There has always been something truly magical to me about the beginning of a new school year. It’s an opportunity to start anew: to set new goals, make new friends, and reinvent yourself as something even better than you were the year before. Whether you are the teacher or a student, a new school year is the chance to build a new community, form new friendships, and connect with others.
In the midst of days spent building routines, conducting baseline assessments, and figuring out seating and transportation and intervention times, read alouds have always been my calm in the storm. Setting aside precious time each day to share a favorite text with students allows me to create a shared experience with my students, establish a climate of respect and empathy, and tackle conversations about the real issues that are part all of our lives.
Each year, I carefully consider the read alouds I select at the beginning of the school year. What message will they send to this group of children? How will they help me build community? What will each book tell my students about me? What will they help me learn about my students?
As school gets into full swing this new school year, the following titles are close to my heart as I consider the “perfect” beginning of the year read alouds:
Molly Lou Melon has held a place on my back-to-school list for years, a quick picture book read aloud with bold illustrations and lyrical writing that establishes one of the most important themes for students to hear in any classroom: be true to who you are.
Alexis O’Neill’s The Recess Queen is perfect for tackling discussions about bullying and respect at the beginning of the year. This rhyming picture book has language that pops as Mean Jean the Recess Queen turns her bullying habits around thanks to an example of kindness on the playground from a peer.
Jacqueline Woodson also tackles the issue of bullying in Each Kindness. This story, told from the perspective of the antagonist, is perfect for upper elementary students as it leaves them wondering about second chances that may not happen, the power of peer pressure, and the bitterness of regret.
Though simplistic in appearance, Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie series is excellent for tackling big ideas with young readers. Can I Play, Too? will start great discussions about how to include others, even when they are different from you.
The Big One-Oh has been one of my favorite chapter books to kick off the school year because it tackles serious issues with warmth and lightheartedness. As Charley, the main character, tries to plan his own birthday party for his “big one-oh,” readers easily connect with a child who has a series of misadventures in his quest to make friends and become comfortable with his own life circumstances.
Ever since hearing Sharon Draper read Melody’s words aloud at a conference a few years ago, I have been captivated by the power of Out of My Mind to impress on children the significance of having an open mind and including others. As readers work to understand how Melody is not defined by her special needs, classroom community is built each year as students unite to defend a fictitious character against the very real injustices that face her at school.
Because of Mr. Terupt stands apart from other novels because it is told in the voice of many characters as they build relationships with one another and with their teacher, Mr. Terupt. Kids easily identify with this book because of the diversity of the characters and the conflicts they encounter with one another, and it is a powerful novel for sharing the experience of working through problems and forgiving one another.
The newest and final book on this list, Sarah Weeks’ and Gita Varadarajan’s Save Me a Seat is the perfect novel to show a community of learners how our differences can bring us together. This book also takes on the themes of bullying and friendship, and this is a fantastic novel for initiating conversations about respecting those qualities about each of us that make us so unique.