12 Picture Books to Teach Character Understanding Analysis and Traits

12 Picture Books to Teach Character Understanding Analysis and Traits

When it comes to diving deep into analyzing characters, I found the best way to get started is with picture books! 

Reading a variety of picture books gives students a chance to meet a wide range of characters with a variety of different character traits and emotions. Picture books also serve as a visual support of character traits, emotions, showing us how characters often change throughout stories. Character illustrations also help students analyze characters and differentiate between inside and outside character traits.

I love using previously read picture books to help us dive into character understanding. When you use previously read books, students can focus on the character since the story was already discussed and digested. As the character unit continues, we begin to read new stories and chapter books analyzing the new characters that we meet.

Over the years I have found that the following picture books work best when it comes to analyzing characters. The characters in these books give students a lot to think about as they read. Here are my favorites for character understanding with upper elementary students.

Read about my best tips for helping students analyze characters HERE.

Activities for Bad Case of the Stripes

1. A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon 

This book is the best picture book to introduce students to the terms inside and outside character traits. (or internal or external traits) This story follows the main character Camilla Cream. On the inside she loves lima beans, but on the outside she does not act like she likes them. Because she keeps her true self a secret, her outside traits change each day. This is a fun read with a strong author's message to be yourself. It works perfectly for introducing character traits to your students.

Grab the free character analysis starter kit at the bottom of this post.

Character ideas for Brave Irene

2. Brave Irene by William Steig 

I love this story! This story is a great read-aloud to discuss character traits and emotions. The main character, Irene, is brave, and the author gives many supporting details to help students agree that she is brave. But Irene also has many feelings and emotions throughout the story. From feeling helpful to feeling frustrated, she has felt them all. Your students will cheer Irene on as they listen to this story. With all the supporting details in the story, this one is a great read aloud to also practice written responses about character traits and supporting text evidence.

Character activities upper elementary

3. The Raft by Jim LaMarche 

This is one of my favorite picture books! I love using this one for understanding theme, end of the year read alouds and of course character understanding. This one is perfect for your lesson on changing characters. The main character in the story is mad when he finds out that he has to spend the entire summer with his grandmother at her cabin without technology. But by the time the summer ends, he has definitely changed. Create a class three column T-chart to use during a read aloud of this book to keep track of the character's traits and feelings at the beginning, during the middle, and then at the end. This will help students identify how the character has changed.

character trait lesson upper elementary

4. Knots on a Counting Rope by Bill Martin, Jr

I love this book, and so do the kids. The ending always surprises them when they find out the main character is blind. Rereading it a second time, knowing that he is blind, helps us to dive deep into character analysis. This one is also perfect for building vocabulary, using context clues, and inferring as readers.

Grab the free character analysis starter kit at the bottom of this post.

character trait activites 3rd 4th grade

5. A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams

This is a popular book with a simple yet powerful story! This book follows a family of women who lose everything they own and their home in a fire. Throughout the book, we learn about the characters' determination, caring and loving attitude toward each other, and helpful neighbors who all pitch in to help. There are so many great character traits and emotions to address with this one book!

looking at characters lessons upper elementary

6. The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco

So many of Patricia Polacco's books are just perfect for character analysis, especially this one! This is a longer story that you should read over a few days. Doing so will give you the opportunity to revisit the text to discuss the main character and her character traits and emotions. This story follows Trisha who attends a new school and becomes called "the junkyard" a name designed to tease and mock her. Once she meets her teacher, things begin to change. Keep track of the Trish and her teacher's character traits, discussing each one and discovering how they both change. This is also a great book to lead to discussions about main characters and secondary characters.

Thank You Omu lesson activities character traits

7. Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora

This one is a new favorite for me! While this one has a gratitude theme and is often read around Thanksgiving, it is also perfect to revisit for character analysis. This book follows the day of Omu who spends the afternoon cooking. She can not help but share all of her soup with her community, leaving none for herself. Her selfless act inspires the community to help her in return. So much goodness and positivity in this book that you will want to read it again and again!

character lessons 3rd 4th graders

8. Nobody Hugs a Cactus by Carter Goodrich 

While this story can be read any time of the year, it is a great pair with Valentine's Day because of the nature of a loving cactus who wants a hug. Hank, the main character, is a cactus that no one wants to hug. As the story goes on, Hank begins to change from being a loner to wanting a friend and companion. This story is great for learning about how and why characters change. The illustrations support Hank's feelings and emotions throughout the book, making it great for visual and auditory learners.

Enemy Pie character lessons

9. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson 

This classic teacher favorite is perfect for teaching your students to predict and analyze how a character responds to a problem. This book follows the main character (not named) who begins to feel jealous when a new boy moves into town. the main character experiences different feelings and emotions, chats about them with his dad, and ends up changing by the last page. The kids LOVE this one and it is so easy to relate to. You can read and reread this book for different lessons including plot, climax, story structure, and making predictions.

