10 Genius Picture Books for Genius Hour Kids

By Gallit Zvi and Denise Krebs

We love using picture books in our classrooms! And we don’t think they are only for primary classrooms.

In fact we have both (Denise, left; Gallit, right) spent the majority of our teaching careers teaching the middle school grades, and we have always used picture books as part of our teaching. We even used picture books regularly when we taught at the University level.

Picture books make for great hooks at the beginning of lessons – they capture our attention and get us curious about the upcoming learning. And who doesn’t love being read to?

Given our love of picture books, of course we have used them to introduce Genius Hour to students of all ages. Here are our top 10 favorites for Genius Hour classrooms and why we love them!

1. The Most Magnificent Thing

By Ashley Spires

We love this picture book starring a little girl (and her dog/assistant) on her quest to create the most magnificent invention. The journey isn’t perfect though and she “fails” quite a few times. This could be the book you use to launch Genius Hour – it is perfect to start a discussion about what magnificent things your students could create during their own special learning time. We also think this book is perfect for teaching persistence and flexibility – which are key concepts to discuss when doing Genius Hour with your class.

We have read this book to some groups of students right at the beginning, after introducing the concept of Genius Hour and picking topics. Or it can be saved for later and be used if you start to see your students running into problems and getting frustrated. In other words, it could be the way that you remind your class that Genius Hour can be tough work and we aren’t looking for perfection but for persistence and flexibility.

2. What Do You Do with an Idea?

By Kobi Yamada

Perfect for taking Genius Hour from inquiry-based and passion-based learning up to the level of compassion-based learning! In this story a little boy has an idea (represented as an egg) but he doesn’t know what to do with it. He carries it around for a long time until he finally learns that ideas are meant to change the world.

We think this picture book is perfect for teaching students that sometimes we have to take a bit of a risk with our projects and be bold and try big things, even when that takes courage.

This book would also be handy to read to your class if you feel like kids are needing some fresh inspiration after doing Genius Hour for a while. It could prompt some nice discussion about moving from inquiry based projects on topics that interest us personally toward doing a project or starting an initiative to make the world (or our school or local community) a better place!

3. What Do You Do with a Problem?

By Kobi Yamada

Similar to what we said about Yamada’s previous book, we would use this one after doing a round (or more) of Genius Hour and could be used to inspire kids to take on bigger, even global projects!

We love a good self-directed Genius Hour inquiry project based on a student’s interest or curiosity, but some of the best Genius Hour projects we have seen are ones that are rooted in the compassion that so many young people exhibit. Students might look for needs in their own communities or ways to create something new that helps others. What Do You Do with a Problem? might be the inspirational text to prompt that discussion in your classroom!

4. Rosie Revere, Engineer

By Andrea Beaty

Rosie is a fantastic character! She loves making things and embodies so many of the characteristics that we would attribute to Genius Hour and The Maker Movement. Notice the handkerchief that she wears, it is the same one as the woman in the iconic “We can do it” image from World War II. Rosie is inspired by everything around her, and we think this book can be used to introduce a discussion on inquisitiveness, risk-taking and generating ideas. It also teaches an important lesson about failure and persistence.

This would be a great book to read to your class when you are introducing the concept of Genius Hour. Primary teacher Johnny Zvi recommends using this book to introduce makerspace or a cardboard challenge to your class and then build off that experience and introduce Genius Hour after they have participated in some makerspace types of experiences.

5. Iggy Peck, Architect

By Andrea Beaty

This picture book looks similar to Rosie Revere, Engineer and is indeed written by the same fantastic author, Andrea Beaty, and illustrated by the same talented illustrator, David Roberts. We loved reading about Iggy Peck and his passion for architecture. We think this book would be great to introduce the concept of passionate interest and intrinsic motivation.

The book can also be used to share with students how sometimes our Genius Hour projects can be about building, creating or inventing something (helpful if your students are stuck on research-only types of inquiry questions).

6. Stella: Queen of the Snow

By Marie-Louise Gay

We have picked Stella: Queen of the Snow for this list, but really you could probably pick any of the Stella books and use it with your class. In this book Stella and her little brother Sam go out for a walk in the winter landscape and Sam asks Stella question after question about the snow. One way to use this book is to read it to the class. Stop after each question and ask the class if Sam’s question would make a good Genius Hour project inquiry or not?

