The Skinny on Bulking Up Your Classroom Library

Do you LOVE to use a great book to introduce a lesson, subject, or artist?  Do you use non-fiction photographic books as authentic resources for your drawing and painting units?  Would you like to add to your collection and stock your shelves without spending a ton?  Here are 5 foolproof ways to help you do just that!



  1. Take advantage of the Book Fair.  Twice each year the librarian at my building organizes a book fair for students, usually during conferences.  She puts up a board and makes “wish list” slips for all teachers to fill out.  Take time to fill out these slips!  If your school doesn’t run a Book Fair, consider creating a “Wish List” on your class webpage or a “Giving Tree” outside your room during conferences or back-to-school night.  Students and parents love to make donations, but often don’t know exactly what you want or need, so TELL THEM!  I have had many books donated to my art room over the years.  I get resources to supplement my lessons and the students are proud to give a gift they know you want.  It is a win-win situation.
  2. Frequent the teacher’s lounge.  Especially at the end of the school year, teachers will clean out their room and put gently used books that they are no longer using in a “free books” pile.  Another idea?  Put a box in the lounge labeled “free books” to encourage donations.   Any book can be recycled.  Paint the pages for a re-purposed sketchbook or add the illustrations and text to your collage supplies.
  3. Love your librarian!  They have SO MANY resources to help you get exactly what you are looking for.  It might take a little advance planning, but if you would like a box of books on architecture or space or mammals for an upcoming unit, see if that is something you can request.  Often, you can keep the books for a month or more, box them up and send them back when you are finished.  In some districts, librarians can even request books from other school or public libraries through an inter-library loan.  I also recommend giving book suggestions for your library to purchase.  Do you know 4th grade does a “Famous People” lesson each year in their general classroom?  Request artist biographies!  Want to encourage students to create at home?  Recommend different learning-to-draw books!  The library has a budget that has to be spent each year, offer suggestions to help them spend it in a way that will supplement the curriculum for all students
  4. Look into e-books.   There are numerous sites out there that offer books online for less and often for free.  Sites like Project Gutenberg offer free eBooks that have expired copyrights.  Other sites like Scholastic’s BookFLIX and require a fee and a login.  You can browse the book selections without a login and they are very impressive!  Check with your librarian to see if your school or district already has an account.  Then simply pull up the book, project it and viola!  Multimedia learning at it’s finest.
  5. Ask and you shall receive.  Do you know a teacher who is retiring or transitioning to another profession?  Most likely, they will have a plethora of books that they need to part with.  When my mother retired (after 31 years of teaching kindergarten!) she had an entire library.  She thought about selling the books at a second hand store, but their offer was so ridiculous (about $8 for over 80 books!) that she decided she would rather give them away.  She wanted them to be used and loved, like they were in her classroom.  Another idea is to frequent neighborhood garage sales where a dollar or two can go a long way.



Everyone loves a good story, but did you know that stories are powerful teaching tools?  Our right hemispheres’ are wired to process and re-tell stories as a memory learning tool.  For more on the power of story, consider taking Recharging the Right Brain in September.   In the meantime, crack open a book, lose yourself in the pages, and share the experience with your students!

All this got me thinking about my most favorite book to use in the classroom, The Pot that Juan Built by Nancy Andrew-Goebel.  After several years of requesting this book from my school library, I splurged and added it and the DVD to my personal collection.  It is a fantastic way to introduce pottery, especially coil pots and the artist Juan Quezada.  I look forward to reading it to my second-grader’s each year slap, SLAP, pat PAT!

Do you have FAVORITE book every art teacher MUST HAVE? 

Post your recommendations below!

Heather Crockett

Heather is AOE’s Dean of the Institution and an expert in differentiation, curriculum development, and assessment. She is a veteran teacher in the art room and at the graduate level.


  • I love that book!
    You have some excellent ideas in this post.
    We don’t have a book fair at the middle school i work at. We did have one at the elementary I used to work and I miss it!
    I have bought books used at Half Price books also.
    My previous school also had a wish tree for the holidays and I wished for books and received a few, it was great!

    •  Thanks Cassidy!  Have you seen The Pot that Juan Build dvd?  The narrator has a wonderful voice and they show Juan Quezada working.  Half price books is a great suggestion. :)

      • Benjamin Conn

        Heather, how do you manage all your books?

        • I keep two running lists on my computer.  One list contains books that I keep out for my student to access.  I have 4-5th grade student volunteers that spend their recess time helping in the art room and one of their never-ending tasks is to sort through and organize the art books.  The other list includes books that I have for a specific lesson.  I keep these books on display a little higher on the shelf, so they are exactly where I want them when I need them.  This is definitely an area I could improve on to be honest.  Any suggestions?

  • Marie Blocker

    A favorite of mine is The Araboolies of Liberty Street! It is about people with purple and green skin, and their houses had polka dots and zig zags! My 6th graders have made awesome cardboard houses with pattern, 7th graders have built Bright colored Araboolie Papier Mache Water bottle characters, and 8th graders have made slab clay houses with pattern, and added a crazy van too! They loved the story being read to them too (like in elementary!).  This is a great book for elementary also.  I tie it in to Diversity and Tolerance since I am on the Diversity Committee.

    •  Sounds interesting!  I need to look into adding this one to my collection.

  • Tracy

    I like using donors choose as a way to get books for my library. I actually just had a project of 35 books funded by Starbucks. Lots of big companies want to help you just need to tell them about what you need.

    •  Wow!  I would love to hear more about your experience with Starbucks.  What a donation!

  • Valerie

    An oldie, but a goodie is Tomie dePaola’s The Art Lesson. Having grown up with an art teacher that merely had us “copy” masterpieces, I still am inspired by the identity of a “real artist” in Tomie’s childhood classic.

  • Sherrie’

    My neighborhood and the one adjacent has a spring book sale to help our local library. I have bought MANY hard covered art history and resource books from there. They also have 3 children’s books for $1. I figured out last year that for the books I purchased, it would have cost me over $600 retail and I paid under $35. Also, don’t forget Half Price Books if you have one in your area. Happy hunting!