Books for the Music Room

Hello and happy summer! This is Tanya from Tanya's Kodaly-aspiring classroom.

This summer my family and I have tackled purging many things from our house, including books.
It pains me to get rid of any books but my children are five and nine and some of the board books and picture books need to go to make room for (slightly) more mature books. (Sigh!)

Luckily, as a music teacher, I still get to hang on to several books that have played a role in the music room! Including a book reading in my already packed lessons is often challenging but sharing great books is always worth the time. I strive to include at least one book a month with 2nd through 4th grade and more with 1st grade. I also read to my 5th and 6th graders; yes, even the big kids love a great picture book as long as it's age appropriate! Here are just a few of my favorites.

Books for the music room: Great picture books for melody, rhythm, and more!

The Ants Go Marching

I save The Ants Go Marching for the 100th Day of School celebration. Students love to count the ants on each page and find "the little one" among the others. The minor melody (from When Johnny Comes Marching Home,) is easy for children to latch on to and most are singing along by the third page. (And isn't it refreshing to sing a minor song with the little ones?!)

Books for the music room: Great picture books for melody, rhythm, and more!

Jennie Jenkins
All of the John Feierabend folk song book adaptations are worth having and this one is my new favorite! The illustrations are delightfully colorful. Immediately after reading Jennie Jenkins to one of my 1st grade classes several students clamoured, "Can we read it again?" (And we did!)

Books for the music room: Great picture books for melody, rhythm, and more!

Musicmap Series Books
Have you see these brilliant books? At first glance they seem like your basic "song lyrics turned into a book," however, each book includes the melodic contour with icons from the illustrations!

Books for the music room: Great picture books for melody, rhythm, and more!

"Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky."
I picked up The Goldfish Family (a traditional Japanese folk song,)

and Burung Kakatua (an Indonesian song,) at the OAKE conference last March.

Each Musicmap book includes an orchestrated recording of the song (including a child singing,) that I might play for students after they are familiar with the melody.

Books to listen to
My belief is that most books should be sung to children, (music teachers have a unique opportunity and obligation to expose children to live music in class,) but there are books that include unique recordings that should be heard!

Sure, I can sing the african lullaby Abiyoyo and read this to my 1st graders, but Pete Seeger was a brilliant storyteller who should be heard, remembered, and revered. (Additionally, I'm not the banjo player he is!) The included CD has two tracks of Pete narrating and singing the story. The second track is live from a 1980 concert and, fair warning, Pete does say "damn ukulele" in that telling, (it's "darn ukulele" in the first track.)

Books for the music room: Great picture books for melody, rhythm, and more!

Abiyoyo was featured on Reading Rainbow and you can watch Pete narrate the story here.

No Mirrors in My Nana's House

This simply illustrated book beautifully accompanies the recording by Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Books to play (on instruments)

Possum Come a Knockin'

Here is an opportunity to actively and musically involve students during a read aloud. After each "Possum come a knocking' at the door," students play twice on claves or rhythm sticks.
You can also add some doorbells by having students play on tone chimes ("sol mi!")

Hand Hand Fingers Thumb and Click Clack Moo 
Here are two more books that are great fun for students to play along with on small percussion instruments.

Both Hand Hand Fingers Thumb and Click Clack Moo are books that could easily be turned into performances/mini-musicals. (Adapting children's books into student performances is another whole blog post!)

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
I use this book in 1st grade when we are working on melodic question and answer.
The students quickly fall into singing the answers:
When we work on do in 2nd grade we revisit Brown Bear and play the question and answer on the barred instruments. Initially all students learn to play the answer, then all students learn to play to question. Finally, I have half the class play the question on metalophones and glockenspiels and half play the answer on xylophones.

Books to inspire/Books for older kids

Books for older students usually require more of a time investment but can provide a wonderful doorway towards class discussions on the value of music personally and in our society.

The Bat Boy and His Violin

This story set in 1948 features Reginald, a boy who just wants to play his violin. His dad, a manager for a team in the Negro Baseball League signs Reginald up as bat boy for the team.

Books for the music room: Great picture books for melody, rhythm, and more!

Lemony Snicket's The Composer Is Dead

I really love this book! I teach 6th graders at my school and this seems to be the age where many children start understanding and developing a subtle, slightly dark and twisted sense of humor. Oh, I'll just say it: snarkiness ensues! And no one has perfected snarky quite like Lemony Snicket!
(A favorite joke early in the story: "The violin section is divided into the First Violins, who have the trickier parts to play, and the Second Violins, who are more fun at parties.")
This is one you'll want to listen to; the narration and original score flow nicely together.
Indie music geek comment: The illustrator is Carsen Ellis who happens to be married to the lead singer of one of my favorite bands, The Decemberists. She has illustrated several of their album covers as well.
It's been interesting to see how her work has evolved. 

I consider the above list a "Whitman's Sampler" of favorite books; there are so many more that could be included here! What are your "must read" books for the music room?


  1. What a great post! So comprehensive, and now I have a few new books to check out! Thanks!

  2. Can't wait for the workshop in a few days!


Back to Top