Interactive Picture Books to Use in Music Therapy

by Sarah Coury-Rios, MME, MT-BC

Have you ever been wandering the bookstore or library, looking through children’s books and wondering about ways that you could incorporate them into music therapy sessions? I definitely have! I would love to share a few ways that I incorporate children’s books into my sessions.

When considering books, there are some things to keep in mind while asking yourself,  “How can I make this book musical?” 

A few questions I ask myself:

  • What is the general theme of the book? 
  • Is there a lesson I am trying to teach?
  • Does it easily rhyme?
  • Does it flow so that when you read it aloud there is a rhythm to it?
  • Is it repetitious?
  • Can I use illustrations or text to incorporate instruments to a sound in the story or a character’s thought?
  • Is it a song that has been turned into a book?
  • Can I incorporate goals and objectives into this intervention?
  • Is it already a song that has been turned into a book? Will clients recognize it?

 Some of my very favorite books to use in music therapy sessions were songs before becoming a book with pictures. These books are beautiful, as kids just love to see the pictures that match a song.

Song-Based Books

Here are some examples of song-based books that I love:

Now, here comes the fun part! What do you do when you come across a book and/or an author that you love, but have no idea how to make it musical?

For example, some of my favorite books to do with children are the Froggy books by Jonathan London and Frank Rekiewicsz. Why? Because there is lots of repetition and several possibilities to adapt this book to meet the needs of your client.

Let’s take for example the book, “Froggy Bakes a Cake.” 

Within this book Froggy always “flop, flop, flops” to places. He is on a quest to find all the ingredients to make his mom a birthday cake. To turn this into a musical book, I would do a simple internet search to print and laminate the following pictures: flour, sugar, chocolate candy, milk, eggs, butter, and baking powder.

Depending on client/group, I would then give an opportunity for the client to pair an instrument to each word (e.g. flour = rain stick, sugar = cabasa, milk = xylophone, etc). Then, I would give opportunities for the client to pair an instrument with each picture.

Once all the pictures are paired with instruments then I would begin to read the story. As the story unfolds, each time the client hears a corresponding word (e.g. “milk”) they would look for the instrument that is paired to the picture of “milk.” For our purpose, the example listed above was xylophone. 

This can easily be adapted to meet the needs of the client and their goals. For example, a client may be able to play “flop, flop, flop” by patting on their legs. This encourages listening skills, waiting, sequencing, and decision processing. 

If this song were used in a large group, then the focus may still engage individual goals, but also enhance goals to work on group skills such as turn-taking, teamwork, socialization, waiting, and attention.

Non-Musical Books to Use in Sessions

Some of my favorite non-musical books to use in sessions are:

  • There Was A Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow, by Lucille Colandro and Jared Lee.
    • This book series is very popular among children. It is repetitive, can be read in a rhythmic style so that it grabs attention, and follows the same idea as Froggy books. Therapists can create visual aids that match the illustrations in the book and have clients pair instrument to picture.
    • Use this same idea for ALL “There Was an Old Lady” books.
  • Five Little Penguins Slipping on the Ice, by Steve Metzger and Laura Bryant.
    • This is a piggyback book to the song “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.” It is attention-grabbing and can be used in winter-themed sessions.
  • Ten Little Fish by Audrey Wood and Bruce Wood.
    • This is a book that reads very rhythmically. It has a strong, steady beat that can be easily maintained on a drum or simple clap of hands. It can be paired with pictures of fish to help engage in counting, sequencing, improving memory, improve attention, and so on.
  • The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister.
    • This is one of my most favorite books to teach children about sharing and inclusion. I am sad to say that this was not my idea alone, but one I have kept in my back pocket for many years. Go to your local Hobby Lobby or Michaels and find a paper that can easily be cut down to look like fish scales. (In a bind I have also used foil; however, I don’t recommend this with littles as it could be a hazard). Cut your item to a size that you think sufficient enough for your needs. Laminate said fish scale. Then attach all scales to the back or inside of your book for easy access using Velcro or tape. When you get to the part of the story where says, “only one very small shimmery scale…maybe I wouldn’t miss just one.” Begin to hand out fish scales to client(s). While handing out scales have client(s) play xylophone/piano to enhance the experience. By the end of story, each client should have a scale. This can be an awesome and non-threatening way to lead a discussion about inclusion, sharing, as well as being different and that being ok.

If you have made it this far in the blog post, please know that this is not a comprehensive list! These are only some of my favorites. 

If you find a book or series you think would benefit your clients, take a deep breath, look at the words, and let a melody come to you. The author has already given you the lyrics! 


What are some of your favorite books that you incorporate into your music therapy sessions?


Sarah Coury-Rios, MME, MT-BC

Music Therapist – Board Certified

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