Since school visits are usually pretty short, no more than half an hour or so, I usually start with a spiel about the library and all the cool things that we have. Then I demonstrate with one of my favorite picture books and finish up by book talking a few of our other awesome options, either more picture books, great non-fiction titles, or chapter books depending on the age of the class and what I've been brought in to talk about.
Here are my absolute favorite picture books, titles that I've found work really well with large groups of kids with varying attention spans, all the way from 1st to 5th grade.
by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex
So the key that I've found is silly and random. Keep the kids guessing as to what is coming next, because the worst thing a read aloud in a room full of know-it-alls can be is predictable. When Billy Twitters doesn't clean his room, his punishment is a blue whale to take care of. But how do you take care of something so big it doesn't even fit in your house?
by Oliver Jeffers
Stuck is the story of an exceptionally strong boy and an exceptionally grabby tree. When Floyd's kite gets stuck in a tree, he throws item after item into the tree to try and free his kite. The escalation of items thrown and the misuse of seemingly obvious ideas (if you get a ladder, you climb it, duh) keeps kids guessing and groaning until Floyd is in bed, the entire adventure but a hazy memory.
by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri
Grumpy old men and silly, silly squirrel antics. Everyone can scream "THOSE DARN SQUIRRELS" as they shake their fists. Good times abound.
by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri
Another Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri. This is actually the first book of theirs that I found. It's the randomness of this book that makes it so winning, tangents break off the main story line, mimicking a children's train of thought consciousness perfectly.
by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
What constitutes a fair trade is a pretty solid discussion topic. Suspending disbelief for a second that anyone's father would abide by such a trade, are two goldfish worth as much as a dad that sits on the couch and reads his paper all day? What about an electric guitar? A gorilla mask? Bunny rabbits!?! The illustrations in this book add a lot to the story so it's worth passing the book around afterwards so everyone can see all the small details.
by Jonah Winter and Majorie Priceman
Of all the non-fiction books and bios I've tried as classroom read alouds, this one always plays the best. The text is sing-songy, call and response-y like a great jazz song and the story of Josephine Baker's life has different points of interest for kids at all different ages. The race riots section and the discussion of black face were useful with 5th graders talking about segregation while EVERYONE zooms in on the illustrations of her pet cheetah.
by Satoshi Kitamura
Millie's Marvelous Hats has such detailed illustrations that it's a pass around, point out kind of book for sure. The amount of imagination lends well to group discussion and dramatic play afterwards. It skews a little younger, say kindergarten to 2nd grade.
by John Perry and Mark Fearing
I've talked before about my love of The Book that Eats People, I only include it in Honorable Mentions because it also skews younger. Children older than 3rd grade are sometimes too cool to be scared by a book like this and it looses it's effectiveness exponentially in grades thereafter.
by Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studio
And finally, a great read that skews older. I usually use this one with 4th and 5th graders, due to the sheer length. In terms of readability, Jonah Winter once again proves himself as the master of short form non-fiction. Finding the obscure story of a boat filled with garbage, the poor man who had to haul it around and all the towns/cities/ports that rejected it was a stoke of luck. Winter wields a deft hand in making this call for ecological sustainability way more exciting than it is preachy.
And that's it for me. Have you got any favorite picture books that you use on class visits or with older kids? Tell me!