Whenever I tell people that I am a middle school teacher, they almost always respond with some version of “Bless your heart!” or “I could never teach middle school!” People always seem shocked that anyone would enjoy working with that age group! I usually just smile and say, “It’s not for everyone, but middle school students are special, and I love them.”
I really do love them! Middle School is a unique time—they aren’t really young children anymore, but they are also don’t have the maturity level of high schoolers.
While middle school students are beginning to feel the freedom of independence, they are still just babies at heart and I believe that some small part of them longs to hang on to their childhood just a little bit longer.
This is why I never shy away from using children’s books in my classroom! Despite the fact that many middle school students look like grown up men and women, they love a good picture book!
I Nearly Chickened Out…
One of my favorite teaching memories is when I had planned to use a picture book to illustrate a concept to my 8th graders. I had it displayed in the front of the classroom and had written it on our daily class schedule on the board. But, to be completely honest, I chickened out. I thought that there was no way these half-adults would be interested in this book. I thought that they would think it was so childish and lame!
So, I skipped reading the story without saying anything.
Towards the end of class, one of the boys (I say, “boy,” but he looked like a NCAA linebacker) raised his hand and asked why I didn’t read the story! I sputtered for a minute and finally said, “Honestly, I just thought you guys might be too old for picture books!” The entire class erupted in protest claiming that they were the perfect age for picture books!
[I’m not a complete half-wit. I realize they were stalling because they didn’t want to do their assignment.]
Nevertheless, I read them the story that day and they all listened respectfully and seemed genuinely interested and engaged.
[I can’t claim they were thrilled later when they had to finish their assignment as homework! 😊]
After that, I wasn’t afraid to read a picture book to my students when it made sense. Even if students grumbled a bit under their breathe, they always seemed to enjoy it!
Six Great Picture Books for Middle School Read Alouds
I’ve made a list of some of my favorite picture books to read to middle school students.
Henry & the Buccaneer Bunnies – Carolyn Crimi and John Manders
I love reading this book with my reluctant or remedial readers! Henry is that tale of a bunny who is a pirate, but doesn’t want to be a pirate. All he wants to do is read his beloved books! While the other pirates make fun of his reading, in the end, they learn to appreciate all the things reading can do for them.
All the Ways to Be Smart – Davina Bell and Allison Colpoys
This picture book is also a favorite of mine to remind my lower-leveled readers that there are many ways that intelligence presents itself. Just because students may not excel in English literature or Geometry doesn’t mean they aren’t smart! I love reminding students that they have value and worth and something to contribute!
My Monster and Me – Nadiya Hussain and Ella Bailey
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I love The Great British Baking Show! (PSA: The new season will be available in the U.S. soon!) I discovered this show while I was pregnant with my fourth child. I give it full credit for helping me survive what felt like the gestation period of an elephant! My favorite series was filmed in 2015 (Collection 3 on Netflix in the States) when [SPOILER ALERT] Nadiya Hussain won! I loved watching her grow and overcome adversity throughout the season. I’ve watched that series at least four times and I cry at the finale every time.
When I heard that she wrote a children’s book, I bought it without even knowing what it was about! I couldn’t have been more pleased with this lovely book! My Monster and Me tells the story of a young boy who is plagued by a monster that follows him every where he goes. The adorable story is the perfect allegory for teaching children about dealing with anxiety or other mental health issues! It helps them see that talking to someone about our giant problems somehow makes them grow smaller. I think that it is a big part of our jobs to help students learn skills to manage their mental health!
Be Kind – Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill
Be Kind is the perfect story to illustrate how one person’s small actions can make a big difference in the world! One small kind act can lead to another and another! If everyone makes a small effort to spread kindness, the world would be a much kinder place to live.
Tough Guys (Have Feelings Too) – Keith Negley
Tough Guys is a quick read that I originally bought to help my four-year-old little tough guy deal with his big feelings. This little story helps break down stereotypes that boys and men shouldn’t show emotion. Similar to My Monster, Tough Guys helps promote social-emotional healthiness in our students!
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates – Ryan T. Higgins
I adore this story! I laugh out loud nearly every time I read this book! It’s the adorable story about a dinosaur attending school for the first time—with humans as classmates! This story helps promote kindness and learning empathy for others!
Well, there you have it! My favorite picture books to read to middle school students!
Have you tried sharing picture books with your students? What has your experience been? I’d love to hear from you!
All the Best,
Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)