Perfect Back-to-School Read Alouds for Kids
Books are so often the cornerstone of activities, discussions and culture building during the first few weeks of school. We’re thrilled to help you select the perfect books to affirm young students and nurture their confidence and character.
Increasingly, you hear stories about teachers not having enough time in their day to read aloud to their students. This is such a hard spot for educators to find themselves in. Like all teachers, we wholeheartedly believe that kids of all ages benefit from being read to, and that early childhood and elementary educators in particular must prioritize reading exposures. We’re guessing you agree since you found yourself here!
Our goal is to continue to champion the transformative power of reading, and we hope these book recommendations help you ignite a love of reading and spark meaningful conversations during those crucial first few weeks of school.
Our back to school recommendations cover a wide range of topics, including, but not limited to, growth mindset, inclusion, self-confidence, consent, education access and empathy.
Educators can also find book recommendations for honing their craft here.
Author/Illustrator: Monica Arnaldo | Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Prepare for plenty of giggles as a kindergarten class arrives for their first day of school, but can't find their teacher—only a delicious-looking sandwich and the words "Mr. S" scribbled on the chalkboard. Chaos ensues as the kids argue whether or not the sandwich must be their teacher. A comical, first day of school book of mayhem and chaos by Monica Arnaldo, perfect fans of Miss Nelson Is Missing.
The Brilliant Ms. Bangle
Author: Cara Devins | Illustrator: K-Fai Steele | Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
It’s a new school year, and something is different. The students’ beloved librarian, Ms. Stack, has retired. The new librarian, Ms. Bangle, is not the same! She has different ways of doing, well, everything! How will the students ever adjust?
Change isn’t easy, but it can be a positive experience. With a bit of patience, and a lot of heart, it can be positively brilliant.
The Together Tree
Author: Aisha Saeed | Illustrator: LeUyen Pham | Publisher: Salaam Reads
At his new school, quiet Rumi feels small and unwelcome, and a few kids bully him for being different and wearing bright shoes. He finds refuge beneath the old willow tree by the playground and builds his own world of hope and dreams of belonging.
One day, when Rumi is made a target again, one of his classmates bravely steps in to defend him. It’s in that moment of solidarity Rumi’s class finally realizes that under the shade of the willow tree, all are welcome, and they create a space they can all play in—together.
My Teacher Has Tattoos
Author: Darren Lopez | Illustrator: Bhagya Madanasinghe | Publisher: Soaring Kite Books
In Xavier's neighborhood, tattoos represent gang membership. After Xavier catches an unexpected glimpse of his new teacher's tattoos, he learns that there's more than meets the eye when it comes to the cultural significance of tattoos.
Based on real events that took place during author Darren Lopez's first year teaching in Washington DC, My Teacher Has Tattoos is an impactful conversation starter that brings to life the pitfalls of stereotyping in the classroom and beyond.
Author/Illustrator: Vashti Harrison | Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
From a New York Times bestselling and award-winning creator, this deeply moving story shares valuable lessons about fitting in, standing out, and the beauty of joyful acceptance.
The first picture book written and illustrated by award-winning creator Vashti Harrison traces a child’s journey to self-love and shows the power of words to both hurt and heal. With spare text and exquisite illustrations, this emotional exploration of being big in a world that prizes small is a tender portrayal of how you can stand out and feel invisible at the same time.
This is a School
Author: John Schu | Illustrator: Veronica Miller Jamison | Publisher: Candlewick
This is a School is a beautiful tribute to school communities. In this book, kids will see people helping each other and welcoming them, celebrating victories and making mistakes, growing and transforming. It highlights how schools should be places where people listen and learn, trust and care for one another. This book also celebrates ALL the people that are part of a school - the kids, teachers, custodians, lunch workers, coaches, principals, and helpers.
This is a School is a wonderful book to kick off the year! Students can help identify and articulate what makes up a healthy school community. We also recommend the book, All Are Welcome.
That’s Not My Name
Author/Illustrator: Anoosha Syed | Publisher: Penguin Kids
For more than two decades, educators relied on The Name Jar when teaching kids to be confident and proud of their names, and about the importance of calling people by their correct name (pronunciation included!). It has been wonderful to see this niche of books expand in recent years. We love the books, Your Name is a Song, My Name is Cool, Always Anjali and That’s Not My Name, for reinforcing the importance of culture and identity.
Each of these books would be excellent choices for modeling to students how crucial it is to call people by their chosen name and pronounce it correctly.
More Than Peach
Author: Bellen Woodard | Illustrator: Fanny Liem | Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
“Penned by the very first Crayon Activist, Bellen Woodard, this picture book will tug at readers' heartstrings and inspire them to make a difference!”
This book is so important for identity building. In Bellen’s class, she loves when it’s time to color but she also notices something she doesn’t like - whenever someone needs the peach crayon, they ask for the “skin color crayon.” This doesn’t make sense to her since skin can be any number of beautiful colors.
