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Picture Books for Bundles of Nerves

By Katie Schaefer

To all the teachers and students- happy beginning of the school year! I’m always nostalgic at this time of year having taught elementary and high school art for many years. A fresh art room and newly unboxed art supplies are the best!

But just because I was super enthusiastic to have students back doesn’t mean my students were always eager to jump into learning something new- something they hadn’t done before- something hard. With the first few weeks of school in the bag, everyone is in the midst of hard work. Below is a list of books and coordinating activities to encourage you and your kids to hang in there, stick it out, and keep trying. Remember, it’s hard because you haven’t learned how to do it- yet!


Woo Hoo! You’re Doing Great! book coverWoo Hoo! You’re Doing Great! by Sandra Boynton
Learning new skills, even fun ones, takes time. Sometimes we just want to be good at it right now- it was guitar for me. It seems like so much fun to play when you are already an awesome musician. This fun and encouraging book by Sandra Boynton is the perfect cheerleader! Chicken will remind you how awesome it is that you are learning something new even when it’s challenging.

Activity: Create posters to use in your classroom or at home to cheer on your classmates and family when they are working on something hard. What phrases would encourage them? How can you make it look bold and happy? Add a handle so you can hold it up. When you are done be sure to keep them nearby to wave around when someone needs to be reminded they are doing great.

Suggested materials: cardstock, drawing materials of your choice, popsicle stick, tape.


You Go First book coverYou Go First by Ariel Bernstein
This one is for the recess reluctant. This sweet story is about friendship and how our fears can hold us back from new thrills. Cat’s fears about the new swirly tall slide at the playground are preventing not only them from taking a ride, but also their best pal Duck who is eager and excited to slide.

Activity: Dream up the wildest, scariest, most thrilling new playground equipment- one that would make your knees quake and make you say “maybe next time”. NOW DRAW IT! Don’t leave out any of the details. When you are finished it’s time to try it out. Draw yourself using it. What type of facial expression do you have? Are you excited? Are you terrified??

Suggested materials: drawing paper, drawing materials of your choice.


I Can’t Draw book coverI Can’t Draw by Stephen W. Martin
This is 100% a book I would read over and over again in my art room. This book shows the many ways we can improve while also celebrating that there are no good or bad artists, just many styles and strengths. Max doesn’t think he can draw, especially compared to the super talented Eugene. Eugene shows him lots of ways he learned to draw to help him improve- using from drawing books to tracing. Max tries it all and eventually starts to miss his wild imagination finding its way into his drawings.

Activity: Pass the drawing. You will need at least two people. Everyone gets their own drawing paper. Start by drawing one thing on your paper. This can be a shape or something more complex. When everyone finishes drawing their one thing, pass your paper to the next person. Everyone will add one thing to the drawing they received. Keep passing until everyone has added something to everyone’s paper. Now hang them up and go on a gallery walk to see the collaborative drawings. *If you are only working with two people you can pass the paper back and forth as many times as you’d like.

Suggested materials: drawing paper, drawing materials of your choice.