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Children's Picture Books and Story-Time Themes for Preschool Lesson Planning

A parent of toddlers for more years than she can count, Carolyn loves children's literature, the American West, and photography.

For many in the northern hemisphere, January is a month of short snowy days. In this month the flurry of holiday activities is finally drawing to a close, and I've had my fill of books about snowfall and snowmen. Still we find ourselves in the middle of bleak mid-winter weather. I enjoy livening up this season of short days and cold weather with stories of quilts, soup, and teddy bears. But even if your January is balmy and tropical, these topics may still be a fitting addition to your library story hour. If you filled your December story hours with books about Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah, you may want to check out my story time themes for December, which can be used for further inspiration in January.

January is also a month of new beginnings, with the New Year holiday celebrations, organizing our spaces, and getting physically fit. For young children, that might mean some stories about household chores. For your January preschool and library children's story hour, consider some of these theme ideas:

  • New Year's Day
  • National soup month
  • Warm up with quilts
  • January 18 A.A. Milne's birthday, author of Winnie the Pooh books
  • January 31 Rosemary Wells' birthday, author of Max and Ruby books
  • Everything bears

New Year's Day Preschool Storytime Theme

New Year's celebrations around the world focus on fun traditions that you can highlight during your story hour. These books focus on traditions surrounding Asian New Year's celebrations, and on new beginnings. Chinese New Year (also referred to as the lunar new year) is actually celebrated in 2010 officially on February 14th, and is the year of the tiger. In the U.S. and especially in my neck of the woods, we are celebrating other holidays and festivals at that time, so I prefer to present ideas for this wonderful and vibrant holiday in January's listings instead.

New Clothes for New Year's Day by Hyun-joo Bae (ISBN 1933605294) A young girl dresses in a traditional Korean costume for her New Year's celebration.

P. Bear's New Year's Party: A Counting Book by Owen Paul Lewis (ISBN 1883672996, Tricycle Press) Is a counting book about a polar bear and all of the animal friends he has invited as guests. This book also teaches telling time, and shows a clock with a traditional hour and second hand on each page.

My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz (ISBN 0805070761, Henry Holt) is a children's picture book geared to the younger preschool aged crowd. It introduces customs such as money envelopes, hair cuts, and new clothes—and of course, a New Year's parade with a dragon. The vivid illustrations create a celebratory mood in this book.

Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin (ISBN 0375837450, Knopf) is another great book for telling about Chinese New Year celebrations. While you are at it, check out Grace Lin's other wildly popular young adult novel, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (ISBN 0316114278, 288 pages). This children's novel uses elements from traditional Chinese folktales, but is an original work of fiction, rather than a retelling of a folktale. Or explore some of Grace Lin's other excellent picture books to learn more about non-stereotypical Chinese American traditions.

Buy New Year's Books Online

Soup Preschool Storytime Theme

January is national soup month, and a cup of warm soup is a simple but healthy comfort food on a cold winter's day. Most of my selections are picture books, but I couldn't help but also mention Despereaux, the novel that made such a movie splash during the 2008 holiday season. If you aren't familiar with the folktale, stone soup, the various retellings presented here are must reads. This story has a timeless and hopeful message that promotes cooperation in times of hardship and are great for a character education curriculum.

The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo and Timothy B. Ering (ISBN 0763625299). Remember, I couldn't help mentioning this book. You could read an excerpt from this book if you are a lively story reader, but it is not a picture book. This book is also available as an Amazon Kindle download.

SouperChicken by Jane and Herm Auch is the heroic story of a chicken who sees the writing on the wall when she and her mates are sent not to a spa, but to a chicken soup factory! This zany book creatively drives home the importance of literacy and reading. Please read my full review of this title.

Bear Sleep Soup by Jasper Tompkins (ISBN-10: 0671752782) is the story of a family of bears preparing for hibernation just as the first snowfall of winter begins. In this story, all the bears eat a special, magical soup that helps them to fall asleep. Baby bear, of course, thinks the bear sleep soup tastes yucky, and avoids eating it, which results in Baby Bear being up all alone.

Stone Soup by Heather Forest (ISBN 0874836026) is an updated version of the traditional folktale about townspeople who are tricked into making a delicious stone soup, which is made much tastier by the addition of a few vegetables. Reviewers claim this version is a bit too heavy-handed, but I like it for a story time crowd. It is straightforward and the illustrations are colorful and pleasing.

