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Investigating Picture Books to Teach Mood and Tone Effectively
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Using picture books to teach mood and tone will help your students better understand emotion, develop deeper comprehension, and practice critical thinking by Teaching Tone and Mood through engaging picture books. Unleash the power of stories to improve reading comprehension and literary understanding – all with a single picture book!

Investigating Picture Books to Teach Mood and Tone Effectively

Why Read Picture Books to Teach Mood and Tone?

Using picture books to teach mood and tone offers a unique combination of visuals and text to help your students better analyse the tone and mood portrayed by the author. 

So, what is tone and mood? A book’s tone is essential in creating the setting and atmosphere the author wants the reader to experience. Mood is a powerful tool to make readers feel a certain way and can change depending on the author’s intention. 

Picture books work well in Teaching Tone and Mood because they provide space for interpretation. You can explore how we feel, think, and react to different emotions by utilising illustrations and storytelling techniques within a book. By examining the story structure, characters, dialogue, setting, and author’s point-of-view, readers can infer the writer’s intentions. 

Additionally, students will have an easier time understanding the complexity of some emotions through illustrations. Authors create stories with certain tones to evoke certain emotions in their readers, and you can use your observations of the picture to help you determine the story’s tone. 

Look for expressions on faces, words used, and the colours and shades used. Consider how the characters feel if the author is trying to make you feel a certain way and how the pictures make you feel. By reflecting on these elements, you can gain insight into the story’s tone and better understand the author’s intent.

Not only can picture books teach mood and tone to provide vivid visual context, but the characters’ conversations and interactions enable readers to connect with and explore emotions from multiple perspectives.

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Picture Books to Teach Mood and Tone

Alte Zachen: Old Things by Ziggy Hanaor

Benji and his grandmother, Bubbe Rosa, walk around New York shopping for Shabbat. Bubbe Rosa is elderly, irritable, and a little confused. She thinks of good and bad memories from her childhood in Germany. Surprisingly, this past appears in front of her while shopping with Benji.

Promotes discussions on intergenerational relationships, identity, and religious and cultural traditions.

Alte Zachen: Old Things by Ziggy Hanaor

Amma’s Sari by Sandhya Parappukkaran

Shreya initially feels awkward about her mother’s sari when they go outside their home. Amma explains to her the importance of the sari, and Shreya learns to appreciate her cultural identity as she navigates the world outside her immigrant family. 

Read to promote discussions on acceptance, cultural identity and asking questions.

Amma's Sari by Sandhya Parappukkaran

The Barnabus Project by Terry Fan

Strange animals kept in glass bell jars in a mysterious laboratory are failed attempts to make the perfect pets. Destined to be recycled, Barnabus, half mouse, half elephant, takes action to reach his goal of freedom. Through teamwork with his fellow captives, he does what it takes to reach the outside world.

Use to discuss self-acceptance, cooperation, courage, following your dreams, friendship and embracing imperfections.

The Barnabus Project by Terry Fan

The Bird In Me Flies by Sara Lundberg

Berta Hansson grew up on a Swedish farm and dreams of being an artist. With her frail mother ill in bed with tuberculosis, she had to take on extra responsibilities. Her childhood builds a determination to follow her dreams to be an artist… “Because I have a bird inside me that must fly where it will…”

This translated biography prompts discussions on believing in yourself, following your dreams, courage, and determination.

The Bird In Me Flies by Sara Lundberg

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

The first of two picture books to teach mood and tone by Levi Pinfold. A family is afraid of a large black dog outside their home. As they each spy a dog through their window, it grows in size and menace. It is the smallest member of the family who discovers the dog is not what the rest of the family imagined.

A book to promote a growth mindset, open-mindedness, risk-taking and courage.

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem by Amanda Gorman

A young girl bands together with a group of children to influence change in their community. They realise they have the power to change the world for the better, big and small, with their words and actions and inspire others to do the same.

This first-person narrative poetry book promotes conversations about a sense of community, change, unity, hope, cooperation, kindness, activism and a growth mindset.

Change Sings Activities and Comprehension Questions

The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy

This poem celebrates the Christmas truce between the British and German soldiers, enemies during World War I. Amidst the horrors of the trenches, there was an unexpected truce. The soldiers met in No Man’s Land and sang songs, shared girls and played a game of football during the temporary ceased fire. 

