Picking out the first few weeks of read alouds is one of my FAVORITE, yet completely overwhelming, back to school activities! There are so many amazing authors out there providing books that cover everything you need for the first month of school. The many important lessons they learn from these great stories are crucial for students, especially to set the tone and expectations from the beginning of the year. It’s ok if they’ve read them before because they can still gain many wonderful things from hearing books more than once. As I said, this is a favorite yet daunting task, because so much thought should go into this. Many things this year have opened my eyes on the way I go about choosing back to school read alouds, as well as what to stock my classroom library with.
One HUGE shift I’ve had in my thinking was after reading a powerful quote from a wonderful woman named Rudine Sims Bishop. She says,
“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of a larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”
― Rudine Sims Bishop
I heard this quote during the virtual Get Your Teach On conference this summer, and wow did it resonate with me. I reflected on my own classroom library (something I would highly recommend) and realized I did not have NEARLY enough books that serve as mirrors and windows for my students. I promptly began researching and found a number of wonderful books to help students. This is a journey that is never ending. It is our responsibility as educators to help dismantle biases and foster a safe environment for all students to feel welcome and valued. What better way to begin that journey than through literature?
Another eye opening bit of information I came across was a study conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto.
The study found that, “For stories with anthropomorphized animal characters, many children may find them not to be relatable and thus not act according to the moral of the story.”
What does that mean in context? When students hear a story with a lesson you want them to learn, if the main characters are animals vs human characters, the students would connect more to the people than the animals. Can I say my mind was blown?! All these years I’ve read book after book with animals learning a lesson and wondered why students still struggled so much with the central message. Well, ding ding ding! It’s apparent they are able to distance themselves from the animals therefore not completely making the connection! I immediately reflected on previous lists for back to school read alouds and I knew I needed to do better, now that I know better. Did that mean no animal books made the cut? Absolutely not! They still spark imagination and are good for fillers on top of the books with human characters that teach the same lesson.
This list was very difficult for me to compile. Why? Come on. Only 25 books?! There are literally THOUSANDS of amazing books out there!! But I did deeply think and choose 25 pretty great ones to help build your classroom community and set expectations for your entire year together. Keep in mind that I teach primary students, so some of these books may be geared towards littles. However, I believe that most of the books can be used for any elementary grade student. Here I’ll cover some of my favorite read alouds that I personally use during the first month of school and why! So.. what are we waiting for? Let’s get started!
- All Are Welcome- This book is the PERFECT way to establish that your classroom is a welcoming environment for ALL students, no matter their differences. This will help set the tone of your classroom community and how you expect everyone to be treated. This book helps children feel safe and welcome and know that no matter what, they WILL be accepted and loved in your classroom.
2. Giraffes Can’t Dance- I LOVE reading this book at the beginning of the year. It helps teach students about the importance of a growth mindset. It is also a great read aloud to help set the stage for goal setting. A few more growth mindset books I love to read are: Bubblegum Brain, Leo the Late Bloomer, and The Girl Who Never Makes Mistakes.
3. Say Something- I cannot say enough good things about this book. It helps students find their voice and know they are expected to stand up for ALL students and that it is right to SAY SOMETHING. It helps them know that we are all a part of this class together and we need to use our voices to support one another and stand up for what is right.
4. Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns to Listen- I have been reading this book almost as long as I’ve been teaching! It is my favorite book to help students understand the importance of listening to others. They get to hear and learn about how to listen in a safe and funny way. Another great Howard book for students is Howard Learns It’s OK to Back Away This book helps students understand their feelings and that it’s ok to be angry.
5. The Day You Begin- This is a sweet book that helps us celebrate our different cultures and what makes each of us special. It also shows how we might feel when we go somewhere new but that we can find our place in the classroom to be a part of this community together. The cultural aspect really broadens students’ minds to the world around them and another great addition to this theme is Malala’s Magic Pencil. If you subscribe, you will have exclusive access to a Day You Begin digital FREEBIE!
6. The Name Jar- This is a brand new favorite of mine. This book is a wonderful way to kick off the year and celebrate our names and what makes them special. This will again help set the tone for your classroom that all students will be respected and celebrated for their differences. Some more amazing books to celebrate differences and our names are Your Name is a Song and The Arabic Quilt!
7. You’re Finally Here!– Students LOVE this book. It shows kids how excited we are as teachers to have them in our classroom and how long we’ve been waiting for them. It’s cute, funny, and entertaining!
8. The Bad Seed & The Good Egg- Both of these books teach students the lesson of it being okay to make bad decisions sometimes and how to reflect. They’re both great for introducing having a growth mindset. It shows students, in a super fun way that students can relate to, that just because something happens to you it doesn’t make you ‘bad’ and that you don’t have to be perfect under pressure.
9.How Do Dinosaurs Go to School?- This is a fun book that shows students the “wrong” things to do at school and the kids absolutely love it! It sparks great conversations about correct choices at school. Another one like this is David Goes to School. Sometimes seeing the opposite of what to do reminds us to correct ourselves. A fun spin on a regular read aloud is a choose your own adventure book about making the right choices but has consequences when you don’t. Pick up What Should Danny Do? School Day if you want that cool spin. Kids LOVE seeing how the positive and negative choices can affect our day in different ways.
