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Use Storybooks in Elementary Music to Establish Historical Context

Children’s storybooks in elementary music are perfect for setting the stage and establishing a historical context for a song.

One of my favorite ways to use children’s storybooks in the elementary music classroom is to set the stage for a song or piece of music. I like to establish the historical context at the time the song was written. Students are able to perform more authentically when they know the story behind what they are singing and/or playing.

Students understand the lyrics of songs better when they are taught about the history and time period in which a song was written. And, the music takes on a more emotional tone when students can envision themselves as a part of the original setting. They will also remember historical events better when they are paired with music.

Using Children’s Storybooks in Elementary Music to Establish Historical Context for Songs

Patriotic Storybooks for Elementary Music

Patriotic songs are a classic example of the importance of teaching students about the historical events surrounding the writing of songs. The songs of our nation are rich with historical significance.

There are many different versions of storybooks available to teach the history of each of the patriotic songs below.

  • Star-Spangled Banner
  • This Land is Your Land
  • America, the Beautiful
  • My Country ‘Tis of Thee (America)
  • Yankee Doodle

These stories are perfect for sub lessons as well. Most teachers already know the songs, even if they do not know the history behind them.

For more on using patriotic songs in the elementary music classroom, click to see this post, Patriotic Songs for Elementary Students | The Big 6.

Pair Spirituals with Storybooks about Civil Rights Leaders

Many spirituals often have a natural connection to civil rights leaders. Songs that were used during the civil rights movement make for an authentic pairing. With recent publications, there are more quality storybooks to enhance the cultural context and help students understand the basic principles of the struggle for civil rights and learn more about civil rights leaders. Below is a small sampling.

Click to preview books on GoodReads.

Add Orff Accompaniments for Classroom or Performance

Spirituals make a perfect addition to any music program. The spirituals below are multitasking music lessons for grades K-5. Each song includes differentiated Orff accompaniments.

Each lesson also includes two versions of a short biography of a civil rights leader. One simple version is written for early elementary students and the other is geared toward upper elementary students.

Children’s Storybooks Depicting Historical Events

Are you teaching any songs portraying historical events? Are your students studying westward expansion in their general classroom? Do a quick Google search or search your school’s library for a possible children’s book to expand the lesson. The following storybooks pair well with the folk songs below.

  • The Eerie Canal by Pete Seeger, with the book Amazing Impossible Erie Canal, by Cheryl Harness 
  • I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, an American folk song, with the books Iron Horses, by Verla Kay, illustrated by Michael McCurdy or The Transcontinental Railroad by John Perritano


Connect with your classroom teachers. Ask what they are learning about in social studies. If possible, pair those lessons together with songs to expand student learning. This creates a natural connection and helps students see the “bigger picture”.

Connect with your school librarian. Librarians are a valuable source of information. Check out your school book fairs. If possible, select books for your class wish list during the school book fairs. Many times parents and grandparents are happy to purchase an extra book or two for your classroom.

Browse through the children’s sections at your local library. Or, browse this selection of over 700 children’s storybooks which is curated especially for the elementary music classroom – Children’s Literature for the Music Classroom.

This list only begins to scratch the surface. There are a plethora of books available to enrich your music lesson plans. Pick out a few books to get started today and before you know it, you will have a well-established library of storybooks for your elementary music classroom.

Do you need more ideas of ways to use storybooks in your elementary music classroom? Click to see 9 Ways to Use Storybooks in Elementary Music.

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