Starting your 1st year of teaching and don’t know where to begin? Starting your 20th year of teaching and need some new ideas? Somewhere in the middle? We’ve got you covered.
Just in case you’re not like me (ahem – highly obsessed with picture books – I have shelf after shelf full of picture books and am a firm believer that they can change the world) or have had more important things going on the past few months (like – surviving a global pandemic, worrying about getting a job, graduating, enjoying much-deserved family time and disconnection from school) I decided I needed to share some of my very favorite books for the first weeks of school with you.
Granted, the first few weeks aren’t all about reading amazing picture books to your students. They fly by as you share and model expectations, build your classroom community and start in on the academics… but I’m pretty sure a great picture book can be the spark for a great day of learning (and a love of reading). 🥰
Plus, since they are books for the first weeks of school, they generally align with either teaching specific expectations or communicating certain ideas or are just good first-week books (with lots of community-building messages). I’ve denoted when they’re particularly good for something specific below. Teaching expectations with picture books in primary just makes sense. Students seem to ‘get it’ more and I can remind them of the character in the book when we do reteaching of an expectation or if they need a reminder.
📚 Read Aloud Books for the First Weeks of School 📚
📙 First Week book 1 – School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex
- Theme: First Day of School
- This sweet story is about a new school that doesn’t know its purpose in life. It spends its summer days with Janitor and isn’t too sure how he feels about it when Janitor tells him soon there will be children everywhere. School isn’t sure it likes all these children who say they don’t like school and spill food everywhere but change their mind when they all leave at the end of the day. Perfect for your less than eager to return students!
📘 2 – All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold
- Theme: Class Community, Inclusion, Diversity
- This book follows a group of students through their first day of school with an emphasis on how everyone, regardless of race, ability, religion, etc. is welcome here. I’m thankful for this book because of the diversity displayed in the students shown and that diversity including students of varying physical abilities and family structures, as well as race and religion. This is a must for your list of books for the first weeks of school!
📙 3 – The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
- Theme: Class Community, Feeling Different
- The Day You Begin is about starting something and feeling like you’re the only one who is/has/does/speaks/etc…the alienating feeling that can come from being singled out because of something that makes you, you. Then, one day, you begin to share and things start to feel a little more welcoming to you, and you start to see things in others that are just like you. Bonus points for beautiful illustrations in this one!
📘 First Week book 4 – Our Class is a Family by Shannon Olsen
- Theme: Class Community
- Help your students learn that the classroom you share is a place where everyone is safe, can make mistakes, and be themselves. Help them learn to respect each other and build a strong classroom community with ‘Our Class is a Family.’
📙 5 – A Letter From Your Teacher: On the First Day of School by Shannon Olsen
- Theme: Your Teacher Cares About You
- Written from ‘your teacher,’ this book shares all the things we want to communicate to our students on that very first day to start building strong relationships with them. It tells the nuts and bolts of the year (we’ll learn…both content area information, but things like empathy), but also how you want to learn about your students as individuals and cheer them on. This book has a dash of growth mindset and how the classroom will be a happy and loving place as well as a spot for you to sign your name at the end!
📘 6 – What Should Danny Do? School Day by Adir Levy and Ganit Levy
- Theme: The Power to Choose (Behaviors)
- This is a choose your own adventure style book, with this version being focused on Danny’s choices and how they impact his life at school. Students love to take Danny through a variety of options for his day and see a direct impact from his choices – both positive and negative. They also learn that one or two bad choices don’t mean the whole day needs to be ruined – that you have the power to choose and can turn the day around. I include this is as a must for your list of books for the first weeks of school because the students love it so much, it offers so many options, and is a great way to get your students to understand the many concepts! Bonus: The authors have free teaching resources aligned with their books you can get by signing up at their website!