Stone Soup by Marcia Brown (ISBN 0812447581) was published in 1946 and has simple line art illustrations. This version of the story may be familiar to some of the parents and grandparents of the children you are reading to. This version of the story features French soldiers as the good-natured but hungry protagonists in the tale, and focuses on the soldiers' creativity in the face of the villager's suspicion and ends in dancing, singing, and friendship.

Soup Books Online

Quilts Storytime Theme

Stories featuring quilts capture the essence of home, heritage, family, and community. One of the books about quilts is also featured in my unit for September, which features books about grandparents. Most of these books are a little long for a preschool-aged crowd, but they are very enjoyable to read, and will work well for early elementary grades. If you are a teacher looking for books to complement a character education curriculum, these books will make an excellent source for discussion and possibly even action.

The Name Quilt by Phyllis Root (ISBN 0374354847) is a touching story about a girl, her grandmother, and a special quilt with the names of many relatives, both living and deceased. The quilt is a special comfort item but it is blown away in a storm. This story concludes with the beginning of a new tradition, and highlights the importance of family in our lives.

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The Kindness Quilt by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace (ISBN 076145313X) is a story chiefly for classroom teachers to share with their students, but it is noteworthy because the story has a strong character education component. This story is also a bit long, and tells of a young student (depicted as a bunny) whose teacher challenges her to perform a kind deed. As a result, she performs several kind deeds, and creates a kindness quilt to share with her class. The class and the school are so inspired by her quilt, they decide to join in.

The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau (ISBN 0439309107) is about a gifted quiltmaker whose talents bring her to the attention of a greedy king. Though she is known for giving her quilts as gifts to the poor, instead of selling her fabric works of art, the kind demands that she give him a quilt too. This story has beautiful colorful illustrations and a strong moral, but is a very long story. Most elementary aged students will enjoy this story, but if you share this story in a preschool story hour, prepare to condense the story for younger attention spans.

The Quiltmaker's Journey also by Jeff Brumbeau (ISBN 0439512190) is the prequel to The Quiltmaker's Gift, and tells the story of a wealthy young girl's discovery of poverty and need in the world outside of her own sequestered life. This story looks more deeply at giving to those in need, and I have to wonder if the author drew his inspiration from the story of the Buddha? The illustrations and the quilt patterns on each of these books are engrossing works of art and make the books an appealing grandparent gift for the family quilter.

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco is the story of a Russian immigrant's family heritage through four generations. Oma's Quilt similarly is a multi-generational quilt story, but focuses on the social issue of moving an elderly grandmother into a nursing home.

The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy and Jerry Pinkney is a Reading Rainbow Book that won the Coretta Scott King book award for promoting peace, brotherhood, and non-violent social change. This tender book is the story of a family whose matriarch decides to make a patchwork quilt, because "A quilt won't forget, it can tell your life story." This book shows how one family's quilting tradition helped to strengthen the family. The feeling of this story, while not overly sentimental, is deeply touching. I hope you will get a copy and read it. It is a lengthy story, so probably will not work for a preschool story hour setting, but would make an excellent addition to an older first grade classroom or older.

Buy children's books about quilts online

Bears Storytime Theme

Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a classic fairy tale that can be told in a myriad of ways. I recommend that you tell the story using teddy bears, props, or flannel board pieces, but you can also read a storybook version by James Marshall or another author.

Corduroy by Don Freeman (ISBN 0670063363) is one of those well-loved stories that hardly needs introduction. This story of the little bear in the toy store who goes looking for his missing button is charming and full of sentimental memories for many parents who grew up reading it. Check out A Pocket for Corduroy, the book's sequel.

Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury (ISBN 0744547814) is a must-read for story time. This book uses the familiar chant as the basis of a whimsical story of a family's hike in the woods. You can read this story and go on your own bear hunt through the library!

Bear Wants More by Karma Wilson (ISBN 068984509X) Bear wakes up from his hibernation nap and now he is very hungry. The colorful animal characters and repetitive refrains in Karma Wilson's books make them great choices for storytime reading. The animals are friendly and lovable. If you read this story, you may want to note that Bear stars in a series of books, including a Christmas-themed Bear story (Bear Stays Up for Christmas). Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson is the prequel story in this series that would also make a great complement to Bear Sleep Soup.

Any story time unit about bears would be incomplete without mentioning three classic books by Bill Martin and Eric Carle. Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? and its sequals, Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear? and Panda Bear, Panda Bear What Do You See? are perfectly paced for story time reading to preschoolers. This book presents a cast of different colored animals using the same sing-song text through the end of the book. The second book focuses on the sounds animals make at the zoo.

