actual size March 19



Whenever I started a new unit or inquiry with my second grade students, I always found a picture book that became a way in, a gateway if you will.  I used the books as a broad introduction before we got into the nitty-gritty details. As our studies continued, I would share more picture books that expanded upon on our group knowledge.  I thought of it as almost like the first book opened the door to a long hallway and as we shared more books and discovered more things together; the rooms off the hallway were opened up for the kids to explore.  I’ve always felt more comfortable in thes fictional world, so using picture books as the first stop on the journey into facts, research and scientific information made me feel more confident in my teaching.  Here are the Top Ten best picture books I found to introduce units of study:


everbody needs a rock

Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall

Without fail, every year I started our inquiry of rock and minerals with this book.  As the narrator gives her top ten rules for finding the perfect rock, I could see my students thinking about what their perfect rock would look like.  Of course the next step was to go outside and find our rocks, observe and write about them.


an island grows

An Island Grows by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrated by Cathie Felstead

This book talks about how rocks are formed and from there, islands and vegetation, which leads to farming and towns…you get the idea. This text kicked off our study of soil after our study of rocks, building off of what we knew.  The text also lends itself well to choral readings and acting out the different pieces of the story.


diary of a worm

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss

When it was time to learn about compost, what better way to do it than from the worm’s perspective?  After we got a peek into Worm’s life, we would spend the morning observing actual worms and wondering what it was like for them to be in our compost bin.



Why? By Lila Prap

 The kids’ interests and questions directed my independent research unit. In order to help them start thinking about what questions they wanted to ask about their topic this book was perfect.   The book asks a question about an animal and then gives several silly answers and one real one.  It’s a great way to get students thinking about questions and answers.


Shark Vs. Train, written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, and published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld

Oh I wish this book was around when I was teaching! It would have been the perfect follow up to Why? by having the students think about ‘what if?’  The humor and cleverness of this book as the text and illustrations explore who would win in a competition of shark vs. train and would have sparked the interests and imaginations of my students


My Heart

My Heart is Like a Zoo written and illustrated by Michael Hall

With all the books about shapes out there, this is one of my favorites. The subtle sweet story will have children finding shapes wherever they look.  Doing an art project after reading this book is almost a given!


swirl by swirl

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman illustrated by Beth Krommes

I pick anything up by these two.  I love how Joyce Sidman writes and I adore Beth Krommes’s illustrations. This book is no exception; there are times when the pictures left me breathless. What a great way to introduce shapes and geometry to students by having them think about one shape and all the ways it appears in nature and the world around us.


all rhe water in the world

All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon and Katherine Tillotson

George Ella Lyon is such a talented poet and this book is no exception. What better way to get students thinking about the water cycle than this lyrical, rhythmic picture book where readers start to understand that “all the water in the world is all the water in the world.”   This one is so much fun to read out loud as well and Tillotson’s illustrations create a visual feast.


actual size

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

I could use any title by Steve Jenkins here, but this one is an old standby. I used this to introduce measurement and scale, but also connected it with our animal research projects. Students loved comparing parts of their bodies with Jenkin’s paper collages and then making their own ‘actual size’ pictures.


library mouse

Library Mouse written and illustrated by Daniel Kirk

So this book wasn’t used to introduce a science or math concept, but it was the foundation for our writing (which we did in all subjects.) I started the year off by sharing this book with students. The next day there would be a present left in our classroom, upon opening it students would discover tons of stapled blank books that the Library Mouse left us to get underway our yearlong (hopefully lifelong) inquiry into writing.


Kari Allen taught second grade before currently staying home with her two book-loving kids.  She works with the National Writing Project in New Hampshire coordinating and teaching camps for young writers and running workshops and conferences for teachers about the best practices for teaching writing.  She can usually be found in a bookstore, thinking about children’s literature or rearranging her bookshelves in order to cram more onto them.