Read The Christmas Truce to promote discussions on conflicts, compromise, similarities, compassion, peace, poetry and points of view

The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes

A young black boy expresses the importance of a visit to his local barbershop. He poetically describes how a fresh cut makes him feel like a king and the excitement of being surrounded by other men from his community.

Promotes relationship skills, self-esteem and self-confidence.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes

The Dam by David Almond

Kielder, in Northumberland, is rich in legend and folk music. The village is abandoned to make way for a new reservoir. Before the water fills the valley, a father and daughter return. The girl plays her fiddle in each of the empty homes to honour the music that once filled the village. Based on a true story, the villagers chose to sing and dance in memory of their home that would end up beneath the water.

Read The Dam to promote discussions on change, music, musicians, loss, and memories.

The Dam by David Almond

The Dark by Lemony Snicket

The dark frightens Lazlo. The dark beckons him to come to the basement when his nightlight goes out. Lazlo tentatively goes into the basement, where he thinks dark lives, and the dark leads Lazlo to a drawer full of light bulbs.

Promotes confidence, risk-taking, perseverance and overcoming fears.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket

The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo

A girl befriends a new girl, Saida, who she thinks has lost her words because of her silence. She learns Saida speaks Arabic and has moved from her home in Morocco. They share their languages and learn about each other’s culture, which helps Saida feel welcome in her new home.

Use this translated book to discuss immigration, communication, open-mindedness, empathy, and respect.

The Day Saida Arrived by Susana Gómez Redondo

The Day War Came by Nicola Davies

The first of two picture books to teach mood and tone by Nicola Davies. A girl returns home to find a bombed-out hole. Alone, she follows a stream of refugees to an immigration camp. She visits a school but is turned away because there is no chair for her. That evening she is visited by a boy who brings a chair with him – a chair to sit on and learn.

Reinforces themes of courage, fears, immigration, perseverance and tolerance.

The Day War Came by Nicola Davies

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

A tender glimpse of the relationship between a father and son and two unique cultures. Based on the author’s own childhood in Minneapolis, the reader learns about the difficulties of building a new life in an unfamiliar country.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

Chloe and her friends have been excluding the new girl Maya. When her teacher does a lesson on kindness, Chloe reflects on her behaviour and regrets “each kindness I had never shown.”

Promotes relationship skills, inclusion, kindness and reflection.

Each Kindness Activities and Comprehension Questions

Flood by Alvaro F. Villa

A wordless book about surviving a natural disaster. A family rides out an oncoming storm but flees when it gets too bad. The returning family find their home in ruins, which they decide to rebuild.

Flood by Alvaro F. Villa

The Fragile World by Alexandra Mîrzac

A conflict, with a long-forgotten reason, exists between the Reds and the Blues in a china cabinet. The Blue wanted to have what the Reds had, and after trying to paint the Reds blue, an all-out war began. When everything is destroyed, the Reds and Blues realise they are stronger together.

Read The Fragile World to promote discussions on conflict, tolerance, accepting difference, cooperation and war.

The Fragile World by Alexandra Mîrzac

Free Fall by David Wiesner

A boy falls asleep while reading a book. He dreams about dragons, a castle, creatures and strange objects in a fantastical faraway land. As his dream ends, he finds himself back in his bed.

Read Free Fall to promote discussions on wordless books, mood & tone, dreams, inference, interpretations and asking questions.

Free Fall by David Wiesner

Freedom Soup by Tami Charles

Freedom soup is an important part of the Haitian Independence Day celebrations. Ti Gran and Belle dance and clap in the kitchen as Belle learns about the traditions of Haiti and the soup, including the history of Haitian slavery and freedom.

Freedom Soup by Tami Charles

The Garden of Inside-Outside Chiara Mezzalama

In 1981, Chiara moved to Tehran to be with her father, the Italian ambassador to Iran. She discovers a neglected, walled garden that seems a world away from the war going on in the city. A boy, Massoud, climbs over the wall and drops into the garden. Despite their lack of a common language, they make friends, and Chiara’s life changes.

This book, translated from French, supports discussions on conflict, asking questions, nature and communication.

