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Find more Classroom Connections
Picture books featuring children at recess highlight the importance of game play and playground activities in social-emotional learning.
Children burst from the school building, their bodies and brains buzzing with energy, questions, and plans: “What can I play?” “Who will play with me?” “What are the rules of that game?” Is it any wonder that, when recess is over, children feel they have barely begun? In the past, it may have seemed convenient to impose a “what happens at recess, stays at recess” philosophy, but the reality of this year means that children need adult assistance before, during, and after recess to maximize the physical and social-emotional benefits of child-directed play.
This collection of books supports this year’s essential social-emotional curriculum by including books that suggest playground games and activities. Each title encourages exploration, imagination, and problem-solving to scaffold child-directed outdoor play. Some of the titles take place during recess, but other books reference community playgrounds and adventure-play settings. All of the books celebrate play and offer lessons directly applicable to the recess setting.
Amelia Bedelia Joins the Club. By Herman Parish. Illus. by Lynne Avril. 2014. 32p. Harper (9780062221315). PreS–Gr. 2.Amelia Bedelia is renowned for misunderstanding situations, but little Amelia is very clear about her confusion in her attempts to navigate between two classroom clubs: the Puddle Jumpers and the Puddle Stompers. After consulting with her teacher and parents, Amelia proposes her own club that accepts both jumpers and stompers.
Arthur and the Recess Rookie. By Marc Brown. Illus. by the author. 2001. 64p. Little Brown (9780316121057). Gr. 1–3.Francine feels most confident on the kickball field; George definitely does not. George feels most comfortable playing in the band; Francine definitely does not. Francine and George discover that everyone is skilled in different things, and the only things that make you better at something are practice, resourcefulness, and friendship.
Bruno & Lulu’s Playground Adventures. By Patricia Lakin. Illus. by Kirstie Edmunds. 2014. 80p. Dial (9780803735538). PreS–Gr. 2.Squirrels and cats (and some sneaky ladybugs) share a playground. In the first chapter, the cats are not in the mood to share: they have a picnic with cupcakes, and squirrels are not invited. But Lulu the squirrel is not discouraged and recruits her reluctant best friend Bruno to make a pretend cake. In chapter two, Lulu and Bruno manage to make a time-out on a bench an imaginative extravaganza.
David Jumps In. By Alan Woo. Illus. by Katty Maurey. 2020. 24p. Kids Can (9781771388450). PreS–Gr. 1.It’s David’s first day at a new school, and he tours around the playground at recess to quietly observe all of the different activities that his classmates are immersed in. He doesn’t know anyone in his class, but at recess he does know one thing: he has an elastic skip rope, and he wonders if there is anyone who would like to play it with him. You bet!
Double Play: Monkeying around with Addition. By Betsy Franco. Illus. by Doug Cushman. 2011. 32p. Tricycle (9781582463841). PreS–Gr. 1.A classroom math lesson extends into a mathematical adventure on the playground when a class of assorted animals head out to recess. Monkeys Jill and Jake are masters of adaptation as they seamlessly transition through nine activities in one recess period.
The Firefighters. By Sue Whiting. Illus. by Donna Rawlins. 2008. 32p. Candlewick (9780763640194). PreS–Gr. 2.In 2005, the cardboard box was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. It is clear that in a playground full of equipment, sometimes imagination and a box are the best toys there are. Uniquely here, the teacher participates in the imaginary play when she joins the children in the cardboard-box fire engine. The story culminates in unexpected excitement when actual firefighters arrive for a visit to the school.
Hide-and-Seek All Week. By Tomie dePaola. Illus. by the author. 2001. 32p. Putnam/Grosset (9780448425450). K–Gr. 2.RING! The bell signals recess time in kindergarten. On Monday, the Barker twins and their classmates decide to play hide-and-seek. But by Friday, they still have not managed to get the game going. The book uniquely addresses the problems when an overabundance of time is spent in the planning stage of an activity.