10. First Day Jitters- This is my FAVORITE book to read on the very first day of school. It is such a sweet book that students and teachers both love. It shows students that it’s ok to be nervous and that even teachers feel that way too.
11. Chrysanthemum- This classic shows students how it feels when someone says hurtful words about you. It helps students understand how our words can really hurt people even if we can’t see it.
12. Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon- This is another book that shows students that it’s ok to be themselves, even if that means they’re different. It shows students how to stand up for themselves and to be brave like Molly Lou. I Like Myself is also a great book to help students appreciate that it is GOOD to be different!
13. The Most Magnificent Thing- This is one of my favorite books to use to begin STEM in our classroom. It shows students that even when we have an idea, things may not go how we plan but to NEVER give up. It’s a perfect lesson to build flexibility and patience in students and to help motivate them to keep striving when things aren’t going like they thought it would during a project.
14. How Full is Your Bucket?- This is a great book that provides a great metaphor for students to see how their actions impact others. Using this language helps students understand others’ feelings that can be used for the entire year.
15. Teamwork Isn’t My Thing and I Don’t Share- Teamwork is essential to a successful classroom. This book is the perfect way to help students see the importance of teamwork! Teamwork will look a lot different this year so this book would be a perfect introduction into how it should look in your classroom.
16. Our Class is a Family- This is a newly published book by one of my favorite people to follow on Instagram. @lifebetweensummers This story helps your students know that we are all a family in the classroom and we are a TEAM that works together and loves one another.
17. Skin Like Mine- Help students understand that NO matter their skin color, they will be a valued part of the classroom. This book goes through all different skin colors, from dark to light, and shares how our different skin colors make us special. What a great way to begin to build an inclusive community in your classroom which is SUPER important.
18. My Mouth is A Volcano- This is such a fun book to teach students about learning how to calm their ‘volcano mouths’. I just have to say that you’ll notice I have a few different Julia Cook books on this list. She has some of the BEST social emotional books for children! I love to relate this one back to The Interrupting Chicken because it brings about some more fun discussions that students love when it comes using their voice at the right times.
19. Kindness is Cooler Mrs. Ruler- Mrs. Ruler is here to teach about kindness! It allows students to learn about paying it forward and how our acts of kindness can affect others. Another AMAZING book about kindness is Be Kind.
20. The Pigeon Has to Go to School- Here is one of my favorite new read alouds! Pigeon is a beloved character that goes through all the feelings of going to school. It’s a great book that shows students it’s ok to be nervous but to realize all the fun and amazing things they’ll get to learn and do at school!
21. The Recess Queen- This is a great book I love to read before sending students outside for recess for the first time. It’s all about how people may be going through things we don’t understand and to show them kindness anyway. This year recess time will look really different and it will be crucial to set expectations for it. This book is a perfect way to start the discussion with students.
22. What if Everybody Did That?- This is a great story that captures the bigger picture of how our actions affect others at and beyond school. It challenges them to see how we collectively we can make a positive impact on our world.
23. I Can Do Hard Things- and I Am Enough. I know I’m cheating adding in other books but I’m sure you don’t mind! These two titles help build up students’ confidence and give them positive affirmations when things get challenging. As you may have noticed from other book titles, I love to begin the year with TONS of growth mindset books to help students build the vocabulary of YET and know that they CAN do all things they put their minds to. You can also grab this great I Am Enough affirmation companion activity HERE!
24. The World Needs More Purple People- I LOVE this book for so many reasons. It helps children learn that purple people are special and that our classroom will be FILLED with purple people. These types of people ask questions about the world, laugh and have fun together, while working hard, using your voice, and being YOU!
25. Little Monkey Calms Down & Little Mouse Says Sorry- These are some of my favorite books to teach students important life skills. We as educators have to help students recognize and deal with emotions and these books open up great dialogue about conflict management.
These are just SOME of my favorite read alouds. 25 doesn’t seem like nearly enough because there are obviously SO many more great books out there! If you have any more must read Back to School books please share them in the comments! I’m always looking to grow my library! Reading meaningful stories that teach important lessons is crucial to help build morals and values. I love children’s literature and there are so many great stories that open up opportunities for students to connect and see how others manage and work through tough issues. The best part is that most ALL of these books can also be found online read aloud on YouTube. Even if your district does not approve YouTube, you can save the video to your Google Drive and upload it to the online learning platform you use with your students.
Another great resource to further your options is Instagram! Some amazing ladies to follow on Instagram for ALL the books are: @thetututeacher – she has the low down on SO many amazing books. Her book lists that she compiles are amazing and she can really help you grow your diverse library. Get those windows and mirrors! Another great account is @storiesbystorie – she also has lots of amazing titles to books I’ve yet to hear of. Between these two ladies, you have got your book lists covered!
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