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A Good Book Can Start The Year Off Right!


I have a problem. It might not be apparent when you enter my classroom. I hide it well, behind innocent cabinet doors and colorful book baskets. I hoard books. I buy them and covet them and crave them. My classroom library is organized but bursting at the seams. My book cabinets are like suicide cupboards. I open them cautiously and ferret through them quickly before the shelves vomit them onto the floor. I can't help myself. Last year, a fifth grade student told me that I need an intervention. 

A room without books is like a body without a soul.
                                                                                                -Marcus Tullius Cicero

 My room has a lot of soul. I learned early on in my career that a good book can change my classroom world, create a paradigm shift, and cultivate respect, empathy, imagination and empowerment. I moved around a lot early in my career, so I needed to take those powerful books with me. I never stopped hoarding. Let me tell you about some of my back-to-school teaching treasures. 



At the beginning of each school year, I always look for THAT read aloud, the quintessential back-to-school book that inspires my students, and leads to good talk, writing or art.  One year, I found Imagine by Bart Vivian.

This short but gorgeous book is about taking the everyday stuff of life and imagining it to be something different.  Some illustrations turn a tree house into a castle.  Others are more about children dreaming about their futures...a girl watches the ballerina in her jewelry box and imagines herself on stage as a prima ballerina.  A boy sees a fire truck and imagines himself as a fireman rescuing someone from a burning building. 

The pattern of the book adds to the story. The real life  objects are in black and white.  Turn the page, and the dreams, wishes or fantasies are in full color.



I couldn't wait to share this book.  So on the second day of school, with my third and fourth graders on the carpet in front of me, we read it together.  We discussed the pattern of the book, the illustrations, and we cleared up vocabulary.  When we say the word dream,  it has multiple meanings.  So we talked about hopes and wishes and how they might be different from daydreams or fantasies.  Then, we talked about how all of these are different from the type of dreams we have when we're asleep. 


I gave each student a thought bubble which they covered with artwork about their hopes for their futures or their wishes for how their school year would go.   While students were creating, I took their pictures with my iPad. Another student helped me use a photo editing app to create a dream-like appearance.  All of that led to this:







My next back-to-school pick is a golden oldie...The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. Margaret Wise Brown is the author of early childhood classics like Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. First published in 1954, people often think of it as a primary read aloud, but I use it with older kids. It uses formulaic and poetic text to examine every day subjects more closely. Like this:

The important thing about the sky is that it is always there. It is true that it is blue, and high, and full of clouds, and made of air. But the important thing about the sky is that it is always there. 

We read this book together, and then I ask my students, "What's the important thing about you?" If they were going to write a verse about themselves for this book, what would their verse say? We write our thoughts down in our writer's notebooks. Then, I take it a step further, "What part of your physical body would be associated with that important thing about you?"



For example, the important thing about Ms. Willis is that I notice things other people don't see. My eyes would be associated with this.  After we massage our details about ourselves and choose that important body part, we take black and white pictures of that part of us and write a verse about ourselves. 



The important thing about me is that I notice things that other people miss,
like when someone has hurt feelings, 
or is alone on the playground, 
and the time my chocolate puppy Gracie didn't feel well. 
But the important thing about me is that I notice things that other people miss.
My kids love getting creative with the ipad cameras and then writing about how their pictures show the important things about them. What makes this an upper elementary lesson is the metaphorical thinking it demands that students do. The black and white photos and their poems make a stellar beginning of the year bulletin board.

If you want to try this yourself you can grab a writing page to help you, for free! Click the picture to snag it!

                              


My last book recommendation is another golden oldie. I do use newer texts in my classroom...honest! But when I find older treasures that I love and that my kids wouldn't necessarily pick up themselves because they aren't recently published, I want to use them.  The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes was first published in 1945! It's a Newberry Honor book that has never gone our of print. 

This small chapter book tells the story of a young Polish girl named Wanda who comes to school every day wearing the same clothes. The other kids in her classroom ridicule her. Wanda tells them that she has 100 dresses at home. Her classmates are merciless. Wanda leaves the school suddenly, and her classmates feel terrible because it's too late for apologies. Maddie, one of Wanda's classmates, vows that she will never again stand idly by and say nothing when she sees someone being treated poorly.  The theme of this book is an important one, and I've used it as a comparison text for countless picture books with the same theme. I teach a high ELL population, and wearing the same clothes to school every day is not uncommon for struggling immigrant children. Want to cultivate some empathy? Check this classic out. It's timeless.
The first weeks of school are so important for setting the tone and culture of your learning community. The books and projects you choose to share impact your classroom culture. 
For more reading and writing ideas for the beginning of your school year, click the pictures to learn more. 
 

This week's WE TEACH SO HARD podcast is about finding great read alouds for your first weeks of school. Come give us a listen! Click the picture.
Also, be sure to visit Retta, Kathie, and Deann's blogs below for more great read aloud suggestions, tips and freebies!



3 comments

  1. Okay, I died laughing when I started reading your post because you could have been describing ME and my classroom!! I can't stop buying books either! I love what you did with your class with Imagine! And I love how you used the kids' photographs with The Important Book, one of my all time favorite go-to books! A Hundred Dresses gets me every time, too! I wish I were a student in your class! :)

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  2. You are such an inspiration! I hope I can meet your lucky kiddos this year. Have a wonderful start! Those are some lucky kids!

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  3. Could not possibly love that bulletin board that followed Imagine more! Your creativity is endless! And your book hoarding - omg, made me feel not so all alone! Great post! Thank you for sharing these treasures with us!

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