Teaching With Chris Van Allsburg

Teaching Literacy With Chris Van Allsburg

Here’s a little secret….Chris Van Allsburg books had to grow on me. The first few times I read one of his books, I thought they were a little too strange. It just wasn’t for me.

However, I finally realized I had fallen into a genre rut. I was reading the same style of book again and again and wasn’t giving different genres or styles a fair chance. I tried another book, and I was hooked. He’s now become one of my favorite children’s authors, and I love using his books as mentor texts for teaching a variety of literacy skills. In fact, I have an entire week of instruction dedicated to his books in this reading unit.


I teach this lesson after I’ve taught setting in previous lessons. However, it’s an important enough concept to revisit throughout the year. Read Jumanji and discuss the text with students. Use that discussion to discuss the importance of the setting in the book. Then, give students a chance to flex their creativity. Have students write their own version of the book, BUT they change the setting. It’s so fun to see what they come up with!

Inferring From Illustrations

When it comes to interesting illustrations, I’m not sure that it’s possible to find anything better than The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. The full page illustrations come with a title and a sentence starter. Everything else is left up to the imagination.

One way to use the book is to have students complete the stories. Since that takes multiple days to complete, I like to save that activity for writing. During our reading time, students record the inferences they made from the illustrations. The write what they notice and what they think that observation means. These inferences can later be used to guide students’ writing.

Point of View

It almost feels like Two Bad Ants was written for the purpose of teaching point of view. It’s perfect! I don’t use this to introduce point of view. Instead, I use this lesson as a point of view extension.

After reading the book to students, discuss how the story is unique because it’s written from a third person point of view that gives an ant’s perspective. Have students share how the story would be different if told through a human’s perspective. To extend thinking about point of view, have students write their own story in the style of Chris Van Allsburg that is written from an ant’s point of view through a third person narrator.

Comparing Theme

After students have multiple opportunities to identify the theme of books, I also like to have them compare themes. This is especially beneficial when comparing themes in books written by the same author. I like to use The Garden of Abdul Gasazi to move students into comparing theme.

Have students collectively determine the theme of each of the Chris Van Allsburg books you have read together. As students explain how they determined the theme, model how to complete the comparing theme graphic organizer. Then, read The Garden of Adbul Gasazi and discuss the book together. Have students use the same graphic organizer to compare the book with another Chris Van Allsburg book.

Comparing Story Elements

You can also use Chris Van Allsburg books to practice comparing story elements. Since his books include a huge variety of setting, character, and plot, there are many possibilities. I like to use Just a Dream as a mentor text for this lesson.

Spend a few minutes reviewing story elements with students and discuss the story elements of the Chris Van Allsburg books you’ve read together. As you read the mentor text, have students think about the story elements of the text. They may even want to jot down a few notes as you read. After reading the book, have students complete a double bubble map that compares the story elements of Just a Dream (or the book you chose) and any other Chris Van Allsburg book.

A great informational extension to these lessons is to have students research Chris Van Allsburg and to write a brief biography on the author.

If you love author studies, be sure to check my Patricia Polacco author study blog post.

2 thoughts on “Teaching With Chris Van Allsburg”

  1. Bonnie Strickland

    Your ideas and resources on Chris Van Allsburg’s books are wonderful!
    I am starting a unit using his books which is how I found my what to your website. I searched on your TPT page, but I am unable to find these resources. Are they available? If so, where can I find them?

    Thank you!

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