We have found this book helpful when working with students who are having a hard time differentiating between small, google-able questions and good inquiry questions that would make interesting Genius Hour projects. Gallit has used this book with younger students as well: she read the book, asked students if they thought a question was a good one, and then brainstormed ways to improve some of them. It helped students frame promising topics into good Genius Hour project ideas.

7. It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

By Todd Parr

This book is fantastic and is a fun, quick read for middle school aged students. (It’s also a perfect read aloud for any of you who teach younger students.) This picture book helps us learn that it is okay to make mistakes, and that sometimes things do not go quite the way we thought they were going to – but that is part of trying new things! “It’s okay to make mistakes sometimes. Everyone does, even grown ups! That’s how we learn.”

Exactly! And this is an important thing to internalize if we are going to do Genius Hour projects. You can read this book aloud to your class shortly after introducing Genius Hour as a way to talk about risk-taking and self-reflection: two important attributes of Genius Hour kids.

8. The Dot

By Peter H. Reynolds

We adore all of the Peter H. Reynolds picture books! The illustrations are wonderful and they all have important lessons in them that connect well to the classroom.

This book begins with Vashti sitting in her classroom with a blank piece of paper on her desk. Her teacher encourages her and says “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.” Vashti gives the paper a “good, strong jab” and leaves it with just the dot. She returns to the classroom on another day and finds that her teacher has framed her dot.

As the story goes on, Vashti gains the courage to take more risks in her art and begins to create more and more beautiful pieces. We have used this book at the beginning of our Genius Hour journey with our students as a way to talk about risk taking and avoiding “all or nothing” thinking as ideas and skills develop.

9. Ish

By Peter H. Reynolds

Like we said, we adore Reynolds’ books, so we just had to include another one! Ish is the story of a young boy named Ramon who loves to draw anytime, anything, anywhere, but he loses his confidence when his brother Leon makes fun of his artwork. Ramon doesn’t go back to making art until his sister, Marisol, introduces him to the term ‘ish’. Ramon learns that things do not have to be perfect and that “thinking ish-ly allowed his ideas to flow freely.”

This is a fabulous book to use when discussing growth mindset and how that connects to Genius Hour. A good plan would be to save this book and then bring it out when students start to struggle or want to abandon their topic. Things don’t need to be perfect, we can all embrace the “ish.”.

10. I Want to Go to the Moon

By Tom Saunders

Tiffany Poirier, author and educator, suggested this book to Gallit back in 2015 and though Gallit had read the book, she hadn’t thought about the connection to Genius Hour until Tiffany brought it up. So our thanks to Tiffany for this recommendation.

This book, which is written as a song and comes with a CD so that you can listen to author Tom Saunders sing it while you read along, is about a little boy named Neil who wants to go to the moon. Well, we are sure you can imagine the ending on your own, but Joy Kirr summarizes it nicely. She says it is a book about “How Neil Armstrong basically initiates his own Genius Hour work…all the way to getting himself to the moon.” His own Genius Hour project lived out. Inspiring stuff.

Share a Genius Hour friendly book idea

We hope that you find this list helpful and that your students love these titles as much as we do! Of course there are so many more picture books that would be great as Genius Hour read alouds. We would love to know if there are others you use to inspire students during Genius Hour. Please comment below and tell us about it.

We will be hosting our
next #GeniusHour chat on
Thursday, February 7th at 9 pm Eastern/
8 Central/ 6 pm Pacific time.

Join us by following the hashtag #GeniusHour. In our February chat we will be talking about using great picture books during Genius Hour. See you there! (And if you can’t be there this time, just follow the hashtag for future announcements.)

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Gallit Zvi (elementary school teacher and Vice Principal in Surrey, BC) and Denise Krebs (middle grades teacher/coordinator in Bahrain) are the authors of The Genius Hour Guidebook, brought to you by MiddleWeb and Routledge Eye On Education. Receive a 20% discount at the publisher’s website by using this code at checkout: MWEB1. Find lots more articles and free resources at their GHG book website.

Read other Genius Hour articles by Gallit & Denise here at MiddleWeb.

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