The Garden of Inside-Outside by Chiara Mezzalama

The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon by Aaron Blabey

Annabelle Spoon haunts the town of Twee, and the townspeople are fed up. They want her gone. Herbert Kettle takes the time to listen and realises all Annabel Spoon wants is a friend.

Read The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon to start discussions on compassion, acceptance, loneliness and a sense of belonging.

The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon by Aaron Blabey

Grandad’s Camper by Harry Woodgate

A girl listens to her grandad reminiscing about his life with gramps in their camper van. He no longer feels like travelling since gramps died. So his granddaughter plans to fix up the old camper van and take grandad out on the road again.

Promotes discussions on LGBTQ+ characters, grief, intergenerational relationships, enthusiasm, and memories.

Grandad's Camper by Harry Woodgate

Happy Right Now by Julie Berry

Happy Right Now lets children know it’s fine not to feel okay and find happiness in any situation. The reader learns strategies to help them overcome sadness and find moments of joy and positivity.

Read to promote discussions on emotional resilience, appreciationhappiness, mindfulness and mental health.

Happy Right Now by Julie Berry

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

As the seasons pass, a lighthouse keeper records every detail of his routine in his logbook. He records the family’s daily activities as the days pass with fog, strong winds and icebergs drifting by. When he falls ill, his wife takes over his role to keep the warning light shining and care for her husband.

Read Hello Lighthouse to promote discussions on the passage of time, daily life, responsibility, nature, the change of seasons and love.

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun

Told from the perspective of the Seoul subway in Korea. Each stop brings onboard new characters with different stories, dreams, hope, fears, and memories.

This translated book promotes discussions on different perspectives and points of view, first-person narration, setting, making connections, and hope.

I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun

I Go Quiet by David Ouimet

In a dystopian-looking place, a shy girl struggles in the world of noise. She sees herself as insignificant and finds solace in the pages of books. ‘When I read, I know there is a world beneath my branches.’ In her imagination, her words are powerful, and she realises that when she finds the courage, her words will have meaning in the real world.

I Go Quiet by David Ouimet

Into the Forest by Anthony Browne

The first of three picture books to teach mood and tone by Anthony Browne. A boy visits his grandma by travelling through the forest, against his mum’s instructions. He meets fairy tale characters in strange circumstances. Afraid, he runs to his grandma’s house, where he finds a surprise.

Into the Forest by Anthony Browne​

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari is determined to jump off the diving board, but his confidence wanes as he nears the ladder. His patient father reassures Jabari that it is okay to be scared. With new determination, he climbs the ladder and jumps.

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

King of the Sky by Nicola Davies

The second of two picture books to teach mood and tone by Nicola Davies. A lonely Italian boy moves to the Welsh countryside. An unexpected friendship with an old man who races pigeons helps him feel like he is no longer a stranger and that he belongs in his new home.

Read King of the Sky to start discussions on belonging, friendships, immigration, loneliness, and patience.

King of the Sky by Nicola Davies

Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead

Peter moves to a new house in a dark, unfriendly wood. He makes imaginary protectors, Lenny and Lucy, from a tall pile of pillows, blankets and string. Feeling safer, Peter meets his next-door neighbour, Millie, and discovers that his new home is not as dangerous as he imagined.

Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead

The Librarian’s Stories by Lucy Falcone

Inspired by the bombings of libraries in Sarajevo and Mosul. A librarian sits in front of a bombed library and starts to read. She returns every day, sowing the seeds of hope in those listening.

Use to discuss war, a sense of community, hope and the power of words.

The Librarian's Stories by Lucy Falcone

Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter

Lillian, a one-hundred-year-old African American woman, is determined to walk up the steep hill to her polling station to make her voice heard. During her journey, she remembers the difficult voting history of her family. After the passing of the Fifteenth Amendment, her great-grandfather voted for the first time, she witnessed her parents registering to vote, and she marched from Selma to Montgomery.

Lillian's Right to Vote by Jonah Winter

The Liszts by Kyo Maclear

A family are obsessed with making lists, from the ordinary to the unusual, except on listless Sundays. When an unannounced visitor arrives, the family continue writing their lists except for the youngest who takes a risk and embraces the unexpected.

