As we’re easing into back-to-school season, my heart sings. It’s time to create a new classroom community! This is by far my favorite time of the year. Since I started kindergarten at age 4, I’ve returned to school every September, first as a student, then studying in college, then as a teacher, and now as a school librarian. In all its iterations, this time of year calls for outstanding books.
Classroom teachers, especially, seize on great picture books in the first few weeks of school. It is common practice to spend time establishing a classroom community and creating group expectations and agreements before diving into curriculum products. In certain districts, this is the only chance teachers have to bring trade literature (books not provided by the teaching manuals) into their lessons. For some, it is the most crucial part of the school year.
Below, I’ve rounded up several books I’ve used in the past to connect with students, impart the importance of our mutual respect, and create a classroom community. Each book brings something a little different to the table, touching on something that helps define tricky terms or strengthen fledgling bonds. All of them are perfect for the first few weeks of school, but really, anytime your class is in need of a little connection.
I Promise by LeBron James, Niña Mata
This is my favorite book for creating a classroom promise, which some teachers use as an alternative to creating rules. As the children in the book work together to create a mural, they proclaim promises about things they will do for themselves, their families, and the community. There is even a list of promises at the end of the book that can help your kiddos generate one of their own!
Kindness is my Superpower: A children’s Book About Empathy, Kindness and Compassion by Alicia Ortego
While many teachers like to start the year by discussing things like kindness, respect, and responsibility, it’s often more difficult to appropriately define these virtues. Even adults struggle to explain what those things actually mean. That is why this series of books is so powerful. We all agree that we want kindness in our classroom, but this book provides dozens of concrete examples of what that will look and feel like.
You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown
Oh, sweet Lucy. This book about a boisterous bear who can be a little unsafe with her enthusiasm is perfect for helping students learn a myriad of lessons. Lucy needs to watch others around her to see if her body is making them feel nervous, but just as much, she needs to seek out the right kind of friend who loves her big personality just as it is. I love to read this in the first few days as we’re getting to know each other and beginning to form friendships.
I Can Do Hard Things: Mindful Affirmations for Kids by Gabi Garcia, Charity Russell
School is hard, and it’s supposed to be. If we make everything too easy for children, they will lose crucial coping and perseverance skills. However, we also want kids to feel safe and comfortable at school. Reminding students that slight discomfort is okay and that they are capable of hard things is so important. This book has simple, clear messages that should be read early and often throughout the year.
Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, Luisa Uribe
Every person deserves to have their name correctly pronounced. Knowing what each student wants to be called and saying it correctly is the bare minimum of respect that teachers can extend. This book celebrates names of every length and language of origin, and reminds everyone that getting it right counts.
When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang
This book is great for helping young people pick good coping mechanisms for their anger. Honestly, I’ve read this a lot, and never without a discussion about why it’s not a good idea to run out the door and into the woods (Sophie makes a break for it in this story). However, it’s a great springboard for having a plan for when you’re angry, identifying places and people who help you calm down, and remembering that taking a break and coming back to a tough situation always feels better than losing it.
I Like Me! By Nancy Carlson
Nothing is sweeter or simpler than this affirmation. Depending on the age of the students you’re reading to, this statement might already be a struggle. Nothing lays a stronger foundation for a positive classroom community than students with good self-esteem. If they leave your classroom carrying nothing else, have them leave with a strong self-image.
The Year We Learned to Fly by Jacqueline Woodson, Rafael López
I love sharing the previous book by this duo, On the Day You Begin, but I recently realized that their second collaboration is just as useful for laying the groundwork of a classroom community. Throughout the story, two kids are guided to use their own breathwork and imaginations to overcome boredom, anger, and other challenges. These coping mechanisms will serve students all year long.
Hopefully you’ve found some books to get your year started off right! Looking for more back-to-school content? Check out this list of books about the first day of school.