A Perfect Day for It by Jan Fearnley resembles the Karma Wilson bear stories, but this winter-themed adventure is a playful twist on snow play, and has a strong element of anticipation, which will keep young listeners guessing to the very end. What is it a perfect day for? The end of the story includes a large fold-out poster that shows bear and his animal friends doing something really fun!

Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne is another beloved children's classic. The actual Milne stories are wonderful lap reading, but you will probably have better success during your story hour reading one of the colorful adaptation stories using the characters from Milne's tales.

Buy books online


htodd from United States on October 22, 2011:

Thanks great post..Nice

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on January 28, 2010:

Thanks Ann Nonymous. If you read all 50 or so of my children's book hubs, that may help, lol! Actually, if you are looking at a good list of books as an overview, there are so many places to start, but do check out this list of titles I've compiled:

I wish you luck in your efforts to become a published author!

Ann Nonymous from Virginia on January 28, 2010:

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? How I remember having to memorize that book in school! (Although I believe I only remember the title now!) I wish to be a published author someday and do not want to limit myself to just adult non-fiction...I want to write children's story books so I better get reading to see what they like...and renew the books of old that I used to read over and over..Great selection and good job compiling them, wannabwestern!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on January 24, 2010:

Thank you oliversmum, I'm glad you found me here! Enjoy your Grandchildren while they are still young!

oliversmum from australia on January 24, 2010:

What a wonderful selection of books,our Grandchildren would thoroughly enjoy reading them,sometime soon I hope.Thank you.:) :)

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on January 04, 2010:

Thanks Dim, I appreciate you for stopping by to comment. Happy New Year!

Dim Flaxenwick from Great Britain on January 04, 2010:

Great hub. I'd be fascinated to read 'my 1st chineese new year. ', but ALL the books look so, soooo good. x

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on January 03, 2010:

Thanks Bearclawmedia, I appreciate you stopping buy to check it out.

Lisa, thank you again. I haven't read that one, but I will have to do that now. I just did a search for it on the internet, and it looks like a wonderful story. I see it also won the Coretta Scott King award. It looks like a wonderful book for a story unit on grandparents, family history, quilts, or even Black History Month.

Lisa Simon on January 03, 2010:

Another great job on recommending books for kids! I found some new ones about quilts which I will have to check out."The Patchwork Quilt" by Valerie Flournoy is another quilt story involving a grandmother and granddaughter making a quilt together.

bearclawmedia from Mining Planet Earth on January 03, 2010:

Great images, great hub!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on January 03, 2010:

@Frieda: I agree the illustrations in this book are wonderful. I've always been fascinated by quilt block patterns, and we have a family quilter who makes some amazing quilts. My mother-in-law restored some quilts started by her ancestors at the turn of the century, so the quilting books hold special sway with me. The Quiltmaker's Gift would make a perfect play. The author drew from a verbal storytelling tradition with this story. I'm glad you enjoyed these stories!

@Dohn: I love the Corduroy stories too, and I've been a fan for a long time, like you. :) Wishing you a happy and hopeful New Year. I hope this is the year you find a publisher and break out with your novel!

@Hello, hello: Thanks for your comment. I know I can always count on you for a positive word.

@Lily Rose: Eric Carle is probably my personal favorite children's book author, but as I discover new writers, this is always open for debate. But Going on a Bear Hunt is one of the absolute best story time books, because you can build a complete story hour around this one book, including a lively bear hunt around the library. Thanks for your comment. I'm glad it also has a special place in your family!

Lily Rose from A Coast on January 03, 2010:

We're Going on a Bear Hunt was a favorite in our house for a long, long time - it's a great book to act out while reading with your kids! Eric Carle is a huge favorite, too, and many others you mentioned. Great choices!

Hello, hello, from London, UK on January 03, 2010:

A great and wide selection of lovely childrens' book. Thank you

dohn121 from Hudson Valley, New York on January 02, 2010:

You came up with some really great recommendations for Children's books as always). I still remember "Corduroy" and have fond memories of that book. Your timing is impeccable. I sure do hope that you sell a couple of these gems!

Happy New Year!

Frieda Babbley from Saint Louis, MO on January 02, 2010:

Great selection of books! My son was in a play of "The Quiltmakers Gift". My youngest read the book the following year, great read. I highly recommend all of Nancy Wallace's books. Her illustrations are fantastic.

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