📙 First Week book 7 – I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët
- Theme: Kindness, Standing Up For Others
- This is a wordless picture book about a new girl at school. She is alone and feels left out all day. When she goes home, she runs into a bully and is left feeling even worse. As she runs across the street to her new house, she starts to cry. Another little girl sees this all happen and tells her friends about it. She clearly feels bad for the rest of the night and decides to do something about it.
📘 8 – Say Something by Peter H Reynolds
- Theme: Use Your Voice
- Peter H. Reynolds is one of my all-time favorites. He just hits a home run with every. Single. Book. My top two favorites made this list and Say Something is the leader by leaps and bounds. It is all about how everyone, regardless of who you are, can use their voice to make a difference in the world using our words, actions, and voices. This is perfect for letting students know how much you value their voices as individuals and that they have the power to make positive change – in the classroom, the school, on the playground, anywhere! This is an absolute MUST to put on your list of books for the first weeks of school.
📙 9 – Be You! By Peter H. Reynolds
- Theme: Be Yourself
- I. Love. This. Book. Peter H. Reynolds shares all the traits he wants you to have as you grow and change through life, things like curiosity, persistence, and your own thinker. I think students need all the encouragement in the world to value themselves as individuals and this is a great way to start that. As a side note – I can totally see this book as a book families get and have all the teachers sign throughout their child’s life to gift to them at graduation! Such an important message is shared – everyone needs to read it!
📘 First Week book 10 – I Am Enough by Grace Byers
- Theme: Love Yourself
- The title says it all in this quick read – it is all about self-empowerment, self-love, and respecting others, valuing the things that make us all different.
📙 11 – The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do by Ashley Spires
- Theme: Trying New Things, Resilience, Courage
- Lou and her friends are never ones to turn down an adventure. That is, until the day they decide to do something new for Lou…climbing a tree. She is positive that she can’t do it. She does everything she can to avoid it and then convinces herself she just doesn’t want to climb – it certainly isn’t that she is scared to do something new. In the end, Lou tries and fails, but is empowered by her choice (a nod to growth mindset!).
📘 12 – Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall, 13 – Jabari Tries
- Theme: Trying New Things, Courage, Resilience, Perseverance, Problem Solving
- In Jabari Jumps, Jabari decides he is ready to jump off the high dive at the pool until he gets to the ladder. He makes excuses for why it isn’t quite time for him to jump yet, but with the support of his dad, some deep breaths
- In the second book in the series, Jabari Tries, Jabari decides to make a machine that will fly across the yard. His machine won’t work, his sister wants to join him, and he gets very frustrated. Jabari solves his problem and perseveres, getting his machine to fly in the end. Jabari has a special place in my heart (funny enough, there’s a Nike commercial that could totally be Jabari! Check it out here! I used this as a ‘compare/contrast’ situation with multimedia/book and making connections!) and I think he should definitely be on your list of books for the first weeks of school.
📙 First Week book 14 – Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
- Theme: Each of Us is Unique
- Amy Krouse Rosenthal is another of my favorite authors and she hit the nail on the head with this series, as usual. Spoon isn’t feeling so great about itself – especially when compared to its friends Knife, Fork, and Chopsticks. Spoon thinks they’re all so lucky and is a bit jealous. Meanwhile, Knife, Fork, and Chopsticks are all jealous of Spoon! Spoon’s mother reminds Spoon of all the things it can do that the others can’t and changes its mind.
📘 15 – Straw by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
- Theme: Slow Down (Don’t rush through life – your work)
- Straw really likes to be first. I mean, realllllly likes to be first. Until the day it got a brain freeze. Straw wasn’t sure what to do – this went against everything it had experienced! One of Straw’s glassmates saw it was down and showed it how to blow bubbles. Swirly Straw teaches Straw that it isn’t all about getting done quickly – sometimes it is better to slow down and enjoy the view – and make the good things last. This book is totally ‘strawesome’ (and yes, find this and other puns in the book!).
📚 Books for Teaching Procedures 📚
Julia Cook has many books to teach about procedures. Chances are, no matter what topic you’re looking for, she has a book on it. I use these throughout the year, but they are great for setting up your routines and procedures in your classroom. Check out her website here!
