Sarah Miller, M. Ed., Author
Many of us are embarking on our first or second week of school for the new year. And yes, we may also be in the midst of organizing classrooms, creating bulletin board displays, structuring classroom libraries, mapping out the upcoming days of school, and considering which read alouds to share to establish a strong classroom, and literacy, community. With so many magnificent picture books, it can be a challenge to know where to even begin! Whether you’re considering switching up a tried-and-true read aloud that has been part of your routine for years and are looking for something fresh, or you’re hoping to weave a read aloud into your start-of-year for the first time, I’ve compiled a list below in two sections: Read Alouds to Launch Reading or Writing Workshop, and Read Alouds to Launch Learning Communities. You’ll find that there is overlap between these recommendations.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. We live in an era with an abundance of beautiful, thoughtful, and powerful picture books. If you’re looking for a starting point, this is a beginning!
Picture Book Read Alouds to Launch: Reading or Writing Workshop
Stacey’s Extraordinary Words, by Stacey Abrams and illustrated by Kitt Thomas.
A Red Clover Book Award Nominee
In Stacey’s Extraordinary Words, we meet a young Stacey who finds both joy and solace in words. The book begins with a Notebook of Extraordinary Words and ends with a spelling bee, and plenty of opportunities for discussion throughout. You might pause to think aloud about how Stacey sat ‘with words’ during recess, or how Stacey discovered that words helped her explain what she was feeling. There’s also an opportunity to consider the relationship between Stacey and Jake, her classmate. Not only is this picture book about Stacey’s love of language, her perseverance, or her efforts to win a spelling bee – it is also about respecting others and respecting ourselves. Another bit of potential with Stacey’s Extraordinary Words is to pair the text with launching Word Study.
Perfect by Max Amato
Max Amato’s Perfect is a delightful, immersive tale that stars a pencil – whimsical, playful – and an eraser – tidy, particular – that engage in a sketch and erase battle across the pages. The book is an excellent way to launch Writing Workshop because it addresses the challenges of facing a pristine page and wanting whatever appears on it to be perfect. We can talk with our writers about embracing imperfections, and being willing to try things out in our notebooks or on our pages. There are also opportunities to discuss becoming comfortable with making mistakes or experimenting – trying things out as writers. One more opportunity we have with Perfect is more about our classroom community: Understanding the strengths of ourselves and others. The pencil and eraser begin with different perspectives and approaches, and each ‘bring’ something to the pages.
My Pencil and Me, by Sara Varon
Varon’s whimsical tale as a read aloud just might provide our writers with the playfulness and confidence to help get them started! In My Pencil and Me, Varch stares down the blank-page blues that writers often face. With the help of her trusty – and creative! – pencil, she pulls together story elements to create a tale that is engaging and even a bit outlandish. As a classroom read aloud, this picture book can prompt discussions about how we get started with our writing, how we generate ideas, or what we can do as writers when we’re stuck.
Picture Book Read Alouds to Launch: Learning Communities
This Is a School, words by John Schu and illustrations by Veronica Miller Jamison
This Is a School is a cheerful exploration of a school and what it means to be part of a school community. While this book presents a hopeful and positive picture of school, it also acknowledges that sometimes, we make mistakes, and that’s okay! This Is a School would be an engaging and uplifting read aloud for those first days of school. There is an emphasis on community that could be discussed as a group, in pairs, or in small groups. The text itself could be a powerful launching point for considering how our classrooms or schools will build community during the school year.
Mel Fell, by Corey Tabor. A Red Clover Book Award Nominee
Mel Fell is another picture book that celebrates the exhilaration – and risk! – that comes with learning something new. The format adds to the charm as you’ll find yourself rotating the orientation of the book itself to match Mel’s journey – you see, Mel is a kingfisher, and is ready to fly for the first time! Mel Fell is a book you might bring into your classroom just for the giggles along the way of Mel’s adventure, or you could find yourself asking readers to think about a time when they were learning something new.
Sweety, by Andrea Zuill
Sweety has been a favorite because of its humor and quirkiness. And who wouldn’t be immediately drawn to Sweety, a naked mole rat who presents her book report to class in an interpretative dance? The text is charming, and readers root for Sweety to maintain her unique identity and develop friendships that support her in being herself. In the classroom, this is another book that will bring laughter – and it also provides opportunities to discuss being yourself, the interests students have outside of school, and ways to be a friend.
Sarah Miller M.Ed, Literacy Consultant
Sarah Miller has worked with teachers and students in Vermont schools since 2009. Prior to that, she began her career working with K-8 Dreamers at the “I Have a Dream” Foundation of Boulder County. Since then, Sarah has taught middle school English-Language Arts and Social Studies. She has also served as both a school and a district Literacy Instructional Coach in Chittenden County. In 2012, Sarah completed her M.Ed. at Saint Michael’s College in Reading. Across her years in education, Sarah has been focused on engaging readers and writers in meaningful ways, with access to literature and nonfiction that is relevant and accessible. She is particularly interested in supporting young people in developing robust reading and writing identities that build on their lives, interests, and passions. Sarah has worked to build vibrant literate communities in schools. Currently, Sarah is a literacy consultant with Partnerships for Literacy and Learning. She lives in Underhill, Vermont with her husband, son, daughter, two dogs, and a cat.