Art and Literature Round-Up

Children’s picture books make the best art projects. Sometimes I use the illustrations for inspiration, other times, I read the book to the class and create an art lesson around it. If I read a book, it’s mostly fiction, but every now and again, a non-fiction book makes a perfect read-aloud.

Here are my favorites with their accompanying art lessons:


Kevin Henkes is my literary hero. I could create an art lesson out of any one of his books…he creates the most perfect read-aloud stories; simple, brief, great page-turns and wonderful illustrations. I adore Birds. The illustrations by Laura Dronzek inspired the Collage Bird Art project above.



Sometimes it’s hard to find a non-fiction book to read in an art class. I pick up the book for the inspiring illustrations, but I also look for great text. If the text is too long then it just doesn’t warrant a read-aloud session.


Chameleons Are Cool: Read and Wonder has the best illustration to demonstrate watercolor techniques: splatter painting, salting technique, wet-on-dry, wet-on-wet, etc. It’s a buffet of watercolor! For my older students, I used waterproof markers, liquid watercolor paints and watercolor paper but to simplify it for younger children, you may want to opt for crayons or oil pastel and regular paper with watercolors. Here is my Watercolor Chameleon inspired by the book.


Wow! America just might be my favorite book for art inspiration. Unfortunately, it is out of print but you might be able to snag a copy through a second hand dealer or through your local library.  Neubecker’s illustrations are a perfect base for an art lesson! I did The Grand Canyon, Upstream Salmon, Space Shuttle and Lady Liberty.

I picked up Raptors, Fossils, Fins and Fangs: A Prehistoric Creature Feature from The Los Angeles Museum of Natural History. As soon as I saw the cover, I knew I had found a lesson for my 4th grade class. The drawings in this book are detailed, fantastical and colorful. A few boys in 4th grade loved the Pre-historic Art project so much, they stayed in during recess and lunch to finish it. And that’s never happened before!

I hope you are inspired by some of these picture books. Do you have a favorite book that you use again and again in the art room? If so, please share it with us in the comments.

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  • Laura

    I love Patricia Polacco and Lois Ehlert books! Thanks for the Rocky Mountains with out you posting about Wow America, I might never had found it! 🙂

    Laura at Paintedpaper

  • The Orchard

    Those look great! Have you done any art projects based on Leo Lionni books? I love his books and art.

    Thanks for sharing,

  • Keri Pye

    These are GREAT ideas for books I’ve never heard of…I’m going to get them! I always use Leo Lionni and Eric Carle books of course but I’m always looking for new ones 🙂
    Thank you so much–I love your website!!

  • Stephanie Needham

    My favorite is Leo Lionni’s “Swimmy”I use this with my kindergarten to teach them about bonding with their classmates since I teach in a K-12 school and they are together for a very long time. We do little red fishes and make a collage,and I am always happy with the results .Sometimes we revisit the book in first grade and we do tissue paper collage like the jelly fish. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  • Anya

    Great books and awesome ideas!

  • ashley

    I love your book selection…I use One Red Dot to introduce paper sculpture…

  • Angela Rubin

    Patty this is thr best most inspiring web site ever. Thanks for all your hard work

  • Christie

    I like to use Bill Martin Jr.’s Ghost-Eye Tree for the tree silhouette idea. I also love What a Wonderful World (based on the song) and Wonderful Happens. I forget the authors of these two books, but I like to use them together.

  • jess

    This post rocks! I have been searching out the Kevin Sherry book. It is not at many libraries here in Green Bay. I also love Leo Leoni books for Kinders. I have used Elmer the Elephant books with Kinders the last 3 years and have had great success. 🙂 Thanks for the awesome post again.


  • Lauren

    Hi Patty! I’ve done similar lessons for Mister Seahorse, and I’m the best artist in the Ocean, too! I love using children’s literature as an inspiration for art lessons. Here are the links to those:

    Have a wonderful day!!

  • Nicky

    One of my favorites is “Hooray for Fish!” by Lucy Cousins. Wonderful for teaching line variety to the little guys.


    Do you have art lessons to go with the art ideas for the literature books? I know you have an example of what you did (ex:seahorse) but I’d like more direction, as I am not artistic in the least 🙁

  • Patty Jones

    I love the book Elmer for my kinders. The children can decorate their elephants either as Elmer or the other elephants dressed up all colorful for Elephant Day. I’ve done it as both a crayon resist and a just crayon project (great for a guest teacher). The kids LOVE this book and project – and it makes a super cute display!

  • Linda

    Hi Patty,
    Thanks for all your inspiration. I use picture books by an Australian illustrator, Sally Morgan. She blends a modern take with traditional Aboriginal artwork. I like to use these books for inspiration: Sam’s Bush Journey, Dan’s Grandpa, In Your Dreams.

    Hope you enjoy them 🙂


  • Jennifer Day

    I love your lessons, just looking at the paintings and the beautiful colours fills me with joy. But just one thing, I live in Australia, any chance of an example or two of art work linked to literature featuring some Australian animals? I’ll give it a go myself, but many of our illustrators have a much more line based, and more subtle colours in their illustrations (see Mem Fox’s “Koala Lou”) Any chance of incorporating some Aboriginal symbols or patterns?? If I have a go myslef I’ll let you know.

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