August 23


Top 10 Picture Books to Inspire “Classroom Habitudes” by Lesley Burnap

At the beginning of this summer I was privileged to hear Angela Maiers speak about her book, Classroom Habitudes: Teaching Habits and Attitudes for 21st Century Learning, and her movement, Choose2Matter. This passionate speaker and educator has encouraged me to be bolder. During day 2 of nErDcampMI, I found myself standing in line with my Twitter-friend, Ann King, to propose a session on Genius Hour. Now if that doesn’t sound too risky, consider this: I have not yet incorporated Genius Hour in my teaching AND I had only just met Ann in person the day before! It was a rewarding experience that has me excited for a new school year.


If you are unfamiliar with Angela’s work, she writes about the 7 habitudes (habits + attitudes) our students need to thrive and excel in their careers and in life. Building a classroom environment where imagination, curiosity, self-awareness, perseverance, courage, adaptability, and passion are expectations can be a daunting task. I plan to take baby steps and have my students work on just a few this year.


In the list below, I have 1 or 2 titles for each habitude, and I explore some reasons why I put each book under a particular category. Of course, most of these books would fit into other categories, as well, so please move them around and add your own titles as you see fit. (For additional suggestions, please see Angela’s book and check out Franki Sibberson’s Picture Books 10 for 10 list for Genius Hour on her blog, A Year of Reading.) Without further ado, I hereby present to you a top 10 of inspirational picture books for integrating these habitudes into your classroom.


going places

1) Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” states Albert Einstein, and for the book’s young daydreamer, Maya, that is most certainly the case. Convinced to work “outside the box,” straight-arrow Rafael joins Maya to create a fantastical flying machine for their school soapbox derby.



2) Journey by Aaron Becker

A young girl enters a realm of new possibilities through the use of her red marker. Such a gorgeous book! You need several readings to take in all that the illustrations have to offer. Without any words, children can tell their own version of this story.


Both Going Places and Journey are my choices for introducing imagination to my students. I love the element of fantasy in both books. The stories take us out of our normal, everyday lives and allow us to share in the characters’ adventures. Daydreaming and wondering “what if” have been the cause of some creative inventions and discoveries. Asking our students to invent their own soapbox racer, or imagine where the red marker will take them next, could be a way to give our students permission to have their own time for thinking and wondering.


on a beam of light

3) On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, pictures by Vladimir Radunsky


Always asking questions led Albert Einstein through a lifetime of discoveries and to even more questions! By starting when he was a boy, the thread of curiosity runs throughout the book. What I enjoyed most from this text is acknowledging that sometimes we don’t get the answers we seek. I also think that it is important to understand that mistakes can happen and that failure can be part of the learning.


Curiosity seems to be innate in human beings; however, by the time most children start school, this habitude is nearly extinguished. Some of our most clever people, such as Einstein, never give up on questioning the world around them. How can we, as educators, get our students to be more engaged in their learning? How can we help them continue to ask questions throughout their lives?


nelson mandela

4) Nelson Mandela words and pictures by Kadir Nelson

There are people among us who give their lives to their beliefs and we are left the better for it. Nelson Mandela was such a man. Mandela’s self-awareness guided him throughout his life, from studying hard in school, being separated from his family while in jail, and rejoicing in a new world at his release from prison and at the end of apartheid.


The habitude of self-awareness is one that will probably be a shade more difficult than the others for my young students. I think that if I focus on the word “choices,” it may help them understand that self-awareness has to do with our actions and our words. What kind of person do we present to the world? Exploring the traits of great leaders throughout time could be just one technique we use to help us look at ourselves.


the wednesday surprise

5) The Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Donald Carrick

Ah, bring your tissues for this one, folks! Young Anna and Grandma have been working on a special surprise for Dad’s birthday-a reading surprise! The joy that comes from the hard work necessary to become a reader pays off tenfold in this lovely story.


One skill that I need to work on with my students is building perseverance. I want them to know the benefit, if not reward, of sticking with a difficult problem or task. Often times it is much easier for children (and adults) to let go of the problem and resign yourself to failure. For helping students to understand perseverance, I also like to discuss practicing skills necessary for playing a sport or a musical instrument with my students. They can see the outcome (a better soccer player or guitarist) within a given amount of time.



6) Courage by Bernard Waber

This delightful book shares that courage comes in many forms, for many different circumstances. The situations presented in this story are ones children find every day, from speaking up for themselves to trying something for the very first time.


Talking with students after reading aloud this book, I would ask them to share times when they have been courageous. I like that the examples in Courage do not necessarily have to entail a huge undertaking, but can be small and personal.



7) Firetalking (Meet the Author) by Patricia Polacco

I have included this autobiography on my list because Patricia Polacco’s story is a beacon of hope for students, especially those who struggle in our classrooms.  Polacco’s dyslexia has often been at the heart of her personal stories, most notably Thank you, Mr. Falker and The Junkyard Wonders.


Firetalking is a terrific way to introduce adaptability to students, noting the process that Polacco underwent to become a reader.

It is more than working hard; it is about the changes “Trisha” needed to make in order to be able to read.


amazing grace

8) Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch

There are many reasons why I love Mary Hoffman’s amazing book, but first and foremost is Grace’s strong desire to follow her passion! Grace wants the role of Peter Pan in her school play, but she faces classmates who tell her that she can’t do it. The message of “you can do anything you want” is part of the story itself, but is also highlighted through Grace’s response of never wanting the feeling of being Peter Pan to end!


clara and davie

9) Clara and Davie: The True Story of Young Clara Barton Founder of the American Red Cross by Patricia Polacco

This story follows another young girl, perhaps not as confident as Grace, but with the same light in her eyes. Clara and Davie is a retelling of the life event that shaped the course of the future founder of the American Red Cross. The passion that Clara demonstrates in her meticulous care of the farm animals, and later, of her brother, gives us a glimpse of the woman she will become.


Grace and Clara are two girls who have their path set clearly from a young age. The fact that they both get to do what they love is amazing! These books are a perfect lead into a discussion about passion: What drives your students, what they love to do and why! I also see this as an opportunity to discuss failure. It is important for children to note that sometimes things don’t always work the way we hope, for better or for worse. I believe that it is what we do with our success or failure that demonstrate our true selves.



10) Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas


Finally, I have to include this little guy, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. If you haven’t read his story, please go to your local library or independent bookseller now! Wilfrid makes an impact on the people he visits frequently in the old folk’s home next door. He uses what he learns about memories to help Miss Nancy remember hers in this beautifully written story.


I have added this book because the main character exemplifies what I hope to see in my students. He is the embodiment of these habitudes combined-a person willing to look beyond himself/herself and be of service to others. Wilfrid gives his heart. For really, what good are these habitudes if there is no one else involved?


Lesley is a third grade teacher in MA. This year she has attended 3 EdCamps (Grafton, Boston and Cape Cod) and 2 nErDcamps (Northern New England and Michigan). She is grateful to the Nerdy-Olive Garden friends who encouraged and supported her first Nerdy Book Club post. If she’s not reading, teaching, or playing with her dog, you can find her @auntierez.