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Two children's books to start the school year off right

A lively, compassionate story reminding us that kindness is contagious!
A lively, compassionate story reminding us that kindness is contagious!
Beth Ellor from cover art by David Messing

In the early elementary grades, there can never be enough read-alouds. Some practitioners recommend three per day, and how they are chosen should be intentional and purposeful. While there are times when an urgent request from a child to read a certain book might be accepted, most teachers have given a lot of thought to the books they place in the display shelf and the book baskets, and how they plan to showcase them. There may be dozens of books, but they are not random, and are of high quality, in good condition. The Library area should be an appealing, inviting and stimulating place which draws the children like a magnet!

Three read-alouds to use in the first weeks of school.
Beth Ellor

But now, on that first day – perhaps with a group of children new to school, new to each other, and usually new to you – how do you want to set the tone?

I’ve seen this theme in several schools, and it certainly isn’t a new idea, but I’ve just taken a fresh look at the book “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud, illustrated by David Messing. While there are all sorts of bulletin board and classroom awareness/scoring ideas on several related websites, don’t go overboard! Let’s just look at the simple but important message of the book itself, and consider ways in which spontaneous and thoughtful reading and discussion might get the year off to a positive start. If you are welcoming and appreciative of those around you, and they are the same to you, we will all have a better chance of being happy and safe. There are concrete examples of how this might look, and opportunities to try them out and think of new ways.

Gentle as the tone of the book might be, this is not a saccharine formula, all peace and light. It isn’t a magic panacea for all that ails us, but for setting up expectations for a safe and caring classroom, what a great first read-aloud of the year!

In an earlier examiner post I wrote about two contrasting books dealing with the new kid in school. While one described complete indifference on the part of the adults, and thoughtless callousness from the other children, (“The new Kid in School” by Katie Couric) the other described a more authentic experience for a new girl over the course of one single day. “One Green Apple” by Eve Bunting and Ted Lewin. Right after publishing that article I came across “The Name Jar”, written and beautifully illustrated by Yangsook Choi. These three books together provide thought-provoking and informative lessons in genuine welcome and inclusiveness, something no community can live without! Again, too much deconstruction of the moral or message might suck the joy right out of the experience, and yet with thoughtful, open-ended discussion, there is much to be gained from these stories.

“The Name Jar” follows a newly arrived young Korean girl to a new U.S. school where she is reluctant to give her ‘foreign-sounding’ name to her classmates. When she says she hasn’t yet chosen a name, someone places a jar on her desk, and children place suggestions for possible American names. Through the twists of the plot, eventually she chooses the perfect name…. I won’t say more than that! However, as an exploration of different cultures, different expectations, and how to have them co-exist within a classroom community, this book is remarkable, and could invite discussion about the origins and sentimental value of the name of each of your students. Our identity and self esteem are deeply entwined with each of our names. What better place to start with your new classroom population?

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