songs

Every Little Thing by Cedella Marley – An adaptation of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” lends itself to SEL discussions, Orff arrangements, and discussion about mood and expression

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy – Provide some social and historical context to the song

The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson – One child listens to the sounds around him in a busy world; could lead to an interesting discussion about appearance and the value we put on music based on what society tells us rather than what our ears and hearts tell us

Snow Sounds: An Onomatopoeic Story by David A. Johnson – Explore onomatopoeia and environmental sounds; look at how a story can be told through sound, and create the story using instruments and vocal/body sounds

Gabriella’s Song by Candace Fleming – Discuss musical interpretation and how we all bring our own experiences to create meaning from music

Looking for more diversity in your library?

Diverse Book Finder

We Need Diverse Books

Social Justice Books

Diverse Books Facebook group

Want to read more about auditing your books?

10 quick ways to analyze for racism and sexism (World of Words)

Guide for selecting anti-bias books (Social Justice Books)

Reading Diversity webinar (Learning for Justice)

Using picture books to develop musical thinking
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