No matter if you are going back to school in person, virtually or with a hybrid model, picture books remain one of the most effective ways to build community and make EVERY student in your class feel welcome and as though they belong.
In order to achieve this mission of belonging, which as we know will improve our classroom management and reduce behaviour problems, we need to ensure that EVERY child is represented in the books that we choose as back to school read alouds. Every kid deserves to feel seen and as though their teacher cares about them. With that said, I have chosen a variety of picture books to share with you today. It is possible that not every child in YOUR class will be represented by these books. You may need to choose some more or make some substitutions based on your specific context. But, these are a few that I absolutely love and that will work well for a lot of different contexts 🙂
The Day You Begin
This is a beautiful story written by Jaqueline Woodson. The lyrical text and whimsical images are perfect for building a sense of belonging within your classroom. Jaqueline encourages the reader to share their stories and begin to open up to the people around them.
I have used this book during the first week of school every year since my first year of teaching. It is my classic “go to” book. This one is also written by Jaqueline Woodson. It’s about a little girl who is new to the school. The other kids have lots of opportunities to be kind to her and to include her but they don’t. Eventually they learn that it’s important to be kind while you can. This story talks about ripples of kindness. I love to have each student come up to a large bowl of water and drop a rock into it. As the water ripples away, they say one way that they will do to be kind this year.
The Name Jar
This story is great for encouraging students to love and appreciate their names. Unhei is new to America and asks the other children to help her choose an American name. Eventually she realizes that her name is beautiful and that there is no need to change it. I suggest talking to students about how the teacher in this book encouraged the name jar activity even though they shouldn’t have. It’s not appropriate for anyone to make someone else feel as though their name isn’t perfect just the way that it is.
How to Read a Book
Kwame Alexander wrote this gem of a book and it is PERFECT for introducing your classroom library to students! I have read the book over 10 times and each time I read it, I notice something new in the gorgeous illustrations. A bonus is that this book is relatively new so hopefully a lot of your students will be reading it for the first time which is honestly a magical experience!
You Hold Me Up
6. Alma and How She Got Her Name
This is a precious story of a little girl named Alma and the history of her name. Students can easily make connections with Alma and learn to appreciate their own names and the meaning behind them. This book lends itself really well to belonging and identity activities during the back to school season.
The Proudest Blue
8. A Normal Pig
You might be looking at this book and be thinking… this is a book about pigs, how on earth could my students relate? Yes, this is a book about pigs HOWEVER, the main character has a mom who has darker skin than she. I find that any mixed kiddos or kiddos who are adopted really relate and love this book. Plus, since my hubby and I are a mixed couple, it is a personal favourite of mine 🙂
Red is one of those stories that has a deeper meaning if you are looking for it but to some just seems to be about a crayon. I have found that LGBTQ+ students really resonate with this one. It’s about being labeled as one thing but feeling like something else inside.
10. Your Name is a Song
So there you have it, my top 10 diverse picture books for the back to school season! I hope that this post makes it a bit easier for you to ensure that all of your students are represented in the literature that you choose to share.