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Silly, Funny, and Ridiculous Picture Books for Reading Mentor Texts

One of the reasons that I love picture books is that they are often humorous and appeal to the sense of humor of our upper elementary students. The following books are perfect for teaching theme, plot, sequence, making connections, and more! They are fun and will serve a purpose in your classroom.

If you see any books that you don't own, you can click the image to find them on Amazon!

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath

First, I learned so many things about President Taft that I didn't know. I had to Google how big he was after reading this book. 

In this hilarious book, President Taft gets stuck in the bath. His wife tries to offer a suggestion to help him, but he ignores her. Instead, he calls in the vice president and all of his secretaries to help him get out. They overthink the problem and struggle to get him out. Finally, they work together to get Taft out of the tub. This book is oddly funny, yet can be used to teach students to find theme. I believe that this book shows students not to overthink problems, not to ignore people who are offering helpful ideas, and to work together to solve problems. It is also a great way to show the plot structure of a story and identify the problem and solution. 

The Good Egg

I really loved The Bad Seed, so when The Good Egg was published, I ordered it right away. I love it just as much. The Good Egg is great when teaching theme, describing characters, or if you need a story with a clear plot.

The Good Egg is trying so hard to help others make good choices that he cracks. He can't take the pressure of perfection in himself and others. When he takes a relaxing vacation to work on himself, he realizes that he misses the rest of his crew, but that he needs to take care of himself first. 

Stuck

What is Floyd doing?! When his kite gets stuck, you won't believe what he does. He throws one of his shoes to try to knock down the kite. The shoe gets stuck. He throws the other show into the tree. Stuck. He gets a ladder. He throws it into the tree. Stuck. He repeats this over and over again. You and your students will be rolling your eyes when you read the crazy things that he throws into the tree. You'll be cracking up once the kite finally falls out of the tree and you see what Floyd does. 

While this book is more hilarious than academic, it is perfect for using to help students practice questioning. After all, I questioned every. single. thing. What is he thinking? Why would he do that? How isn't anyone noticing this? 

This book is also full of LONG sentences as he repeatedly throws things into the tree. It almost reminds me of The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. The sentences would be perfect as a lesson in making corrections to their writing.  

Nerdy Birdy Tweets

This book is silly and sweet at the same time. It shares the perfect lesson on a topic that is totally relevant to our upper elementary kids. Nerdy Birdy discovers Tweetster. As she is busy making five hundred new Tweetster friends, she doesn't realize how much she is driving away the only true friend that he had. It is a great book for teaching or reviewing theme and finding evidence to support their conclusions. 

Wordy Birdy

We all know someone who can not. stop. talking. Maybe it is a student. Maybe it's your own child. For your students, maybe it is their sibling or a classmate. Either way, I think we can ALL relate and make connections while reading about Wordy Birdy's lesson in listening. This book is perfect for teaching students to make connections, outline a plot structure, or find a theme. 

The Book with No Pictures

Some books can just be read for pleasure. Some books don't need a reading skill or a purpose. This book is just written to embarrass the reader and make the listeners laugh! 

Dude

The only word used in this entire book is DUDE, yet there are seriously so many things that you can do with this book. You could use it to talk about punctuation and how your voice changes depending on a period, question mark, or exclamation mark. There are also amazing themes hidden in the book, such as learning to not jump to conclusions and helping those around you. I also think it is absolutely perfect for students to practice making predictions and inferences. 

President Squid

This book is just FUN to read aloud! Squid has five reasons why he should be the president. He wears a tie, has the biggest house ever, he's famous, he likes to talk, and he would be good at being the BIG BOSS! Once he meets a Sardine, his thoughts change. Whether those changes are for good or not...🤷🏻‍♀️

It's a silly book that my students LOVED having read aloud. We used this book to talk about a story told in the first person point of view, but you could also use it to review sequence, making predictions or synthesis. 