She may be young, but Bellen sets out to change the culture in her own community, “transform the crayon industry and grow the way they see the world!” This is a can’t miss new release for educators and caregivers.
You can view more of our favorite books about cultivating identity here. Not So Small is another book we love that reminds kids of all ages that they’re never too young or too small to begin making the world a better place!
I Color Myself Different!
Author: Colin Kaepernick | Illustrator: Eric Wilkerson | Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
This powerful and true story from social justice activist Colin Kaepernick is an incredible addition to any home or school library. In I Color Myself Different, Kaepernick remembers a time at school when he first used a brown crayon for his skin tone in a family portrait - separating himself from his white family. It was a defining moment for him because it helped him see how his brown skin was connected to his Black identity. It also showed how very young children begin developing racial biases about people, and how those biases can harm others.
Research shows that having intentional conversations about racial bias and prejudice can have profound and positive impacts on children, which in turn impacts their life trajectories and the ways they interact with others. This book is an excellent example of how reading about someone else's experiences can change the way you interact with others and see the world.
What Would You Do in a Book About You?
Author: Jean Reidy | Illustrator: Joey Chou | Publisher: HarperCollins
What Would You Do in a Book About You? encourages people to dream big and imagine the stories they want to tell in their lifetime. It’s a rhythmic and fun story to read aloud and the perfect book to inspire others to follow their dreams!
The Magical Yet
Author: Angela Diterlizzi | Illustrator: Lorena Alvarez | Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Many of our favorite books build children up, and help them develop a healthy sense of self and others. The Magical Yet will help any child who struggles with not being able to do something yet. It is a whimsical book that helps children see the value of effort and persistence.
This book is a great story to read aloud for students of any age because it helps us refocus on what matters most - the journey, and not the destination.
Isabel and Her Colores Go to School
Author: Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrator: Courtney Dawson | Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is a bright and vibrant story that beautifully weaves English and Spanish words together. Isabel is nervous about her first day of school because she knows everyone will speak English, and she only speaks Spanish. After a challenging first day where she feels more alone than ever, she ultimately learns that there’s more than one way to communicate with friends. Her world seems a lot more colorful again because she discovers that she and her friends can learn from each other and still honor their true and honest selves.
We also love the book, Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome, for children who may be coming to a new school from somewhere that speaks a different language. This book includes tips on how to help someone new feel welcome and comfortable!
Don’t Hug Doug
Author: Carrie Finison | Illustrator: Daniel Wiseman | Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
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 Yes! No! A First Conversation About Consent (a text heavy board book that’s appropriate for learners through second grade).
In Don’t Hug Doug, kids meet Doug and learn very quickly that he doesn’t like hugs of any kind! Instead, he’d much rather give someone a high five. This book is excellent for discussing bodily autonomy and consent - the best way to know if something is okay is to just ask!
We suggest deepening this learning by reading the book, Tell Someone, because it will help you cultivate a culture of trust and empathy. In this book, children will feel seen and understood for harboring all sorts of feelings and emotions and be reminded that it’s always better to go through something with the help of someone else than by yourself.
The Queen of Kindergarten & The King of Kindergarten
Author: Derrick Barnes | Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley-Newton | Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
This recommendation is for all the wonderful kindergarten teachers out there! The Queen of Kindergarten is the much anticipated new release from the same creative duo who brought us the beloved book, The King of Kindergarten!
These books are perfect for caregivers and educators who want to cultivate excitement about starting kindergarten, and help our newest elementary learners develop the confidence to thrive in school!
We also recommend the book, KINDergarten, by Vera Ahiyya and Joey Chou. It truly belongs in every kindergarten classroom!
Author: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow | Illustrator: Tiffany Rose | Publisher: Salaam Reads
We love this story! Abdul is a writer - he always has creative ideas for stories to tell, but whenever he puts pencil to paper, his letters get jumbled and he’s ultimately left with erase marks and smudges. When Mr. Muhhommad visits his class one day, he realizes that people who look like him can be writers, and sometimes, they can be messy just like him! We love how this story shows how Abdul slowly gains the confidence and perseverance to overcome his challenges and share his passion with others.
For struggling readers, we recommend the book, My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World. Both of these books will help children see that learning isn’t easy, and that with a lot of persistence and effort, wonderful things can be achieved!
We Want to Go to School: the Fight for Disability Rights
Author: Maryann Cocca-Leffler | Illustrator: Janine Leffler | Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
From the publisher, “There was a time in the United States when millions of children with disabilities weren't allowed to go to public school. But in 1971, seven kids and their families wanted to do something about it. They knew that every child had a right to an equal education, so they went to court to fight for that right. The case Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia led to laws ensuring children with disabilities would receive a free, appropriate public education. Told in the voice of Janine Leffler, one of the millions of kids who went to school because of these laws, this book shares the true story of this landmark case.”