I tend to get a little irritated when I see some teachers coming up with a theme they want to use in their classroom, and then haphazardly throwing any picture books into their theme that seem to correlate - just for the sake of maintaing the theme. I have seen many sub-par books gets a lot of focus and attention simply because they worked with a teacher's theme. Sometimes great books are overlooked because it's not initially obvious that they might work with a particular theme.
How about first finding some great books, seeing if some of them relate to one another, and then creating your own theme that is structured around your reading instead of vise-versa? I know this method is not always possible, but worth a shot from time to time, right? I have found Pinterest especially helpful in this department. I can pin books I like, make helpful notes about each, and organize them by a theme or topic. Then I can easy find and utilize a great book at the right time!
I saw that I had some pet-themed books piling up that I really liked and wanted to read to my students. So I decided that's what we would be reading about at Literacy Launchpad in February! Not surprisingly, the students really enjoyed these stories. I mean really. Sometimes I couldn't get them to move onto an activity because they kept wanting me to read and re-read these books. A great problem to have!
A theme isn't only useful in the classroom though. I have used themes at home with my son, and often I will let his own natural interests guide the theme. Other times I will introduce a theme and watch his interest grow and grow on that topic as we read more and more books on it. I don't do structured units or lessons at home with these books. I simply scatter them about in our reading spots and pick them up to read when we have a moment or two.
You can see the pet books we've been reading at Literacy Launchpad in the sidebar. And here are some photos from the fun we had comparing, learning new information, and playing with these pet-themed titles!