Higher! Higher! By Leslie Patricelli. Illus. by the author. 2009. 32p. Candlewick, o.p. PreS.A little girl zooms on the swing, and as she swings higher and higher, her imagination soars. She ultimately swings so high that she manages to high-five an alien on a swing in outer space. This swing session is an inspiring picture book about using your imagination through common playground equipment.
How to Two. By David Soman. Illus. by the author. 2019. 40p. Dial (9780525427841). PreS–K.This counting book offers visual suggestions for a variety of familiar playground games depending on the number of children on each page. The book encourages flexibility, inclusion, and problem-solving on the playground and would pair well with generating ideas in the classroom for activities that can be played during recess.
Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy. By Jacky Davis. Illus. by David Soman. 2009. 40p. Dial (9780803733398). PreS–Gr. 1.Lulu meets Sam at the playground. When Sam invites her to play “diggers,” Lulu counters with “hanging from the jungle gym,” and back and forth they go, suggesting different activities and becoming completely exasperated with each other. Ultimately, Lulu suggests a rousing game of Ladybug Girl, and Sam joins in enthusiastically as Bumblebee Boy. Together, they protect and defend the playground.
The Lost-and-Found Tooth. By Louise Borden. Illus. by Adam Gustavson. 2008. 40p. Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry (9781416918141). K–Gr. 2.Lucy is in second grade and still has not lost her first tooth. Month after month, her classmates fill out the date, time, and location of each missing tooth on the classroom “Who’s Lost a Tooth?” calendar. Finally in February, during recess, it happens! Lucy loses her tooth! Then she really loses her tooth. . . in the SNOW! Her whole class helps her search, and the tooth is found!
Made by Raffi. By Craig Pomranz. Illus. by Margaret Chamberlain. 2014. 36p. Quarto/Frances Lincoln (9781847804334). K–Gr. 2.Raffi feels different from his peers. During recess, he prefers quiet solitude over the loud hustle and bustle. Raffi is intrigued as he observes a teacher knitting a scarf. He asks if she will teach him, and soon Raffi is knitting up a storm! Raffi then learns to sew to make a cape for the prince in the school play. Raffi is a true maker and soon discovers that his passion to create inspires and excites his friends and family.
My Best Friend. By Julie Fogliano. Illus. by Jillian Tamaki. 2020. 32p. Atheneum (9781534427228). PreS–Gr. 1.In a park, a little girl lists all of the activities she and her best friend have engaged in. Her best friend is smart, funny, creative, and caring. Ultimately, it is clear that not only does the little girl not know her best friend’s name but also that all of the activities have happened in one day—and that they have just met!
Newton and Curie: The Science Squirrels. By Daniel Kirk. Illus. by the author. 2020. 40p. Abrams (9781419737480). K–Gr. 3.Newton the squirrel quietly observes the playground and classroom from a tree and begins to reflect and ask questions. With the help of his sister, Curie, he performs science experiments inspired by simple machines and playground equipment.
Perfect Snow. By Barbara Reid. Illus. by the author. 2011. 32p. Albert Whitman (9780807564929). K–Gr. 3.There is a flurry of activity on the snow-covered blacktop at recess. Eagle-eyed Mrs. B. reminds the children that throwing snow is not allowed. Fortunately, building a “totally massive, indestructible Snow Fortress of Doom” is allowed and so is building “the World’s Greatest Snowman.” Two boys, Jim and Scott, plan their snow masterpieces but ultimately adjust their plans to collaborate with most of their class to create “The World’s Greatest Totally Massive Snowman Fort.”
Playground Day! By Jennifer Merz. Illus. by the author. 2007. 32p. Clarion, o.p. PreS–Gr. 1.A little girl assembles her stuffed animals into a wagon for a field trip to the nearby playground. The girl takes turns holding each animal as she engages in a corresponding activity: she hops like a bunny, climbs like a monkey, and slides like a penguin. This book models and offers suggestions to foster imaginative, independent play.