Using Mentor texts is fun way to teach or review reading comprehension to upper elementary students. These digital and printable graphic organizers are a fun way to engage , whether you utilize mentor texts in centers, small groups or the whole class. November is a great time to have fun with books about parades, and being thankful, while also incorporating other stories will deeper subjects requiring the kids to focus on the story more. {3rd, 4th, 5th, reading comprehension, fall}
If you are interested in the graphic organizers that I used in the pictures for Mentor Texts, you can find them in my TpT store, by clicking here. Included in the file, you find both digital and printable versions of each graphic organizer!

4 of My Favorite Picture Books for Teaching Main Idea & Theme

I teach theme, and I teach main idea. But, I also spend a week teaching them TOGETHER. While they are very, very similar, there is also a bit of a difference. I think having students see the difference is critical. I do this as part of my theme unit, so my primary focus is theme. 

I teach theme as a lesson that your dear old granny might say. Something profound and full of a life lesson. The main idea is just a sentence that tells what the WHOLE passage/story/article/etc is about. 

Below, you'll find four mentor texts that I like for teaching both skills at once. I feel like realistic fiction or nonfiction style books lend themselves well to both skills, but they certainly don't have to be. I like to present my kids with books that have real life themes. 

By clicking on any of the pictures below, you can find them on Amazon. 

Unspoken

I love books that can be used for a variety of skills. This wordless book is extremely simple (but SO deep) and can be used to introduce or review many reading skills.

Unspoken is about a girl who notices someone hiding in one of their small outbuildings. The setting is during the Civil War, which leaves students to infer that this mysterious eyeball she sees is a runaway slave. Without any words in the book, we can see the main character is helping this runaway by feeding them and avoiding soldiers that are looking for runaways.

Theme: Helping others do difficult things is always worth the risk. 
Main Idea: A young girls helps a runaway slave escape using the Underground Railroad. 

Me...Jane

I'll be honest, I almost put this book back on the shelf. I thought I had read so many short stories and passage that I probably knew enough about Jane's story and wouldn't be interested in this book. Boy, was I WRONG! This picture book shares the curiosity that Jane experiences as a child that led her to research gorillas in Africa as an adult. This book is full of themes and perfect for sharing with students, whether they know about Jane Goodall or not!

Theme: Hard work, dedication, and following your heart can make your dreams come true.  
Main Idea: Jane's natural curiosity and love for nature led her to a career she loves. 

She Persisted

What does it mean to persist? What do many people do when someone tells them no...or they can't...or that something isn't possible? They quit. But not the thirteen women that are described in this book. Each two page spread cover shares one paragraph about the trials and difficulties about one persistent woman and an explanation of how she persisted.

Theme: When others tell you that something isn't possible or that you cannot do something, persist. Keep working and never give up. 
Main Idea: Thirteen women persist to overcome major obstacles in their lives. 

On a Beam of Light

We've all heard of Albert Einstein. We know that he was extremely smart and inquisitive. His curiosity, hard work, and commitment to constant thinking and wonder led to major mathematical and scientific accomplishments. These are ALL things that students can learn by hearing Einstein's story told in this picture book. I loved learning about his life, especially how odd he was. Even his own parents considered him different when he didn't speak, like typical children. It's an amazing book filled with so many lessons that inspire you to ask "questions that have never been asked before and dream ideas that have never been dreamt before."

Theme: Even if others find you odd or different, be yourself and continue to go where your imagination, curiosity, and questioning take you. 
Main Idea: Albert Einstein's life of curiosity led him to discover so many new things about the world around him. 

5 Reasons I LOVE Using Picture Books for Teaching Theme

I love to use picture books to teach theme. To be perfectly honest, I love to use picture books for teaching EVERY reading skill. They are often the foundation of what I do when teaching theme for my students. They are memorable, easy to digest in one sitting, funny, easily accessible, and suitable for all reading levels.

They are short. 