Great examples include: Decibella and her 6-Inch Voice (good to teach voice levels), My Mouth is a Volcano! (good to teach raising your hand/not blurting), Teamwork Isn’t My Thing and I Don’t Like to Share! (I bet you couldn’t figure this one out…it is about teamwork and sharing!) and A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue (another tricky one, right? 😂 It is about tattling!).
📙 First Week book 20 – Lacey Walker, Nonstop Talker by Christianne C. Jones
- Theme: The Importance of Listening
- Lacey Walker loves to talk and everyone knows it. One day, Lacey wakes up with no voice and learns the value in listening to others.
📚 Books About Names 📚
I always started the year with a mini-unit on names – writing names, reading about names, how our names make us unique and wonderful, giving students a chance to share about themselves and their names. Names are so important – and the pronunciation of those names matters. I can’t even pick my favorite books for this so I think they should all be on your list of books for the first weeks of school!
📘 21 – Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
- This is a beautiful Caldecott Honor Book about Alma and how she got her name – with bits and pieces coming from all of her relatives. Alma asks her dad one day why she has such a long name. She thinks it doesn’t fit her. So, her dad tells her the story of her name – from her great-grandmother Esperanza to the name picked just for her, Alma learns a little bit about each of her relatives and finds a bit of herself in each of them.
📙 22 – Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
- This story is about a little girl who goes to a new school and decides after the first day to never go back because no one, not even her teacher, can say her name. Not only that, but some of the kids make fun of her name. Her mother tells her that her name is a song and shares many names through song. The following day, the girl teaches everyone the song of her name, and theirs!
- A pronunciation guide is included at the back – practice this before you read the book!
📘 First Week book 23 – Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie
- Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his father – but he doesn’t like his name. He wants a ‘normal’ name and definitely doesn’t want to share his name with his dad. He wants a name like ‘Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth’ to celebrate the time he touched an orca on the nose. Or ‘Touch the Clouds’ to celebrate the time he climbed a mountain. As we learn more about ‘Little Thunder’ as he is called, his father tells him it is time for him to have his own name…and the name they pick is perfect.
📙 24 – The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
- Unhei is a new student who just arrived from Korea. After introducing herself to a few kids on the bus and seeing how they make fun of her, she decides that she will tell her classmates she hasn’t picked her ‘American name’ yet. In the end, Unhei decides to keep her own name. She helps her teacher and classmates learn how to say it properly.
📘 First Week Book 25 – Always Anjali by Sheetal Sheth
- Anjali and her friends try to get personalized license plates for their bikes, but while her friends easily find theirs. Anjali can’t find hers. Kids at school make fun of her for her unique name and she decides she is going to change it. Her parents tell her she can’t and she comes up with a creative solution (as do her friends). For the problem that flips the situation completely and makes Anjali proud of herself and her name.
Will you be able to read all of these in your first week? Not if you’re giving each book the time it deserves! But just think – this list of 25 books for the first weeks of school could easily get you through the first month or so…and how wonderful does that sound, not having to worry about what you’ll read for the first month of school?! If you have other favorite books for the first weeks of school, please share them below. Happy reading – whatever you choose!
P.S. Teacher Tip
Don’t feel like you have to buy all the things right away. Check out your school library and the public library (reserve early for certain seasonally ‘hot’ books!). A bonus to this is that by getting to know your local children’s librarian, you can have a huge ally in finding books you’re looking for, getting recommendations, and more! #loveyourpubliclibrary
You can also find many books read aloud on YouTube! If you can’t get your hands on a copy when you absolutely need it or want a preview (but I highly recommend supporting authors and illustrators in their work and purchasing the books you love – also because you’re really going to want to have them on hand!). Pro Tip – play the video of the read-aloud on YouTube, but turn the volume off and read it yourself!
WRITTEN BY: KRISTIN HALVERSON, NBCT
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