Books to Begin the School Year

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Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win ALL SIX of these picture books for your classroom library.

Every year, during the first six weeks of school, we select books to read to our students that will build community, encourage a growth mindset, and foster empathy for others. For instance, my daughter’s second-grade teacher began the first week of school with a trio of Peter H. Reynolds books — Happy DreamerIsh, and Sky Color — that I adore. (My daughter even made her own Ish book as a result of the read aloud her teacher did!) These are the kinds of books I know her teacher will return to throughout the year when she engages with the children.

I have many “tried and true” book recommendations that I suggest teachers read to children at the beginning of the school year. However, it’s important to introduce new books to kids as well. I have a few recently-published book recommendations you can add to your back-to-school read aloud list.

Dear Substitute High ResDear Substitute written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Chris Raschka

Publisher’s Summary: When a substitute teacher named Miss Pelly comes to class, one student bristles at the change in routine-Miss Pelly doesn’t follow the rules like Mrs. Giordano. But in time, our student learns that even though the substitute may do things a little differently, and she may be a bit silly, mixing things up might not be so bad. Told in a series of epistolary poems, this funny, relatable picture book is a great fit for classrooms and for any child nervous about new experiences.

A Few Craft Moves You Can Teach Young Writers: font treatment (e.g., italics), poems that read as letters, punctuation that creates voice (e.g., colons, compound adjectives, dashes, parenthesis), repetition, and varied sentence lengths.

Suggestion(s) for Using This Book as You Begin the School Year: preparing for a guest teacher; debriefing from a guest teacher’s visit

Kang-Eraser-Eraser written by Anna Kang and illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Publisher’s Summary: Eraser is always cleaning up everyone else’s mistakes. Except for Ruler and Pencil Sharpener, none of the other school supplies seem to appreciate her. They all love how sharp Pencil is and how Tape and Glue help everyone stick together. Eraser wants to create so that she can shine like the others. She decides to give it a try, but it’s not until the rubber meets the road that Eraser begins to understand a whole lot about herself.

Inspired by a school essay their daughter Kate wrote in the third grade, the author and illustrator behind Theodor Seuss Geisel Award–winner You Are (Not) Small have created a desktop drama about figuring out who you are, finding happiness, and the importance of second, third, and maybe even fourth chances.

A Few Craft Moves You Can Teach Young Writers: conversation (n.b.: it isn’t written as speech bubbles or as dialogue with quotation marks), ellipses points, font treatment, movement of time and place, onomatopoeia, personification, and puns.

Suggestion(s) for Using This Book as You Begin the School Year: discovering every person’s special skill or talent; making mistakes is part of life; realizing that persistence and dedication pays off

Quiet Please, Owen McPhee!Quiet Please, Owen McPhee! written by Trudy Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton

Publisher’s Summary: Owen McPhee doesn’t just like to talk, he LOVES to talk. He spends every waking minute chattering away at his teachers, his classmates, his parents, his dog, and even himself. But all that talking can get in the way of listening. And when Owen wakes up with a bad case of laryngitis, it gives him a much-needed opportunity to hear what others have to say.

A Few Craft Moves You Can Teach Young Writers: dialogue that advances the story, meet the characters lead, movement of time and place, onomatopoeia, punctuation to create voice (e.g., commas, ellipses points, exclamation points), speech bubbles

Suggestion(s) for Using This Book as You Begin the School Year: listening helps us better understand each other; respecting others is important

Check out the discussion questions located in the back matter of this text for ways to start a discussion with your students.

9780399246531.mThe Day You Begin written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael Lopez

Publisher’s Summary: There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.

Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael López’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.

A Few Craft Moves You Can Teach Young Writers: italic font treatment to represent spoken words, punctuation to create voice (e.g., commas in lists, dashes, ellipses points), repetition, talking to the reader lead, and varied sentence lengths.

Suggestion(s) for Using This Book as You Begin the School Year: fostering conversations about the beauty of everyone’s differences; overcoming fear/loneliness; sharing stories helps us better understand each other.

The Dreamer_FCThe Dreamer by Il Sung Na

Publisher’s Summary: Once, there was a pig who admired birds. But he could never join them. Or could he?

Thus begins the journey of a pig with big dreams, and the perseverance to make them come true. He develops flight plans, builds experimental contraptions, and has far-flung adventures, but at the end of the day, his favorite thing to do is still to sit and watch for those he loves best: the birds. Il Sung Na creates a world at once whimsical and aspirational, where anything is possible and, yes, even pigs can learn to fly.

A Few Craft Moves You Can Teach Young Writers: circular ending, ellipses points, fragments, lead (i.e., meet the characters + question), print layout, and varied sentence lengths.

Suggestion(s) for Using This Book as You Begin the School Year: introducing the concept of having a growth mindset; starting a discussion about hopes and dreams for the school year

What Can a Citizen Do_FCWhat Can a Citizen Do? written by Dave Eggers and illustrated by Shawn Harris

Publisher’s Summary: Empowering and timeless, What Can a Citizen Do? is the latest collaboration from the acclaimed duo behind the bestselling Her Right Foot: Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris. This is a book for today’s youth about what it means to be a citizen.

Across the course of several seemingly unrelated but ultimately connected actions by different children, we watch how kids turn a lonely island into a community—and watch a journey from what the world should be to what the world could be.

This is a book about what citizenship—good citizenship—means to you, and to us all.

A Few Craft Moves You Can Teach Young Writers: circular ending, fragments, leading with a question, punctuation to create voice (e.g., comma use, a variety of end punctuation), use of 2nd and 3rd person, and varied sentence lengths

Suggestion(s) for Using This Book as You Begin the School Year: making connections between the ways a country’s citizens can help and the way citizens of a classroom (or a school) can make a difference; creating a strong classroom community

{All of the craft moves listed above are explained in Craft Moves: Lesson Sets for Teaching Writing with Mentor Texts.}

I hope you’ll add at least one of these into your read alouds during the first six weeks of the school year! Be sure to enter the giveaway (below) for a chance to win all six of these books for your classroom!

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of each of the following books: Dear SubstituteEraser, Quiet Please, Owen McPhee!, The Day You Begin, The Dreamer, What Can a Citizen Do? Many thanks to Chronicle Books, Hyperion, Knopf, Nancy Paulsen Books, and Two Lions for donating a copy of each of these books for one lucky reader.
  • For a chance to win these six books, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, September 14th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Monday, September 17th. NOTE: You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter this giveaway since a couple of the publishers only ship domestically.
    • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contacts at each of the above-mentioned publishers will ship your books out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – BOOKS TO BEGIN THE SCHOOL YEAR. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed.

Adanna McMayo’s commenter number was selected using a random number generator so she’ll win this text set.