Read-Alouds for the First Day of School

The other day Jen Audley sent me a link to a blog entry about the first day of school that really got me thinking about the children who come to our classes and how thoughtful we need to be from the moment we meet them.

Carol, the author, respectfully questions several traditional back-to-school activities, such as having students write about their summer vacation (What if they did nothing but sit in front of the TV all day?) or explain how they got their names (What if the child is adopted and does not know?) It made me think deeply about some of my own traditional first day practices, and I bet it will move you as well.

Carol says one of the things she will do on the first day of school is read aloud a great book. I couldn’t agree more! The possibilities are endless, but you can’t go wrong if you choose a book that will draw children in, get them laughing, and bring them together. In that spirit, I have a few to recommend:

Kindergarten Diary by Antoinette Portis. Annalina’s diary reveals her fears about moving from preschool to “big school,” and her gradual discovery of what to love about kindergarten. Portis’ writing and illustrations are charming and realistic. On one of my favorite pages, Annalina reminds me of my own nieces and their fashion sense, as she writes, “My mom says I have to go to Big School. So here is what I am going to wear—my rainbow bathing suit, my ballet skirt, my plaid shirt, my cowboy boots, and definitely no socks.” On the opposite page, reality sets in, and she writes, “My mom says I have to look nice today.  And I have to wear socks.” This is definitely a book that kindergartners and first graders can relate to! It could also lead to their first journal entries.

Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth by Alison McGhee,  illustrated by Harry Bliss. A know-it-all second grader cows a wide-eyed first grader into believing the worst about her new teacher, telling her that Mrs. Watson is a “three-hundred-year-old alien who steals baby teeth from her students.” The first grader thinks she is in “big trouble,” as she has a loose tooth! She wonders if she can make it through first grade without opening her mouth. As she tries to do just that, the suspense builds and clever illustrations reveal her hilarious attempts to save her tooth from Mrs.Watson. My second graders really enjoyed the interplay between the words and cartoon-like pictures in this book, and they were sophisticated enough to understand that the teacher wasn’t really after the children’s teeth, while empathizing with the first grade narrator.

A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade by James Preller, illustrated by Greg Ruth. Despite the “first grade” in the title, older students will be more likely to appreciate the humor and pirate lingo in this hilarious picture book. In it, a young boy goes off to school accompanied by an unseen or imaginary gang of pirates (he is in color, they are in faint tones of gray and white). His day is seen through pirate eyes and vocabulary. (“Me great scurvy dog slurped me kisser when I was tryin’ t’ get me winks!”) You will have fun reading it, and your students will have fun listening, seeing the pictures, and imagining what their own day would be like from a pirate’s perspective.

Dear Mrs. LaRue:  Letters from Obedience School, by Mark Teague. This is an oldie but goodie. Teague tells a story from two perspectives—that of Ike the dog, whom Mrs. LaRue has sent to the Igor Brotweiler Canine Academy, and the real story. In one letter home, Ike complains that “the way my teach—I mean WARDEN, Miss Klondike, barks orders is shocking,” and the black and white picture shows a stern-faced warden pointing the way to solitary confinement. But, the accompanying color picture shows a different story, with a gentle teacher holding dog treats to happy dogs while Ike is sprawled at a table writing. Students love being “in” on the truth and might even enjoy writing their own “Ike” letters.

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill. This is a book my friend Robin Smith recommended to me years ago, and I have to pass it along. You’ll only be able to start this one on the first day, but it will leave your children wanting more. The book tells the story of an amazing teacher who takes a small Alaska town by storm in 1948 and changes the lives of her students, including the narrator, Frederika, forever. Among other things, Miss Agnes gets rid of the old boring textbooks, encourages the students to create original artwork (which she then hangs up!) and enchants them with her tales of Robin Hood and Greek myths.

I wish all of you happy reading and a productive, happy school year!

Margaret Berry Wilson is the author of several books, including: The Language of Learning, Doing Science in Morning Meeting (co-authored with Lara Webb), Interactive Modeling, and Teasing, Tattling, Defiance & More.

Tags: First Day of School, Language Arts