5 picturebooks to share with pupils in the first week back to school
As September beckons and the classrooms get ready to bustle with that familiar new-school-year energy once again, it’s time to embrace the fresh start that a new academic year brings. With that in mind, we understand that the first week back can be a whirlwind of emotions and adjustments, both for you and your primary pupils.
To help you kick off the school year on a high note and foster an engaging and supportive learning environment right from the get-go, we’ve put together a list of five recommended picture books. These carefully chosen titles are your secret weapons for those initial days when you’re striving to build connections, set the tone for the term and create a welcoming atmosphere in your classroom. From heartwarming tales that highlight the power of friendship to stories that explore embracing individuality and adapting to new experiences, these picture books are not only enjoyable reads to bring a new class together but also invaluable tools that can spark meaningful discussions and help your students transition smoothly into the school routine.
So, if you’re a primary teacher on the lookout for fresh ideas to make that first week back to school truly special, check out our five top picks for the new school year below. We’ve looked for books that work across the whole primary range, whether that’s for use in individual classrooms or whole school assemblies.
Can I Build Another Me? by Shinsuke Yoshitake
Recommended for: celebrating individuality and getting to know each other
The book invites readers on a whimsical journey that follows a young boy’s desire to create a robot clone of himself. However, before he can bring his cloned self to life, he must embark on a quest to uncover the essence of his individuality. What is it, exactly, that makes him who he is?
Bursting with imaginative illustrations, this thought-provoking book offers an engaging and enjoyable experience that not only sparks discussion but also serves as an ideal catalyst for exploring the concept of each person’s distinct uniqueness. Teachers could use this book as an icebreaker discussion to enable a new class to get to know themselves and others, for thoughtful artwork based on the fun labelled diagrams in the book or for PSHE lessons about expressing and celebrating individuality.
Younger classes will enjoy imagining what a robot close of themselves might look, act and feel like, while older children can get philosophical about the factors that have come together to make them who they are, or even about the potential ethics of cloning oneself (I’m sure overly busy teachers at the start of a school year may also be tempted to wish for a clone!).
Either way, this is a really fun focal point for the first days of term and one that works best if children are given enlarged or close-up access to the illustrations.
The Smart Cookie by Jory John & Pete Oswald
Recommended for: establishing a classroom culture that values different kinds of strengths
If you’ve ever felt like academic success is hard to reach, this sweet picture book about different types of intelligence will resonate with you.
The central character, Cookie, grapples with traditionally academic challenges within the classroom of Ms. Biscotti. However, a transformative moment occurs when an assignment requires a bit more creative originality, leading Cookie to uncover her hidden poetic talent. As her peers also showcase their distinct abilities, ranging from artistic endeavors to inventive creations, Cookie gains a profound understanding of the different types of intelligence. Through sharing her poem, her self-assurance grows, igniting a belief in her potential to become the “Smart Cookie” she aspires to be.
This is a really funny book and is always a winner with children (we also love the other books in the series – check out The Couch Potato, The Good Egg and The Cool Bean). Enhanced by the vivid illustrations of Pete Oswald, the narrative seamlessly weaves clever wordplay with a universal message of self worth and being willing to grow. The story underscores the significance of valuing different kinds of strengths and fostering self-worth in a classroom, and provides an opportunity for adults and children in a new school year to reflect on the classroom culture they want to create.
The Friendship Bench by Wendy Meddour & Daniel Egneus
Recommended for: tdeveloping friendships and building community
This is a beautiful picturebook that celebrates new beginnings and the power of human connection.
Tilly moves to a new home by the sea. She’s sad to learn that her precious dog Shadow is not allowed to go into her new school on her first day. Tilly faces the challenge of a new start all alone. At playtime, the teacher notices that Tilly seems lonely and suggests trying the Friendship Bench. A boy already occupies the bench and the pair form a bond as they work together to transform the old, broken bench into something beautiful.
This is a warm and gentle story. Most children can relate to the feeling of having nobody to play with or having to face a new challenge alone. The story gently encourages readers to seek human connection and reminds us all of the difference that reaching out and making friends can make.
The story could be used to encourage children to reflect on how to make new or isolated members of the school community welcome. Could you work together this year to create spaces around the school where lonely children could go, where children can build connections through shared activity or where friendships can blossom?
It’s Only One by Tracey Corderoy & Tony Neal
Recommended for: discussing classroom rules and personal responsibility
This is a book to choose when introducing the importance of class rules, demonstrating how shared environments work best if everyone sticks to the agreed rules and works together to take responsibility for making somewhere a happy place to live, work and play.
Sunnyville is the perfect place to live. The animals live in peace and harmony and everyone is friendly to one another. Until one day, Rhino tosses a sweet wrapper over his shoulder. It’s only one, he thinks – until everyone is doing the same. This one action begins a domino effect which results in Sunnyville being a lot less than perfect with everyone being grumpy and doing as they please. Then little mouse has an idea, and ‘only one’ small act starts a whole wave of small acts and turns Sunnyville around.
With appealing animal characters to draw in the reader, this is a wonderful story about being good community members and caring for the world around us. The story provides a great example of how ‘only one’ small act can start a whole chain of events.
The bright illustrations are eye catching and full of detail, with plenty of things to talk about for the start of a new year, including personal responsibility, keeping the classroom tidy, treating equipment with respect and working together to improve things.
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold & Suzanne Kaufman
Recommended for: creating a culture of inclusivity and reflecting on making the classroom a welcoming place
Right from its opening lines, “Pencils sharpened in their case, Bells are ringing, let’s make haste, School’s beginning, dreams to chase. All are welcome here,” the book exudes an essence of acceptance and unity that strikes a chord as pupils settle into the culture of their new class. The book uses the format of a school day to show how different classmates are equally included, and the repeated refrain of ‘All Are Welcome Here‘ is one that classes could easily adopt as their own motto.
For any school or teacher committed to diversity and inclusion, this is an essential book with a clear message elegantly conveyed through the journey of a group of children as they navigate a day at their school, where the very essence of seeking to make every individual welcome is the thread the runs through all of the pages. Each double page spreads come alive with vibrant depictions of children donning different cultural clothing, all engaged harmoniously in activities in an environment that is intentionally inclusive. This portrayal of a school thriving on shared learning from one another’s traditions is both heartening and thought-provoking.
Ask children in the class to reflect on times when they have been made to feel welcome in a new place, and how it felt. Ask them to suggest what they might do to make others feel welcome in their classroom. Ask them what they would like their teachers or classmates to know or do in order to better include them, or for ideas on how to improve the classroom environment to make it more welcoming to others. Make posters or display artwork with the ‘All Are Welcome Here’ motto and decorate it in colourful and celebratory styles. Learn to say ‘welcome’ or ‘hello’ in different languages or display them somewhere in the room. Or perhaps learn the verses of the book by heart and work on a whole class poetry performance. The author also has some printable bookmarks on her website that are free to download and use in class.
This is a super picturebook to start the year and to return to at various times throughout the year.
For more ideas of books to start the year or to focus on fresh starts and resolutions, we’ve compiled a Back to School Booklist.