Children’s literature in the Music Classroom

     Written by Patti B.   


                  A coworker of mine recently asked why I display children’s books in my music classroom.  To this latchkey supervisor, the association was unclear, but most music educators know the strong connection between music and the language arts.  Specifically for this blog, I will discuss the use of children’s literature in the general music curriculum.  The list is now extensive as to how many trade books can be used in music.  I have used many books with my students, and I have recently read some excellent articles that give me new insights and ideas on future ways to complement my curriculum.

                Currently, I possess numerous books that are simply songs transformed into picture books.  This is a great place for music teachers to start using children’s literature.  My students enjoy looking at the pictures and large printed words as I read and sing to them.  Eventually, I have the children singing along.  This is consistent with the whole- language method for reading.  These books can be used in a music center where students can practice their reading and singing skills at the same time.  The classroom teachers are thrilled with this valuable practice.  Here are a few of my favorites:

               This book not only teaches a famous patriotic song, but each illustration is a beautiful landmark of our country and correlates music to geography and social studies.   The African spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” also lends itself well to a social studies connection to African American history.  “The Star Spangled Banner” connects to history as well. 

                   The next way literature can be used is to find books that are about music and musicians.  This can include biographies and historical books.  However, the books might also be about normal even fictitious musicians and how they feel and experience our art form.  “Some trade books just tell a story, but others –special gifts to us –manage to give a glimpse of the ineffable feelings that musicians derive from partaking in music” (Miller, 2008).  Max Found Two Sticks (Pinkney, 1994) is one such book. 


Max imitates a real musician and is even praised by an accomplished drummer.  I have seen first-hand the power in the message of this book.  After it was read, a student announced “I am like Max,” and his classroom teacher and classmates witnessed him drum on a variety of items in the room.   His rhythms were advanced, accurate, and creative.  Fortunately, this young boy who struggled to be successful in other academic areas finally was able to “shine” and show his strengths to all of us.  This boy performed “Siyahamba” on the toms in our musical last year.  He improvised his entire performance. 

                  The final criteria I look for in children’s literature are the kind of books that teach musical concepts.  This is the most important use of books by music teachers.  A book can be an introduction to a skill and can provide a way to differentiate instruction to meet the learning strengths of all of our students (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile).  It is important to remember that these books are enhancing our curriculum; however, they should not take the place of personal experiences with music.  Here are two of my favorites:

 Dinosaur Roar (Strickland & Strickland,) assists in teaching dynamics, tempo, and vocal exploration. 

Mortimer (Munsch,) complements the study of timbre and melodic direction. 

The possibilities for children’s literature in the music curriculum are endless.  I located good articles that will aid my search for new books.  The idea of combining separate musical pieces to related children’s literature is covered well in a  General Music Today article called “Enhancing Musical Response with Children’s Literature” (Miller, 2008).   Several specific titles are given followed by lesson plan steps.  The author’s emphasis is the aesthetic rewards of music.  We need a balance in our curriculum between music skills and affective behaviors.  Children’s literature provides a way. Furthermore, I found numerous ideas on how to encourage composition through children’s literature.   Beth Ann Miller (2008) provides meaningful ideas through four books, The Happy Hedgehog Band (Waddell, 1991), Sing Sophie (Dodds, 1997), Pickin’ Peas (MacDonald, 1998), and Listen to the Rain (Martin & Archambault, 1998).  In closing, the possibilities are endless for using children’s literature to support the overall school curriculum and specifically the music curriculum.  I look forward to proudly displaying and using more books in my room very soon.


Bates, K., & Waldman, N. (2002) America the Beautiful.  New York: Aladdin Paperbacks.

Flohr, J.W. (2006).  Enriching music and language arts experiences.  General Music Today, 19, 12-16.

Key, F.S., Cate, M. F. & Franken/Corbis, O. (2002).  The Star Spangled Banner, New York: Scholastic.

Miller, B.A.  (2008).  A harmonious duet: Music and children’s literature.  General Music Today, 21, 18-24.

Mohr, F., Gruber, F. & Kincaid, T.  (2006).  Silent night.  Morgan Hill, CA:  Harper Collins.

Munsch, R. N. & Martchenko, M. (1985).  Mortimer.  New York:  Annick Press Ltd.

Nelson, K.  (2005).  He’s got the whole world in his hands.  New York: Dial Books for Young Readers.

Norworth, J., &  Gillman, A. (1999).  Take me out to theballgame.  New York:  Aladdin Paperbacks.

Paul, P. M., (2004).  Enhancing musical response with children’s literature.  General Music Today, 17, 6-16.

Pinkney, B. (1994).  Max found two sticks. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Strickland, P. & Strickland, H.  (2001).  Dinosaur Roar.  New York:  Puffin Books.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Stephanie K.
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 20:07:59

    This is a wonderful post. Since this is my first year teaching general music, I am always looking for new ideas. With the big emphasis on reading and writing and the push to include it whenever and wherever we can, this post is even more relevant and beneficial. The connections between music and the language arts are undeniable. In fact, language art skills are very likely used and strengthened in general music classes on a regular basis. I, personally, love using children’s literature as part of my general music curriculum, and the students really seem to enjoy it, too. The younger students, especially, love to see the pictures that bring the story or song to life. As Patti mentioned, there are many books out there “that are simply songs transformed into picture books.” Books such as these strengthen music and language arts skills at the same time. Students can read while they sing along.

    My last blog post was about how we can use singing to help our students learn better. Well, this is the same idea. Even when students are too young to be able to read every word, books can reinforce the words they do know and improve understanding of correct grammar and word flow. But, the connection does not have to stop there. Based on the examples that Patti provided, the benefit of using children’s literature in music can even extend to history, geography, and social studies. While I agree that it is wonderful when we can help our students improve in areas other than music, I especially love it when we help them make new music connections. As Patti stated, “a book can be an introduction to a skill and can provide a way to differentiate instruction to meet the learning strengths of all of our students (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile).” That is so true, and it is definitely my goal as a music educator to teach in a way that accommodates all learning styles.


  2. amyfatek
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 17:52:18

    What a fantastic post! I love the different purposes of the text that you shared. Making connections to other core subjects is very exciting, but like you and Stephanie, I love when it makes a musical connection also. “The Jazz Fly” did this great for my kindergarten students. I think about how I might make this connection for middle school kids too.
    Today’s middle schoolers love the Harry Potter Collection, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Twilight, and many others. I think we can make connections like we do in elementary school with teenagers books of today. I loved reading about Greek mythology in the Percy Jackson books and thinking, “I wonder if my students know what kinds of music the Greeks listened to”. I think any way we can make connections for students we are helping them put together a puzzle that leads them to a much better understanding. They might understand history, culture, music and even themselves when we make connections like Patti and Stephanie have shared.
    I always tell my band students to practice their instruments while doing something they already like to do to create a practice routine. Many of my students LOVE to read and end up reading a chapter and then practicing for ten minutes and then reading a second chapter and practicing for another ten. What if what they read was connected to what they were learning in band? It just makes sense! It would be so much more meaningful!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: