Well… for many of us – tomorrow we head back to school to begin a new year. These first few days and weeks are filled with many emotions, new routines, and, let’s face it – a fair share of chaos! But nothing is more important in these first weeks than establishing your class community. Creating a positive, welcoming, accepting place will help students feel more connected, empowered, and invested in learning. Reading stories to your class and engaging in discussions is one of the best ways I know to begin this process. While there are dozens to choose from, here are a few of my favorite picture books for building a positive learning environment in your class:
(Note: This is not intended to be a list of “Back to School” books – which are really only shared during the first few DAYS of school. This list is meant for sharing and discussing over the first few WEEKS of school, while you focus on building your classroom community. For favorite “Back to School” books, see my post here.)
All Are Welcome – Alexandra Penfold
Oh my. This book. It’s a must read for every teacher to share in the first days or week of school. A wonderful, welcoming picture book that celebrates diversity, inclusiveness, acceptance, and celebration of all cultures in a school community. I hope this book ends up in EVERY library in EVERY school EVERYWHERE! If you are familiar with my “One Word” transform lesson – the one word I would use with this book is, of course, “Welcome”.
The Day You Begin – Jacqueline Woodson
“There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” And so begins this poignant, powerful story by the amazing Jacqueline Woodson (Each Kindness, The Other Side, Brown Girl Dreaming). If there is only ONE book you read this summer – this is it. This is a must-own book for teachers, librarians, and parents, and a must-share for all kids, no matter their ages. I am absolutely in love with this story of pride in self, fear of not fitting in, and ultimately belonging. A PERFECT book for sharing at the beginning of the school year to help build a welcoming community in your classroom and a perfect reminder that we are more alike than different.
Each Kindness – Jacqueline Woodson
Another one of my favorite books by the amazing Jacqueline Woodson is about bullying – the subtle kind of bullying – the ignoring and whispering and refusal to acknowledge someone. I think this kind of bullying can be the worst. This book is heart-breaking and poignant. I love the metaphor of the stone making rippling waves in the water representing the effects of kindness upon others and the not so happy but very realistic ending. Such an important story to share and talk about.
This powerful, heart-breaking story is one of my very favorites. Brian is so quiet, he is “invisible”. He is not included, invited to birthday parties or is really noticed. Then Justin, the new boy, arrives and works with Brian on a class project, giving him a chance to shine. This gentle book is a valuable one to include in your class collection, showing children how small acts of kindness can help others feel included. The illustrations by Patrice Barton are soft and gentle, just like Brian. LOVE!
From the amazing team who brought us “The Invisible Boy”, Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton’s new book “Quiet Please, Owen McPhee!” is a must have for a first week read-aloud to help build your classroom community. Owen McPhee loves to talk… and talk and talk and talk! (connections, anyone?) But when he develops laryngitis one day, he discovers the the value of being a good listener. Wonderful depiction of the social dynamics of a busy classroom with a gentle message about the importance of listening. LOVE!
We Don’t Eat our Classmates – Ryan T. Higgins
Oh my goodness – SUCH a funny book! Yes, there will be many “back to school” books being released this month… but this is definitely the one I recommend. So fresh and funny, but teaches empathy so beautifully. A perfect read-aloud or gift for that young one who might be experiencing “back to school jitters”.
How to Be a Lion – Ed Vere
Melt my heart. I love this book. SO simple yet such an important message: there is more than one way to do something. Or be something. Leonard is not your typical lion. Leonard is not fierce but enjoys the great outdoors and loves words. He befriends Marianne, a poetic duck and, together, they compose poems. When other lions hear about unconventional Leonard – they confront the pair. A unique and beautiful story about celebrating individuality and diversity; for standing up for your gentle self and befriending who you want. SUCH a great book for building classroom community!
I’m the Best! – Lucy Cousins
Some children like to brag. And while the line between being confident and being a “swagger-bragger” is often thin, it is an important distinction to discuss with your students. This cheerful, humorous book is a wonderful way to spark that discussion. Dog is “the best” at everything and likes to tell his friends all about his “amazingness”! Eventually, his friends are tired of his bragging so they start a little bragging of their own, helping Dog realize how it feels to be on the receiving end of a “swagger-bragger”. I love how this book gently shows how bragging impacts others.
Steve, Raised By Wolves – by Jared Chapman
LOL! This book is hilarious and would make a brilliant back to school read-aloud for any grade! Young Steve is literally raised by wolves. Mother wolf sends him on his first day of school with this advice: “Just be yourself!”. So Steve proceeds to do just that – howling in class, shredding homework, marking his territory, drinking from the toilet and pouncing on his classmates! His behavior does not go over well! In the end, Steve saves the day and helps to find the class pet. Great book for discussing appropriate school behavior as well as what it means to “be yourself”
Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners – Laurie Keller
Based on The Golden Rule, this book reminds young readers to treat others the way you would like to be treated. Simple message that being kind and using your manners will go a long way when interacting with other people. Love the word play and puns and quirky, fun illustrations.
A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices – Sally Derby
I love this unique look at the first day of school told through the voices of six diverse children, ranging in age from kindergarten to grade 5. Each child tells the story of their first day of school, beginning with the night before where readers will see that even children who are older worry about school and who their teacher will be. Excellent book for inferring, voice and point of view.
The Bad Seed – Jory John
This humorous tale of a bad sunflower seed who eventually turns good makes a great read-aloud for primary students. Sunflower is a BAAAAAAAAAD seed! How BAAAAAAAAD? He cuts in line, lies, doesn’t listen, has no manners…the list goes on! I like how this book explores how he got to be so bad as well as focusing on his transformation to the “good side”. Expressive illustrations – lots of laughs but great message.
What if Everybody Did That? – Colleen M. Madde
A wonderful book for teaching your students about following rules, making good choices, consequences of action or being conscious of your community – perfect for the beginning of the year. What if Everybody Did That? by Ellen Javernick has simple, up-beat text, colorful illustrations and gives a new perspective on how our choices impact the world around us. A good reminder to us all – before you do anything or say anything, ask yourself, “what if everybody did that?”
This School Year will Be The BEST! – Kay Winters
Fantastic beginning of school read-a-loud. Great for starting the conversation about what students are nervous about, thinking about, and hoping to get from school. Also a great anchor for writing about school goals and wishes for the new school year ahead.
Be Where Your Feet Are! – Julia Cook
A simple, child-friendly book about mindfulness and creating a positive classroom environment. Too often, our students are overbooked with school, homework, projects, sports, extra-curricular activities, family time and so much more. The main character in this book is so focused on his band tryouts that he can not focus on anything else. Mindfulness tips are included in the back of the book and would be great to kick off a class created list of ways students can work together to be present as individuals, supporting each other throughout the year.
Thanks for stopping by! What is your favorite book for building class community?