I absolutely love to read novels to my kids. I love how I can weave so many reading skills into a novel. I love how we can do so many other side activities with our novel. And I also love to be able to let my kids just relax and enjoy a good book. The problem? They take so. stinkin'. long. With picture books, they are short, sweet, and to the point. You can crank out several in a week. You can give your students multiple opportunities to practice a particular reading skill. 

I think a healthy balance of novels, picture books, and reading passages are critical for allowing students to be able to generalize skills throughout many aspects of reading comprehension.

They are funny. 

Maybe it's just MY personal reading style, but I love the humor that is inside so many great picture books. Creepy Carrots? My 5th graders loved it. The Book with No Pictures. They loved it! Bedhead. It was easy to relate to and absolutely hilarious. 

So many of our kids can be engaged with just a little bit of humor.

They are memorable. 

I don't care who you are, you probably have a favorite picture book. You probably have some books that you remember. Maybe it was the first picture book that you remember reading by yourself. Maybe it was a series of picture books that you always loved. Maybe you remember a book that one of your favorite teachers loved, and therefore, you loved it too. Whatever the reason, there has to be a picture book that you remember.

They appeal to many reading abilities.

If a picture book is well chosen, it will appeal to many reading abilities. I am 31 years old and still love a great picture book. My lowest level students, who are identified for special education services, they love a good picture book. Your gifted student in class will also enjoy a well written picture book. 

Since I am usually using the book to teach a skill, I am reading the text aloud. You don't have to be the highest reader in the class to follow the comprehension skill. By reading it aloud, I am removing the barrier for many of my students. 

They are easily accessible. 

Between my personal collection, the public library, my school's library, teacher friends, and Amazon, I can always find a picture book to fit my needs. Since I have young kids at home, we often take a library trip each Monday. I grab usually 10-12 books that I think might work for next week's skill. When I take them home to read them, I am often able to weed out several books that just don't fit that I am wanting. 

If I have one that I really love and I can't think about not being able to use or remember it the following year, I order it on Amazon. 

Also, a simple and helpful tip that I got from a friend of mine years ago--Create a Google Sheet with all of the picture books that you own and use for teaching reading, writing, or other skills. Then, you can sort it by different reading skills when you are looking for something. I also love to use this when I'm at a conference, garage sale, or book store. I know if I already own it. 

Using Mentor Texts to Teach Reading Skills: a Weekly Routine

I love to use pictures books to teach various reading comprehension skills. I think that students of all ages LOVE to listen to a picture books. They are short and easily digestible, and students are also able to relate to the content or sense of humor that comes with a picture book.

But how do I use picture books in my upper elementary classroom? Well, I start by finding 4-5 books that lend themselves to the reading skills that I am covering for that week. I utilize the I do, we do, you do method to help them master the reading skill.

Monday: Introduce the Reading Skill

Each Monday, I introduce a reading skill, typically with a PowerPoint, anchor chart, and graphic organizer. This day is all about ME! I model exactly what I'm thinking, and I choose a book that will allow me to do exactly that. For the first ten reading skills that I teach, I have a blog post with the books that I use to model introducing the reading skill

When I'm reading aloud, I stop and fill in the graphic organizer. I write the things that I'm thinking or the details that might help me make a visualization, draw a conclusion, or provide text evidence. This component will always vary depending on the reading skill that I'm covering. I might call on my students occasionally to ensure that they are following me, but overall, I am modeling the reading, thinking, and writing. 

Tuesday & Wednesday: Guided Practice with the Reading Skill

Remember how I said you would need 4-5 picture books or mentor texts to follow this framework? For Tuesday and Wednesday, you'll need two more. With this part of the routine, I think my kids need the opportunity to have guided practice. This time, they have the graphic organizer and we work together to read the text and complete our graphic organizer. It gives them the opportunity to practice in a safe space. They aren't being graded or pressured to read the text on their own--just practice. 