The Recess Queen. By Alexis O’Neill. Illus. by Laura Huliska-Beith. 2002. 32p. Scholastic (9780439206372). PreS–Gr. 1.If your name is Mean Jean, you are bound to have difficulty making friends. A new girl in school named Katie Sue is unaware of Mean Jean’s antics. At recess, it is clear that Katie Sue doesn’t care about Mean Jean’s reputation, as she enthusiastically and persistently encourages Mean Jean to jump rope with her. Ultimately, just Jean discovers that recess is more fun with a friend like Katie Sue.
Roxaboxen. By Alice McLerran. Illus. by Barbara Cooney. 1991. Harper (9780688075927). K–Gr. 3.Sometimes a playground is not filled with ready-made equipment. Sometimes a playground is what you imagine it to be and then set about creating it. This historical account of Roxaboxen in Yuma, Arizona, tells of a group of children who use the resources available: space, rocks, sand, wooden boxes, and sticks to create a thriving town of unique homes and shops.
Rulers of the Playground. By Joseph Kuefler. Illus. by the author. 2017. 48p. HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray (9780062424327). PreS–Gr. 1.The playground becomes an empire divided and ruled by a king and queen fighting over governance. As proclamations and rules galore arrive, the citizens begin abandoning the playground in favor of non-royal endeavors. The king and queen soon realize that it is no fun to fight or rule when there is no one to play with. The best solution is a combined “Important Apology Project” to present to the citizens and plead for their return.
Salad Pie. By Wendy BooydeGraaff. Illus. by Bryan Langdo. 2016. 44p. Ripple Grove (9780991386642). K–Gr. 2.Maggie heads to the playground intent on making Salad Pie. She doesn’t expect a patient yet earnest assistant named Herbert. Maggie initially attempts to ignore Herbert’s efforts to act as sous-chef, but ultimately accepts his contributions. Soon the two have assembled ingredients, baked the pie, and sat down to a celebratory meal.
A Stick Is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play. By Marilyn Singer. Illus. by LeUyen Pham. 2012. 40p. Clarion (9780547124933). PreS–Gr. 1. 811.This poetry anthology embraces outdoor play and spotlights numerous recess and playground activities. Not all poems align with a recess setting, but certain poems celebrate traditional schoolyard activities (e.g., double Dutch jump rope, hopscotch, and hide-and-seek).
We Laugh Alike / Juntos nos reímos. By Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. Illus. by Alyssa Bermudez. 2021. 32p. Charlesbridge (9781623540968). Gr. 1–3.In this bilingual picture book, two groups of friends meet at a community playground. One trio speaks only English; the other only Spanish. They do not understand each other’s languages, but they are keen observers who are curious and eager to learn each other’s games, dances, and languages. Soon parallel play evolves into a blended group as they engage in jumping rope, swinging, and making dandelion crowns. Ultimately, they part ways calling to each other in their newly acquired language.
When Andy Met Sandy. By Tomie dePaola and Jim Lewis. Illus. by Tomie dePaola. 2016. 32p. Simon & Schuster (9781481441551). K–Gr. 2.Meet Andy and Sandy. Andy enters Duckie Playground assuming he is alone. Sandy enters the playground from another entrance. Andy and Sandy ultimately see each other and initially engage in parallel play. Setting aside reluctance in favor of curiosity, Andy and Sandy come together for their first collaborative activity: playing on the seesaw.
Where Did You Go Today? By Jenny Duke. Illus. by the author. 2019. 32p. Child’s Play (9781786282019). PreS–Gr. 1.The title of this book, seemingly asked by a child of a parent, offers a visual response of numerous fantasy-filled activities that a child has engaged in at the playground. This independent play features trips to the desert, jungle, and mountains, encouraging fantasy play built on association of a playground activity.
Kristin Rydholm, a frequent contributor to Book Links, has worked as a teacher, reading specialist, and school administrator.
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