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Perfect Picture Books for Back-to-School Read Alouds

Back to school read alouds, beginning of the year picture books

Ah, summer break! Time to relax and soak up the sun and--if you're so inclined--do a little prep for back-to-school time. I recently collected a bunch of picture books that work well as beginning-of-the-year read alouds in kindergarten and first grade and I'd like to share them with you. If you're looking for some fresh books for your new class, read on! (This post includes affiliate links.)

The beginning of the school year is the time to set the stage. This is when you establish your routines and procedures and prepare your students to participate in a classroom community. Planning ahead to include lots of reading aloud during the first weeks of school is a great way to break up your schedule (hello, short attention spans!) as well as to provide opportunities for class discussions and practicing whole group norms. Having extra high-quality books on hand is also a must for those moments when you just need something calm to fill a few minutes or if someone needs to cover for you while you deal with an unexpected interruption.

beginning of the year read alouds - The Pigeon Has to Go to School!
The Pigeon Has to Go to School!
The newest Mo Willems Pigeon book just came out and it is perfect for the first day of school! In The Pigeon Has to Go to School, our favorite bird is very anxious about his first day of school. For the three quarters of the book, Pigeon expresses (through speech bubble exclamations and questions) his anxiety about going to school. Some of his concerns are very typical, but others are silly and sure to bring a laugh! ("Reading can be hard with one big eye!" and "What if I learn too much!?! My head might pop off.") Finally, pigeon gets answers to his most important concerns and learns that school is a place with books, classrooms, experts to help, a playground, other birds to play with...and that he gets to ride a BUS to get there!

This book is really fun and is a perfect light-hearted read for the beginning of the school year!

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - School's First Day of School
School's First Day of School
This book, School's First Day of School by Adam Rex, is adorable and perfect! Told from the point of view of a freshly built elementary school, this story beautifully works through
so many of the concerns and emotions children might have as they begin school. Christian Robinson's kid-friendly and inclusive illustrations, which depict a diverse student body, complement the text beautifully. As the school comes to terms with having to share its whole self with masses of children, one kindergarten student (a "very small girl with freckles") overcomes her anxiety about school. The story is tied together nicely by the school's relationship with the custodian.

School's First Day of School is a perfect choice for the first week of school. It lends itself to discussions about the school building itself (caring for the facilities, learning the way around) as well as about feelings and fears. This book also includes a fire drill and can lead into teaching of your school's procedures for safety drills.

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - First Day Jitters
First Day Jitters
Another fun book that deals with those beginning of the year anxieties (and an unlikely protagonist) is First Day Jitters by Julie Dannenberg (illustrated by Judy Love). This popular first day of school read aloud begins with Mr. Hartwell coaxing the main character, Sarah, out of bed. Sarah vehemently resists preparing for her first day at a new school--she doesn't know anybody, her head hurts, she feels sick--but eventually makes it through the door of her classroom where her principal introduces her as..."your new teacher, Mrs. Sarah Jane Hartwell!"

This fun story is a perfect way to get a giggle out of students and give them a chance to talk about their own cases of nerves.

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - The Day You Begin
The Day You Begin
The Day You Begin by award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson (illustrated by Rafael Lopez) is a beautiful book. Written from a second person point of view, this book reassures listeners that, despite sometimes feeling like they don't fit in, all children can find a place at school. Woodson gives several examples of instances in which children may feel like outsiders at school (skin, hair, clothes, language, foods, interests), but ends with the message that "every new friend has something a little like you--and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all."

Though this book and its messages are beautiful (and may even bring a tear to your eye), some younger children may lose focus while listening to some of the more abstract prose. If you teach kindergarten, I would recommend saving this one for a few days while your students develop their carpet listening skills (and you gauge their readiness). For older students, or for later in the year in kindergarten, this book is excellent for introducing a discussion about valuing our differences.

Back to School Picture Books - All Are Welcome
All Are Welcome
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold (illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman) paints a picture of a school in which all children and families are valued. Each page includes a few lines of rhyming text followed by the refrain "All are welcome here." The illustrations depict a wide range of children and families so that all students are sure to find something familiar. This representation is fantastic for diverse classrooms and is also so important for children who attend school with a more homogenous population. A fun feature of this hardcover book is that the jacket unfolds into a "All Are Welcome" poster full of the children from the story! It also ends with a fold-out page spread with a very detailed illustration.

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School
The Gingerbread Man
Loose in the School
The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray (illustrated by Mike Lowery) is a funny, rhyming story that lends itself to a school-wide scavenger hunt/tour. Laura Murray was a teacher before becoming an author, and it shows as the story perfectly integrates the traditional gingerbread story with the realities of an elementary school day. The comic book style illustrations are fanciful and fun and the happy ending doesn't even involve eating the gingerbread man!

This book includes a cute poster to hang by your door. On the back of the poster are reproducible activity ideas, a coloring page, a maze, and a recipe. This book has all you need to plan your own hunt around your school--such a fun way for little ones to learn the ropes!

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - Be Kind
Be Kind
Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller (illustrated by Jen Hill) is a great book for building a classroom culture of friendship and caring. The story begins with a girl (Tanisha) spilling grape juice all over her dress during snack time and running from the room in embarrassment. Her classmate, the narrator, begins to wonder what it means to "be kind." With examples of kindness from both in and out of school, this book can lead to a brainstorming session on ways to spread kindness. It can also be used throughout the year to anchor discussions about conflict resolution and peer interactions. (In the end, the narrator cheers Tanisha up by painting a picture for her.)