Thursday: Practice the Reading Skill

By Thursday, they are usually tired of that graphic organizer. I also use the same graphic organizer during our Guided Reading Groups. But that also means, they are getting pretty good at understanding how to use it and what I am expecting. So, I turn them lose. I read the text. I take it slow, but I keep my mouth zipped! We aren't sharing thoughts, answers, or ideas initially. We are just reading and recording. 

After they've completed their graphic organizer and have had plenty of time to gather their thoughts, I show my graphic organizer. Often times, I complete this as my students are doing their graphic organizers, I just don't put it under the document camera. Then, I share it once we are finished. I try to stress that my graphic organizer is not the only possible answer. If we are working on drawing conclusions, there isn't always ONE right answer. There are some that might be better than others. There are some that have better text evidence, but those are the conversations that we have together. 

Friday: Show Me the Reading Skill

On Friday, in lieu of doing a traditional reading test, I usually give my students the same graphic organizer and we read a picture book together. Choosing a book that is easy enough for your students to complete independently and also really demonstrates the skill you are targeting is key. I also try to find a PDF version of the book online or use the school's scanner to give the students a copy of the book. This allows them to go back in the text when they are working on their own. 

This is the only time in the week that they are graded on doing this skill independently. 

4 Reasons Why Graphic Organizers Boost Reading Comprehension

If you have followed my blog for long, you know that using graphic organizers is seriously something that I wouldn't be able to teach reading without. I believe that they help boost students' ability to understand what they've read. Below, are four reasons why I believe that graphic organizers help to boost reading comprehension for upper elementary students.

Graphic Organizers Give Readers a Purpose

Graphic organizers give students one mission when they are reading. Some of our students are so overwhelmed by the words on the page. They've been taught this skill or that skill. They've worked hard to decode various words or understand specific vocabulary. We know author's often write with a purpose. Well, readers need a purpose too. Why are we spending time reading this particular passage? By giving students a graphic organizer, you are allowing them to stop focusing on everything else and only focus on comprehension and practice a specific skill.

I love to use graphic organizers in science and social studies. The text in the science or social studies book can be overwhelming! In one particular section, what is the ONE thing you want your kids to focus on. In this particular section, I wanted to know what caused the crowd in Boston to grow larger and cause them to become violent. 

Graphic Organizers Help Readers Do Complex Things

Have you ever had something that seems so challenging or difficult, but once you do the first three steps, you realize how easy it is? I have done this so many times with so many things. Most of our reading tasks are simple IF we are able to take them one step at a time. I believe this about even difficult things that we are forced to shove down our students' throats for standardized testing. 

If I'm struggling to support an open-ended question with evidence from the text, I'm going to be overwhelmed by the fact that there are so many sentences in the text. I won't know where to start. But, if I've been trained to use a graphic organizer, writing four to five sentences to explain my answer will be a piece of cake after a LOT of practice. Graphic organizers help them do more complex skills by breaking down their thinking into manageable pieces. 

Graphic Organizers Make Differentiating Easy

I love to give different graphic organizers to different students. At a quick glance, they look similar. In reality, maybe I've provided an inference for students who need more support. Maybe I've provided sentence stems. Maybe some students aren't ready for difficult reading skills, like finding theme, when they need more help just understanding what the setting of a story is. Various groups of students could have different graphic organizers while reading the same or similar texts. 

Graphic Organizers Help Improve Writing

Writing is so hard for my students. I don't know about yours. To get ANY type of organized writing out of them feels impossible. When it comes to standardized testing, kids never know what to put on that planning page. Enter--THE HAND-DRAWN GRAPHIC ORGANIZER! 

After we have used graphic organizers over and over and over again during reading. They know exactly what they are looking for when it comes to their own writing. Well, they may not know it right away, but they can be trained to know what to write.

What You Need to Know about Using a Graphic Organizer to Compare Two Texts

I have a crazy obsession with graphic organizers. I can't explain it. Maybe it's my special education background, may they just relate to my own learning style. I don't know. Whatever the reason, I feel like my kids really benefit from utilizing graphic organizers when they are reading.