10. CHAPTER BOOK Suggestion: Ramona Quimby, Age 8

If you are looking for a chapter book, perfect to discuss character traits and emotions, try Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary. Each chapter is filled with antics and fun to help the reader get to truly get to know the main character, Ramona. A fun activity to go along with a read aloud of this book, is to have the kids keep a journal as Ramona. It is a great way for the kids to have to figure out how the character is feeling and then write from her perspective. 

character lessons 3rd 4th graders

Grab the FREE Character Analysis Starter Kit!

Need even more picture book suggestions? Try one of these:

Before you begin your next character study grab a stack of picture books with interesting characters to help you dive deep into character analysis. Use a mix of previously read books and some new books, too! The groundwork you lay for character analysis with picture books will help your students carefully reflect and think about the characters that they meet in the books that they read.

 You will also love reading:

          Check out my favorite character activities HERE.

character analysis activities rubric lessons

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12 Picture Books to Teach Character Understanding Analysis and Traits

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3 Tips for Teaching Character Traits Analysis Upper Elementary

3 Tips for Teaching Character Traits Upper Elementary

As the school year progresses and your students begin to read more challenging, complex chapter books, helping them to understand the characters they meet becomes a critical part of their reading comprehension.

Students must understand the characters that they meet to help them better understand the story and theme of the book. I want my students to truly understand character traits and emotions, be able to differentiate between the two, and how those traits and emotions play a part in the choices that the characters make in the story.

That is a whole lot for young readers! But, without truly understanding the characters, the students will not be able to predict, connect, or infer as they read.

That is why character development is an important unit that I love to teach each year. It is not an easy topic to dive into with upper elementary students, but I can help! Try these tips to make your next character development unit that you teach a big success!

1. Differentiate Between Character Traits and Character Emotions

character emotions lessons for 3rd 4th 5th graders

This is such an important step! Students must learn the difference between a character trait and a character's feelings and emotions. Traits and emotions are very different. We discuss how character traits reflect the character's personality and emotions are how the character is feeling. While character traits can change throughout a story, the feelings and emotions of characters change quite frequently.

The first lesson that I do when it comes to differentiating between character traits and character emotions is with the book The Raft by Jim LaMarche. This story tells about a young boy who is upset that he has to spend the summer with his grandmother. By the end of the story, we learn how his feelings and emotions have changed, but his character traits have stayed the same. I love this book and highly recommend it as a read-aloud during your character unit.

Don't forget to decide on which term you will use when discussing character traits: outside or external traits to discuss a character's physical traits and inside or internal to discuss personality traits.

Grab the free activities to start your first lesson about character traits VS character emotions!

2. Practice Character Reflections with Note-Taking

3 Tips for Teaching Character Traits Analysis Upper Elementary

Hold students accountable for practicing character note-taking with graphic organizers that help them focus on a specific character reflection task and strengthen their character understanding skills

We use character graphic organizers that focus on:

  • what the character thinks
  • what the character says
  • what the character does

These three prompts help the students to reflect on what information the author gives about the character and then use the information to infer a character trait. When we first begin our character unit, we work as a class to brainstorm different character traits and emotions that characters may be and feel. We leave an anchor chart up in the classroom for easy access, but I also give students a small size of the character trait list for their reading notebooks.

The first lesson that I do with character note-taking is always done with a picture that I have previously read. I love to use previously read books for a new mini-lesson because it allows the students to focus on the skill at hand with a book that they already heard, discussed, and understand. It allows them to be much more successful with the character analysis objective at hand. You can find any book that you have already read to your students to try this out. I love to reread The Curious Garden for this activity.

3. Discuss How Characters Change

changing characters activities organizers 3rd 4th 5th grade

Focusing on how characters change truly helps the students better understand the character and the story. It allows them to make better predictions and inferences as they read, too. 

To practice this, we collect evidence to show how a character felt at the beginning of the book, and how they felt at the end of the book. Collecting text evidence is an important step to prove how the character has changed. I love to tie in visualizing during this activity. Students create sketches to show the different emotions and feelings of the character throughout the story. We revisit The Raft by Jim LaMarche to discuss changing characters. Another favorite to discuss changing characters is Enemy Pie by Derek Munson.

Teacher tip: I love to give students specific before, during, and after reading tasks that focus in on gathering text evidence about how characters change. This helps students focus and read with purpose.

Our Character Understanding unit lasts for weeks. By the time it ends, the kids are bummed. They love reading and reflecting on all of the characters that they meet while reading independently and those we met during our read-aloud time. I know that the time I invest in helping students to critically analyze a character is well worth it! It not only helps them understand the characters that they meet, but also understand the overall story and plot, theme, and make connections as readers.

Grab everything you need to teach a
Character Study Unit right here:

3 Tips for Teaching Character Traits Analysis Upper Elementary

    You will also love reading:

    Check out my favorite character activities HERE.

    character understanding and analysis activities

    LOVE these ideas? Pin to save!

    3 Tips to Get Started with Teaching Character Traits Upper Elementary

    *affiliate links: “Think Grow Giggle is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.” (source: Section 5)

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