Down South sometimes we do things a little differently… like starting back to school in early August. So while many a teacher is still enjoying their summer vacation until after Labor Day, my first day of school was a week ago.
To me, the first days of school are some of the richest times for the development of classroom culture. One easy way to help instill the character and traits you envision for your classroom community is by reading aloud picture books. Which led me to wonder, What are some of my favorite back-to-school books?
While every teacher has a few of these character-building books in their arsenal, these are some of my favorites for the first days of school:
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
The story of a little mouse with a big name, this classic back-to-school tale reveals to students the power of words. As students arrive for their first day of Kindergarten, Henkes highlights through witty dialogue the influence of others on the main character, Chrysanthemum’s, confidence. When the other animals start to make fun of Chrysanthemum’s name, she crumples and wilts. It is only after a kind music teacher praises her name, that Chrysanthemum begins to feel reinvigorated and proud of who she is. This is a great story to help highlight the power of kind and unkind words in your classroom, as well as the importance of having confidence in yourself.
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister; translated by J. Alison James
Rainbow Fish is not like the other fish. He has beautiful, sparkly fins that are highlighted through the addition of iridescent foil scales by Pfister. Rainbow Fish is also lonely and selfish. It is not until he begins to share his scales that he discovers the power of sharing and friendship. Students are typically immediately drawn in by the eye-catching sparkle of this book’s illustrations. When reading comes to a close, however, they are also able to discuss strategies for making friends and how to build relationships with their peers.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
At first, this silly, easy reader might seem like an odd choice for culture building. I’ve found, however, that the easy plotline of this tale allows students to understand the benefit of trying something new. Dr. Seuss’ ability to draw students in through his funny rhyming scheme immediately captures students. As the readers witness I-am-Sam’s relentless attempts to get the main character to try green eggs and ham, they can also be introduced to the idea of bravery. In school students will be asked to take on challenging tasks that often they have never been exposed to, however, just like in Green Eggs and Ham, they might also find that sometimes they like new things.
Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus; illustrated by Jose Aruego
This simple story tells the tale of Leo, a small lion who struggles to complete the same tasks as his animal peers. While they can read, write and eat neatly. Leo cannot. His father becomes concerned, yet Leo’s mother remains confident that Leo will complete these tasks in his own time. By the end of story Leo has “bloomed!” and is able to keep up with his animal friends. The bright illustrations of this story engage students, as does the relatable story line. Ultimately students are able to walk away able to discuss ideas of persistence and grit.