April 20


Ten Picture Books to Engage Special Needs Students by Jill De Farno

My favorite part of being a school librarian is reading to students. I regularly read to kindergarten and first grade students. Once a month I have storytime with all kindergarten, first, and second grade classes. During this time I read a story and then do an activity or make a craft. However, there is one group of students that I miss during this time – the special needs students in our self-contained classrooms. In order to remedy this the ELL teacher and I talked to the teachers and decided to start a weekly storytime with each class. We realized as we started to plan that we needed to add something to this storytime. In order to engage the type of students that make up these classes we added sensory activities to go with each story. After doing some online research and talking to a public librarian who already has a sensory storytime program, we began a list of books and activities. Now in the second year of sensory storytime, we have read forty-six books to the classes. It’s something the students and teachers enjoy and we look forward to each week. After looking over the list and activities, here are ten books and activities that engaged our students.


I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison; Illustrated by Frank Morrison.

In the book the main character walks through her neighborhood keeping the beat in a variety of ways. The rhythm of the author’s words makes it easy for students to follow along with rhythm sticks and/or egg shakers.


The Napping House by Audrey Wood.

We’ve found that the students enjoy making music with a story. Due to the cumulative nature of this book, we assigned each student an instrument to play as a new animal came into the story. This gave students multiple opportunities to make some music.


Shake My Sillies Out by Raffi; illustrated by David Allendar

Students were clapping, jumping, and yawning as we sang this book together. The students like movement and this is a great way to have them copy what we are doing and follow directions.


Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes Story by Eric Litwin Art by James Dean

Pete is walking along in his white shoes when he encounters items that change the color of the shoes. This story lent itself for students to use touch. As Pete encountered different things students felt an item. For example, we had red pom poms for the strawberries, brown playdoh for the mud, and a wet paper towel for the wet shoes..


There is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me by Alice Walker illustrated by Stefano Vitale

This book uses poems to illustrate how the sky, rain, flowers, and other objects interact with the main character and her five senses. For the activity students are given a picture of each of the objects mentioned in the story, As we read the story students will put the picture of the object next to their part of the body.


The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

This classic winter story tells what happens when Peter wakes up to a snowy morning. At the end of the story students used wet potato flakes in a cup to build their own snowmen.


One Leaf Rides the Wind – Counting in a Japanese Garden by Celeste David Mannis; pictures by Susan Kathleen Hartung

This book is told in ten haikus which explain what a young girl finds as she walks through a Japanese garden. Using colored bingo dabbers students will add dots to the picture of the garden we printed for each student. For example, when we read about the miniature forest with three pots, students will add a dot to the three pots in the picture.


Festival of Colors by Kabir Sehgal & Surishtha Sehgal; illustrated by Vashti Harrison

Chintoo and Mintoo are getting ready to celebrate Holi, the Indian festival of colors. Throughout the book the two gather petals of different colors to make the petal-powders for the festival. For this story students waved colored scarves as each color was introduced and at the end when the festival is celebrated in the book.


Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim; illustrated by Grace Zong

This Chinese New Year version of the classic tale of finding what is just right worked perfectly with sensory squares. As Goldy Luck tries to find the just right congee and chair, students made a choice of which texture felt just right to them.


All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka

Hamanaka uses figurative language to showcase all the colors of children’s skin. The activity we have for this book is to put different objects into a box with potato flakes and have the students dig through to find the object as we read. For example, when we read “soaring eagles” they will dig for a small feather.

Connecting books with sensory activities enhances storytime for students with special needs but can be easily incorporated into any storytime.


Jill De Farno is the LMC Director at Builta Elementary in Bolingbrook, IL.