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - When Pencil Met Eraser
When Pencil Met Eraser
When Pencil Met Eraser by Karen Kilpatrick and Luis O. Ramos (illustrated by Germán Blanco) is a cute story that explains why pencils have erasers. Serious and artistic Pencil likes to work alone. He is frustrated when enthusiastic Eraser comes on the scene, altering his work. Eventually, Pencil learns to appreciate Eraser's strengths and they begin to collaborate. The illustrations in this book are great--the cartoon faces on Pencil and Eraser are very expressive and lend themselves to great conversations about emotions. What I love about this book is the emphasis on working together--such an important concept for a successful classroom community. This can also lead to important discussions about conflict resolution and the importance of respecting each other's space and work.

Back to School Books for kindergarten and first grade - My Mouth Is a Volcano
My Mouth Is a Volcano
In My Mouth Is a Volcano by Julia Cook (illustrated by Carrie Hartman), exuberant Louis has a big problem with interrupting. His inability to resist the urge to interrupt others causes trouble for him in his relationships with friends, lands him in a time out in the classroom, and gets him sent to his room at home. It isn't until Louis himself is interrupted by two of his classmates during a presentation at school that he really begins to feel empathy for those he's been interrupting. His mother helps him come up with a strategy (deep breaths and visualizing) to control his interrupting. Kids like the colorful and fun illustrations in this book as well as the repeating text as Louis describes the feeling he has when he is about to interrupt. This is a great book to read at the beginning of the year and revisit as interruption crops up throughout the year.

Beginning of the Year Books for Kindergarten and First Grade - Clark the Shark
Clark the Shark
Clark the Shark by Bruce Hale (illustrated by Guy Francis) is another fun book with an boisterous protagonist. Clark's size and energy level impede his success at school until he develops (with the help of his teacher) a strategy for using self-control. When an even larger new student, Sid the Squid, arrives, Clark is able to use his strengths to help Sid fit in. What I love about this book is that, though Clark's enthusiasm is a problem at school and he needs to learn to control it, he is still able to be himself. I also love that his peers and teacher encourage him as he uses his new strategies. Clark makes little rhyming rules to help regulate himself (like, "When teacher's talking, don't go walking,") which can help guide discussions on class rules and behavior. This is a great back to school book for discussions about class community!

Beginning of the Year Books for Kindergarten and First Grade - We Don't Eat Our Classmates
We Don't Eat Our Classmates
We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins balances light-hearted humor with a lesson about empathy. The illustrations are adorable and funny and the length of the story is just right for beginning-of-the-year attention spans! Penelope is a T. rex who manages to end up in a classroom full of (delicious) children on her first day of school. Though she wants to make friends (and is lonely when she doesn't), she simply can't stop eating those tasty children! (Don't worry, she always spits them back out.) When the class goldfish bites her finger, Penelope gets a taste of her own medicine and resolves to stop eating her peers. This humorous tale can be used to talk about all kinds of problematic classroom behaviors and is perfect for talking about empathy and second chances.

Beginning of the Year Books for Kindergarten and First Grade - Listen Buddy
Listen Buddy
Listen Buddy by Helen Lester (illustrated by Lynn Munsinger) is a story of a rabbit who, despite his huge ears, is not a good listener. Because he doesn't listen closely to his parents' instructions, Buddy makes all kinds of comical errors (such as bringing his mother a slice of bed instead of the slice of bread she requested). After not paying attention to his parents' caution, Buddy has a frightening encounter with the Scruffy Varmint and barely escapes being made into soup. Afterwards, he resolves to listen.

Though this book does not take place in a school setting, it's a fun read (lots of silly adventure) and is a nice tale for emphasizing the importance of listening closely to directions. One caveat--many of Buddy's listening mistakes seem more like the errors someone with hearing loss might make. I would keep that in mind and address the difference between not being able to hear something and not listening.

Beginning of the Year Books for Kindergarten and First Grade - Giraffes Can't Dance
Giraffes Can't Dance
Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae (illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees) is a motivational story about an uncoordinated giraffe named Gerald who struggles to fit in at the Jungle Dance. The catchy, rhyming text and bright illustrations in this book hold the attention of young children. With the encouragement of a gentle and friendly cricket, Gerald eventually finds his inner dancing ability, much to the awe of the other animals. After the other animals ask Gerald how he learned to dance, the story ends with these words, "Then he raised his head and looked up/ at the moon and stars above./ 'We all can dance,' he said,/ 'when we find music that we love.'"

This book has an encouraging message that isn't so much about perseverance as it is about confidence. It also shows the importance of support and friendship, making it a great choice for building classroom community.

If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator
to School, DON'T!
If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, DON'T! by Elise Parsley is hilarious. It is written in second person from the point of view of Magnolia, who warns the reader not to make the mistake of bringing an alligator for show and tell. The illustrations are detailed and really add to the already amusing story. This one will bring comic relief and will really speak to those kiddos who just can't seem to stay out of trouble. I see that Elise Parsley has a few other Magnolia books and I can't wait to check them out!

I could go on for days about children's books, but instead I will just list a few more back-to-school books you might like to check out:
Chrysanthemum (and lots of other Kevin Henkes books!)

I'm sure I've missed some wonderful beginning of the year read alouds. If I've left out your favorites, please leave a comment! 

Back-to-School Read Alouds - kindergarten and first grade

Thanks so much for reading! Happy prepping!