Books to Teach Main Idea and Theme

Main idea and theme can be some of the most difficult topics to teach my first graders, so I thought I would share some of my favorite picture books I use to teach these skills in my classroom.


Sheila Rae, The Brave by Kevin Henkes
This story is a hit among my young learners as they decide whether or not Sheila Rae and her little sister are brave and give reasons to defend their opinions. I like to have my students figure out what Kevin Henkes may be trying to tell us as I read the story. We then figure out what lesson Sheila Rae learned and identify the details in the story to support the main idea.

Swimmy by Leo Lionni
Swimmy is a book about perseverance and being different. As my students listen to me read this book they infer all sorts of character traits about Swimmy as he handles situations in the story. These inferences lead us to the main idea of the story and provide us our details to support that main idea.

Big, Blue Whale by Nicola Davies
When teaching main idea and details, I like to bring in a nonfiction example as well. I teach my students that the main idea of a story is what the book is mostly about and the details are the parts of the story that support and relate to the main idea. In nonfiction texts it is easy for students to say the main idea is "about whales" but I ask them for a little more information regarding what the author is teaching us about whales throughout the entire book. For example, "Blue whales are the biggest creatures on earth and have many unique characteristics and habits." Then we find the details in the story that support that type of main idea.

A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon:
This classic has a clear theme about being yourself and being comfortable in your own skin, which makes this a great intro book to theme. My students love the colorful illustrations and I love watching the pure shock on their faces as Camilla's skin changes over and over.

Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens
This fun book is about a very lazy bear and a clever hare. This story provides plenty of examples for great discussions around character traits, but also teaches an important lesson about hard work that many students can relate to!

Miss Rumphius
Lastly, Miss Rumphius is such a beautiful story, I could read it time and time again. It has such a clear theme of making the world a better place as we read about Miss Rumphius' life. Throughout the story I also guide my students through some more of the difficult concepts presented such as author's purpose.

Those are some of my favorite books for teaching main idea and theme and you can grab any of them below:


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I have also made read aloud lessons and response sheets for ALL the above books and more that you can find by clicking the image below if you are interested:

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