Editor’s Note: Teachers often have cherished favorite books for launching the school year, and it’s no wonder. We know how students will respond based on our experiences in previous years, and there is comfort in using what is familiar as we face a new crop of children. Here are some picture books which have the potential to become new favorites for launching the year.
The Alphabet Tree
written and illustrated by Leo Lionni
In a few words: This classic by Leo Lionni cleverly illustrates the balance between managing the code of letters and then making sure that those letters say something “important.” For children who are both learning how the print system works and considering the messages they want to communicate, this book offers a lovely opportunity to consider the parallel challenges of reading and writing. In the story, the letters first gather in random clusters, until a friend suggests they organize themselves into words and even sentences. Finally, an insightful onlooker lets them know that it isn’t enough to just say something; they must say something “important.”
Start school with intention. Lionni’s text provides a profound story for introducing students to the importance of learning to write. When you share this lovely story, talk with students about the important things they have to say and how learning to read and write will give them new opportunities to share important thoughts with their classmates, family and friends. Basically, this book illustrates why we all learn to read and write, or even to go to school.
Ish written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
In a few words: In this book, readers learn that creative work doesn’t have to be perfect. The main character Ramon’s older brother questions the realism of Ramon’s drawings. While Ramon draws everywhere and all the time, his brother’s criticism throws him into creative paralysis. His sister’s declaration that his work didn’t have to be perfect frees him to experiment and reawakens his artistic drive. This is a great book for exploring the balance between enjoying the creative process versus focusing on the product.
Start school confident. Students need to understand that taking risks is part of the learning process. Use Ish to help students wiggle free from the fear of drawing or writing something that isn’t perfect. When read at the beginning of the school year, this text can be referenced throughout the year as a reminder that great works cannot be created if we don’t first try, and that a flower that is “flower-ish” has its own creative merit.
The Story Blanket
by Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz
illustrated by Elena Odriozola
In a few words: The Story Blanket features a tight-knit community in a tiny mountain village. A group of children sit together on the story blanket until the blanket’s yarn must fill other needs in the community. As the teacher anonymously uses the yarn to knit essentials for members of the community, the children must sit closer and closer together on the shrinking blanket as they listen to new stories.
Start school in community. This sweet tale of generosity is a great book for establishing classroom community and sharing stories. Act out the story by simulating the shrinking story blanket with students. Use a piece of paper or a disposable piece of fabric on which the entire class can sit comfortably. As you read the story, cut off pieces to mimic pulling off a length of yarn. Students will need to gather closer and closer to each other to remain on the “blanket.” Talk with students about the benefits, and sometimes challenges, of proximity, and how they will take care of each other through the year.
That Book Woman
by Heather Hensen
illustrated by David Small
In a few words: A boy named Cal lives high in the barren Appalachian hills with his family, and unlike his sister, he has no use for books or reading. That is, until a strong and determined traveling librarian slowly changes his mind. This tribute to the Pack Horse Librarians of the 1930s is a gentle reminder of the importance of books and the joy, albeit hard-earned, of learning to read.
Start school with purpose. While some students enter the classroom ready to dive into books, not everyone shares a passion for the written word and the effort required to decipher it. Hensen’s book can act as a beginning-of-the-year catalyst for reading enthusiasm and a touchstone for validating those students who have not developed literate identities. For those students wondering if school is a place for them, this book offers them a sympathetic character. This title offers yet another illustration of why we work hard to learn to read.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge
by Mem Fox
illustrated by Julie Vivas
In a few words: Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge lives next door to “an old people’s home.” He interacts with many of the residents but likes Miss Nancy Alison Delacourt Cooper best because, like him, she has four names. They share secrets and stories until Wilfrid learns that Miss Nancy has lost her memory and Wilfrid sets out to help her remember her past. He gathers a series of objects into a basket and shows them to her one by one. Each item triggers a memory, as the small boy has given his friend her own story.
Start school collecting memories. At the beginning of the school year, establish a box or other special place to collect “memories” throughout the year. Place items in the collection to represent events that happen in the school or classroom. Let the class help decide which events merit commemorating and which objects will go into the collections to serve as a reminder of the special event. At the end of the school year, enjoy reminiscing as you look through the items together.
This article was written by the editorial team at www.Literacyhead.com, a website that presents lessons using visual art to teach reading and writing. Jan Miller Burkins, Literacyhead’s founder and Executive Editor, is a literacy consultant and an author of Preventing Misguided Reading. Jamie D’Angelo, Literacyhead’s Editor, has worked in both traditional and cyber education settings as an art teacher and as a classroom teacher. Rachel Watkins, Assistant Editor, is a retired classroom teacher, full-time writer and editor, and an advocate for arts education. Carrie Laird, Technical Editor, is a retired special educator. To learn more about how Literacyhead uses visual art to help children learn to read and write, watch this video.