The Liszts by Kyo Maclear

Migrants by Issa Watanabe

A group of animals are leaving an unknown situation. Exhausted during the journey through a forest, they are unaware they are being followed by death. They travel in a crowded boat to a new home where life seems a little brighter, but it is not without loss.

Use this wordless book in the classroom to discuss loss, immigration, and hope.

Migrants by Issa Watanabe

Paradise Sands: A Story of Enchantment by Levi Pinfold

The second of two picture books to teach mood and tone by Levi Pinfold. While travelling to visit their mother, a girl and her three brothers step into the mysterious Paradise Sands hotel. Inside, the brothers fall under the spell of the Teller. The girl is cautious and makes a deal with the Teller to set her brothers free. It is a deal that comes at a price, but a deal she is willing to follow through.

Read Paradise Sands to promote discussions on decoding illustrations, love, selflessness, determination, responsible decision-making, word choice, character traits, prediction, and inference.

Paradise Sands: A Story of Enchantment by Levi Pinfold

Small in the City by Sydney Smith

In this practically wordless book, a girl searches a large, desolate city covered in snow while her mother waits at home. Initially, it seems she is talking to the reader, explaining how to survive in the city, but we later find out she is talking to her lost cat. Use to promote different perspectives and points of view.

Small in the City by Sydney Smith

Sonam and the Silence by Eddie Ayres

Sonam lives in Kabul, where the Taliban banned music. One day, she follows the sound of music and finds an old man playing a rubab. She returns daily and is filled with joy when she hears the music. The man gives Sonam a rubab, but she doesn’t play because of the ban, and soon her world is filled with the sounds of war. Depressed, she returns to the old man’s home and realises the music is within her.

Read Sonam and the Silence to promote discussions on courage, curiosity, repression, joy and the effects of music.

Sonam and the Silence by Eddie Ayres

A Story About Afiya by James Berry

Afiya wears her white dress every day. As she goes about her day, the dress becomes imprinted with memories of her day, including sunflowers, flowers, fish, butterflies and tigers. She washes her dress every night so it is ready to record more memories.

A Story About Afiya by James Berry

The Station Cat by Stephen Hogtun

A lonely station cat brings life to the grey station and the grey passengers. She helps the travellers with loss and loneliness by filling their lives with hope, kindness and colour.

Read the station cat to promote discussions on kindness, hope, loneliness, compassion, poetry, loss and grief.

The Station Cat by Stephen Hogtun

The Tin Forest by Helen Ward

An old man living in a gloomy wasteland of old metal scraps dreams of a forest full of colour, animals and sunshine. One day he decides to make his dreams a reality.

The Tin Forest by Helen Ward

The Tunnel by Anthony Browne

The second of three picture books to teach mood and tone by Anthony Browne. Two siblings discover a tunnel. The brother rushes in, dismissing his sister’s fears. When he doesn’t return, she finds the courage to follow him. 

Promotes themes of facing our fears, cooperation, curiosity, responsibility and being a risk-taker.

The Tunnel by Anthony Browne

Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz

A young boy thinks about his father digging for coal while he listens to the sea, visits his grandfather and eats with his family. Use to teach a sense of community, first-person narration, point of view, and traditions.

Town Is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz

Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne

The third of three picture books to teach mood and tone by Anthony Browne. Four different characters describe their visit to the same park from their personal perspective. These characters see the world differently and have their own perspectives on the same events.

Promotes different perspectives, prejudice, character traits, compare & contrast, voice, determining importance and asking questions.

Voices in the Park Activities and Read-Aloud Questions

Windows by Julia Denos

On an autumn evening, a boy takes his dog for a walk. He catches a glimpse of his neighbours’ lives through their windows. Windows promotes a sense of belonging and different perspectives.

Book cover of girl walking past windows walking her dog.

In Conclusion

Picture books allow students to appreciate better the complexity involved in perceiving mood and tone. Carefully choosing books gives students a new outlook and equips them with the skills to interpret literature. 

Reading picture books to teach mood and tone is an effective way to help students comprehend nuances in literature and draw on their own experiences to understand the impact of mood and tone.

Leave a comment below with other ways you have used picture books to teach mood and tone!

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Investigating Picture Books to Teach Mood and Tone Effectively

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