Since I love them so much, it would only make sense that I think they are very useful when comparing two or more themes. But I don't believe you should just throw them at your students and expect them to be ready for them. First, you need to do a few things.

Have a Clear Understanding of Story Elements & Theme

Comparing two texts in order to answer open-ended questions, multi-part questions, or a writing prompts is too complex for some readers. While you can't avoid these complex skills all together, make sure that your students have an understanding of basic reading skills, such as setting, characters, problem and solution, and theme.

Train them to Write Comparison Categories

When we first begin comparing two texts, I often have my students use a graphic organize where I have filled out the center column with different categories. However, I work to transition them away from ME doing it and more on THEM knowing what we are looking for as we read. After a lot of modeling, practice in small groups, and guided practice, they eventually get to the point where they know exactly what they are comparing. This also gives them a purpose for reading.

Fiction and Nonfiction Categories

Comparing fiction and nonfiction passages can be very different. When comparing fictional passages, I teach my students that we will almost always be comparing the same things--the Characters, the Setting, the Problem(s), and the Theme. I have them write those four things on their graphic organizer every single time. 

For nonfiction, you *might* use some of the same categories, but often times, you'll be using content specific categories, such as life skills, work ethic, responsibility, and time manage. These were all key ideas that were discussed in two passages about students doing chores every day. Train your students to begin thinking about what the big ideas are in each text. 

Model What to Write

They'll have absolutely no idea what to write down at first. Some students will want to write down literally every. single. little. thing. Other students won't write down anything. They are too overwhelmed to know what is important. 

I like to train my students to write down bullet points. In some cases, you might have a LOT of information about the setting, but in other stories, there might be very little information. That's ok. I once taught with a teacher who made her kids write down four things in every box on the graphic organizer. That's excessive in some cases and not enough for other passages. Model what your thinking is as you read and what types of information is important. 

Model During & After Reading

I also think it is important to model recording information on our graphic organizer as we read and after we read. We can't always share what the theme is until we've finished the passage, but we might be able to jot down things about the setting or something about the problem. 

I like to explicitly tell my students that we might write down things while we read, but we also MUST take time to add things to our graphic organizer after we are finished reading the text. 

Say NO to Using a Venn Diagram

I don't mind using a Venn Diagram with younger students. Venn Diagrams are perfect for very simple information or students who will be overwhelmed by LOTS of information. They are perfect for younger students who are beginning to understand surface level comparing and contrasting. However, I don't believe it's fitting for comparing two or more texts on a deep, upper elementary level. 

To me, I think the purpose of a graphic organizer is to help them beyond just reading the text. Often times, they will have reading comprehension questions or writing prompts to help them dive deep into the similarities or differences of two passages. I don't think this graphic organizer allows students to organize their similarities and differences.

I love using this topic to help my students practice comparing the information in two paired passages. By clicking the image above, you can find the printables in my TpT Store! 

How to Break Down the Skills to Teach Theme

Before I go any further, teaching theme is HARD...like really hard. Why didn't anyone teach me a sequence or developmental process for learning and teaching theme. When I first started teaching, I would just dive in. I'd find cool activities that practiced theme. Then, a few weeks later, it would come again in our textbook curriculum. And again. And again. And again. I was just hodge-podging my way through my reading lessons. I wasn't doing anything to build off of the previous experience to help my students better understand what theme was or how to answer theme related questions.

Think of teaching theme as this huge big umbrella that has many subcategories under it. You can't just teach this giant, abstract thought called theme. You have to break it down in a way that allows students to grow and progress, just like they would any other academic task. They need to do it one step at a time.

How do you do that, you ask? You teach smaller sub-skills to help your students master identifying the theme of a text and using details from the text to support their answer.

Step One: The Character Learns a Lessons

Before trying to have your students learn these deep life lessons, have them read a book where the character learns a lesson. Ask questions that require them to tell what advice the character might give to someone else. What will the character do next time? 

