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Back to School Picture Book Recommendations and Resources for Educators

The first few weeks back to school are hugely important when it comes to building relationships and nurturing classroom culture and community.

Each classroom on the first day of school is full of students harboring every emotion imaginable. It feels impossible to meet the needs of everyone, and yet, it’s what's tasked to educators every day, all year long, and the stakes are especially high at the beginning of the year.

We believe that the right book has the power to draw in the dreamers, thinkers, worriers, skeptics and do-gooders. Books can connect, restore and elevate. They can be powerful vehicles for facilitating conversations about justice, values, diversity, inclusion, truthfulness and dreams.

We hope that some of our themes below resonate with you, and find a way into your back to school planning. For more recommendations, visit our Bookshop page.

  • Nurturing Community: When it comes to setting the tone for a classroom, teachers can foster community and help students feel connected, listened to, and seen by reading and discussing books like, Every Little Letter, All Are Welcome, and The Invisible Boy. We love the themes of collaboration, inclusion, kindness and empathy that are woven throughout each story. One suggestion is to incorporate a morning meeting into your daily routine to continue cultivating togetherness.

  • Encouraging Persistence: For teachers who love the classic, Giraffes Can’t Dance, check-out The Magical Yet. It's an incredibly beautiful, relatable and lyrical book that models for kids how effort, perseverance and patience can be rewarding and fun. For young learners, we love using the Sesame Street song, the Power of Yet, by Janelle Monae, as an introduction for this topic. If you sell it well enough, older kids will get on board, too. It’s a fun one!

  • Celebrating Hopes and Dreams: In the past, teachers have relied on Oh, the Places You Will Go, to reinforce the concept that anything is possible for kids. We recommend the modernized and more inclusive books, What Will You Be, and What the Road Said. These books remind students to be themselves, keep going even when things are hard, and enjoy the journey. The Responsive Classroom website has a thorough and grade-specific guide for facilitating conversations around this topic.

  • Modeling Self-Love: Is there anything more beautiful than a classroom full of students who are empowered to be their most authentic selves? We don’t think so! Check out some of our favorite books that help students feel seen, loved, and cherished for exactly who they are: What Are Your Words?, Laxmi’s Mooch, Hair Twins, I am Every Good Thing, Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, Sulwe and Honeysmoke.

  • Appreciating Cultural Differences: Books can serve as “windows and mirrors” so that students can see themselves authentically reflected in classroom literature and get a glimpse into someone else's lived experience. Some of our favorites include: Our Favorite Day of the Year, The Proudest Blue, Isabel and Her Colores Goes to School, Kalamata’s Kitchen, and The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh. It’s all too common for students to feel anxious or embarrassed by the food they bring to school or the clothes they wear. We highly recommend using the Learning for Justice virtual read aloud, Min Jee's Lunch, as a classroom activity and discussion. It was created by educator and activist Liz Kleinrock in response to growing anti-Asian hate in 2020.

  • Cultivating Activism: We enjoy using books to inspire activism and compassion in young learners. When students have a why behind their learning, it immediately becomes more powerful and important to them. Being empowered by their capabilities can have transformative effects on their lives. Some of our favorite books that promote activism are: We Move the World, Speak Up, The Last Straw: Kids Vs. Plastics, Malala’s Magic Pencil, Sometimes People March, Love is Powerful, the Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade, We Are Water Protectors, and Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights.

  • Honoring Names: The Name Jar was published almost twenty years ago and is still a popular teacher choice to reinforce the importance of embracing culture and identity. Your Name is a Song is a newer release that takes its readers on a journey to discover how the beauty and history of names and their pronunciation matters. Everyone deserves to be called by their chosen name and to have it pronounced correctly. Teachers, Your Name is a Song is the perfect book to model this and encourage this same behavior from your students. Check out these teaching resources from author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow.

  • Amplifying Disability Awareness: No matter the make-up of a particular classroom, we love using books like, What Happened to You?, I Talk Like a River, We Move Together, and Can Bears Ski?, to showcase differences and give perspective for both disabled and able-bodied students. The author of What Happened to You? collaborated with an educator to create lesson plans and resources to help with teaching and learning.

  • Respecting Boundaries: Consent is another crucial topic for the first few weeks of school. Luckily, the selection of books on this topic is growing. We recommend the straightforward and fun book, Don’t Hug Doug (He Doesn’t Like it), as well as C is for Consent (a text heavy board book appropriate for learners up to second grade). For more context on why it’s important to discuss consent at school, this article can help.


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