In a Manner of Speaking: Figurative Language and the Common Core

Books for Figurative Language Lessons

Ackerman, Karen.  Song and Dance Man.  ISBN: 9780590430098. Lexile: 780.
This is a joyful homage to a grandfather who has fond memories of his vaudeville days.  Colorful illustrations full of energy show his performance for his grandchildren in the attic as he sings with “a voice round and strong as a canyon echo,” dances with a step that sounds “like a woodpecker tapping on a tree,” in shoes that make sounds “like rain on a tin roof.” 

Backstein, Karen.  The Blind men and the Elephant. ISBN: 0-590-45813-2 Lexile:280.
The easy-reader format of this classic tale makes it accessible to very young readers.  Pair this one with Ed Young's Seven Blind Mice and do a compare-and-contrast lesson with the elements in each and with the similes used. 

Belting, Natalia.  Whirlwind is a Ghost Dancing.  ISBN: 0-525-42625-6. Lexile: 713.
Many examples of books with similes are available, but finding examples of metaphors for elementary students can be challenging. This book is an absolute must-have!  The wind, the sky, the clouds, the moon, the sun, lightning, stars, etc. all “become” something else metaphorically in this collection celebrating nature lore of a number of Native American peoples.  

Cleary, Brian P. Skin Like Milk, Hair of Silk:What are Similes and Metaphors? ISBN:9780822591511. Lexile: 560.
This book puts forth fifteen examples each of both similes and metaphors in an entertaining way.  Like the other books in Cleary's Words are Categorical series,  the text rhymes and the comical illustrations (this time with cats) make learning the content fun.

Davies, Nicola.  Bat Loves the Night.  ISBN: 0-439-33674-0. Lexile: AD560.
This is a lovely mix of information and narrative on a high-interest subject. Using poetic language and unusual similes (“a sound like a tiny umbrella opening,” “like a flashlight,” “fast as blinking,” “like the wrapper from a candy”) it describes what a young bat does at night when it slips away from her home under a broken roof tile and goes in search of food.   

Fox, Mem. Night Noises.  ISBN: 0-15-200543-9. Lexile: 430.
Fox’s tale is a treasure trove of figurative language and poetic devices.  Onomatopoeia, alliteration, and similes are sprinkled throughout this story of elderly Lily Laceby and what happens while she is dozing and dreaming by the fire one evening.  Though there are clues leading up to the surprise ending, students will want to read this one again and again to see what they missed before.

Hall, Michael.  My Heart is like a Zoo.  ISBN: 0-06-191510-6. Lexile: not available.
This is another great choice for teaching similes to very young children, or to struggling students who do best with minimal text.  Each page contains just one simile phrase with a colorful accompanying illustration to aid in comprehension.  Since each illustration was cleverly created using the shape of a heart, an added bonus might be to provide cut-outs of hearts and have students re-create one of the animal characters in the book and write the accompanying simile. Or, do a class re-write of the book, generating new similes for the animals used.

Isaacs, Anne.  Swamp Angel.  ISBN: 9780525452713. Lexile: AD1020.
Tall tales can be great fun to read aloud, and this one is no exception.  Larger-than-life Angelica Longrider is the greatest woodswoman in Tennessee, and stories about her spring up “like sunflowers along the wagon trails.” Swamp Angel has a reputation for helping people, and her biggest challenge will be to face the huge bear known as Thundering Tarnation.  The text provides a number of fun examples of similes with a regional backwoods flavor as she wrestles with her enemy;  ultimately Tarnation is pronounced “dead as a stump.”

Johnston, Tony.  Amber on the Mountain.  ISBN: 0-14-056408-X.  Lexile: 480.
There is much to be mined from this friendship story.  It has a strong sense of place, a large number of similes (some of which are tied to the mountain setting), a positive message about literacy and its importance, and lead characters with strong traits.

Leedy, Loreen.  Crazy like a Fox: a Simile Story.  ISBN: 0-8234-1719-0. Lexile: 430.
Leedy cleverly weaves a story whose chain of events is told completely through similes.  Children will enjoy reading the additional similes provided by tiny animal characters who comment on the main text.  Leedy also provides readers an explanation at the beginning about what similes are and how they relate to idioms and clichés. Visit her website for links to supplemental materials to use with the book.

Olshan, Matthew.  The Mighty Lalouche.  ISBN: 978-0-375-86225-0.  Lexile: not yet available.
Scrawny Lalouche loses his job as a postman and turns to boxing to support himself and his pet finch in this humorous tale.  Despite opponents “as tall as a spiral staircase,” “as wide as a wall of cubbies,” and “as massive as a heap of undelivered packages,” Lalouche's quick wit and nimble body guarantee him victory every time.

Piven, Hanoch.  My Best Friend is as Sharp as a Pencil.  ISBN: 978-037583388.  Lexile: not available.
My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks. ISBN: 978-0375840524.  Lexile: not available.
These two latest portrait books by Hanoch Piven are fun, fun, fun!  Children will love making the connection between the words in the similes and the found objects that Piven uses to represent them.

Wood, Audrey.  Quick as a Cricket.  ISBN: 0-85953-151-1. Lexile: 240.
With its spare text and cheerful pictures, Wood's book is appropriate for the youngest students learning about similes. The illustrations will aid in a discussion of the meaning behind the similes used.  The text provides a joyful celebration of the many facets of being human, with the child narrator shown as “busy as a bee, wild as a chimp, quiet as a clam, and tough as a rhino.”

Yolen, Jane.  Owl Moon.  ISBN: 0-399-21457-7. Lexile: 630.
This is an excellent choice for a read-aloud for many reasons, and in terms of figurative language it contains both metaphors (the father's face becomes a silver mask, the child “was a shadow”) and similes.  The similes are more subtle, too, using “as” more often than “like,” so consider using this one with students after they have had practice finding more obvious similes in other texts. 

Young, Ed. Seven Blind Mice.  ISBN: 0-399-22261-8. Lexile: AD350.
Visually striking and tightly written, this is another version of The Blind Men and the Elephant.  The illustrations help students understand the comparisons made in the similes, and the text is short enough to read in one sitting and do a follow-up lesson.  Use with Backstein's book (above) and have students discuss the similarities and differences.

IntroductionFigurative Language LessonsPractice and ReinforcementBooks for Lessons