This is a very simple question that will allow your students to begin understanding that there is sometimes more to a story than just reading the words on the page. 

Step Two: Universal Themes

I find that my students really struggle to put their lessons or themes into words. Because of that, I like to give them a list of ideas to get them started. I have them think about types of themes that are included in many stories. There are countless books on friendship, bullying, being responsible, and trying your best. Those are all universal themes. They appear in so many books, movies, and short stories. 

They also need to think about diving deeper into a universal theme than just sharing a one or two word answer, like friendship or trying your best. Teach them to dive deep and describe the specific lesson that the character learned about friendship or trying your best. For example, "The character learned that if you don't try your best, you can't be disappointed by the results." 

Step Three: Main Idea vs. Theme

Students often confuse Main Idea and Theme. In some curriculum, they are taught as the same or similar things. While they are SUPER similar, a book or passage can definitely have BOTH! Both of these terms describe the message that the author is wanting to share with the reader. However, the theme is specific to a lesson that the reader may learn after reading a passage. 

Main Idea: The character in this story is disrupting class to hide the fact that he doesn't understand the work. 
Theme: It is ok to ask for help when you need it. 

The theme is often an inference that the reader makes, meaning you will be working to transfer from simple lessons that the character might have learned to more general lessons that apply to many people. 

I think it is important to understand the difference between these two to help students form answers when they are writing open-ended questions. Is the question asking about a lesson that was to be inferred or did they ask what the entire thing was about?

Step Four: You vs. Author

We infer the theme of a story because of two things--our background knowledge and the inferences we make based on what the author has written. 

I think it's important to help students realize that the author has written specific words to help readers relate, understand, or infer something specific. Using their background knowledge, they can relate or infer the a life lesson that has been shared. 

Step Five: Details vs. Evidence

I have some students who are REALLY good at telling me what the theme of the story might be. Yet, when they begin supporting their answers with details from the text, they STRUUUUUUGLE. When we are thinking about the higher level responses that students will be expected to give, they must be able to find textual evidence. 

It takes practice for them to be able to determine if a sentence from the text is a detail or if it is evidence. Many times, they are picking out sentences that are good, but they don't support what the reader said was the theme. 

Example: 
Question: Should Aubree have studied for her test? 
Answer: Yes, Aubree should have studied for her test. 

Evidence: When Aubree went to take her test, she had NO IDEA how to spell any of the words. 
Evidence: She panicked, but it was too late! 

Detail: When her mom brought her dinner, she packed up her backpack. 

See how that detail has NOTHING to do with proving that she should have studied? That is what your students do. Or at least, that's what mine often do. Help your students sort between details and evidence. Not all details from the text are helpful when you are supporting your answer. 

Step Six: Multiple Themes in One Text

I love when you read a book aloud and students are sharing MANY themes about so many different topics. This is beautiful and shows the varying levels of thought and background knowledge of your students. Find a text that has so many themes and have your students practice finding them! 

I like to use Post-It Notes and have my kids write their theme on a Post-It each time we discover a potential theme. They want to fill Post-Its, and I like that they see how many themes were hidden in the story. They can also see different perspectives from their classmates. 

Step Seven: One Text with Multiple Themes

This is always the end goal. It's also the difficult thing for students to do independently. But as a teacher, it is so much fun to teach and opens the door to so many fun activities and discussions. Find books that have similar or related universal themes. It's such a great way to allow your students to compare and contrast, cite evidence from multiple sources, and see how pieces of literature support one another. 

If you are like me, I need help finding mentor texts and knowing what questions to ask my students. As I researched and trial and error-ed this sequence, I kept track in a Google Doc file with the books that I liked for each skill and the types of questions that worked well to help my students see each of the following steps above. 

In this file, I prettied up my Google Doc so you could print it and keep in your lesson plan book. Grab a few mentor texts that I've listed or add a few of your favorites where they fit.