5 Picturebooks to share with pupils at the start of a New Year
A new year is a great time to help your school community to reflect on the theme of new beginnings. Some stories explore the idea of making resolutions or taking the next steps to overcome challenges. Other picturebooks are brilliant for opening conversations about how to make life better for those around you or transform old things with a new lease of life.
Whether it’s books to begin a new year, stories that explore fresh starts or tales of resolutions and new challenges, we’ve put together a list of picturebooks about new beginnings and starting afresh. These books could be used in school assemblies, at home or as classroom stories.
Here are 5 books to share with your school community as they return for the start of a new year.
The Wall and the Wild by Christina Dendy & Katie Rewse
Ana builds a beautiful garden on the edge of her town but is determined to keep the disorderly wild out, so she builds a boundary wall to separate the two. She wants her garden to be perfect, full of only the sweetest-smelling flowers, leafiest trees and tastiest fruit and vegetables. Any seeds that are not absolutely perfect get thrown away into the wild. The plants begin to wilt and both people and animals stop bothering to visit. Eventually, Ana sees some sunlight beaming from over her wall and decides to climb and see what is on the other side. As soon as she sees the beauty and unrestrained nature of the Wild, helped along by all her imperfect seeds, she decides that maybe it is time to start removing some bricks from her wall.
The book explores the topic of new beginnings and can spark conversations about the wonderful things that might happen when you try a new approach to something that hasn’t been working as well as expected.
The Couch Potato by Jory John & Pete Oswald
If you’ve ever made a New Year resolution to improve your fitness or spend more time outdoors, you might just relate to the journey of this hilarious spud. With everything he needs within arm’s reach of the sofa, this potato has it all – multiple TV screens, hundreds of video games and even a button that activates a snack-fetching gadget. He can’t see any reason at all to leave the couch… that is, until the electricity cuts out. The potato steps foot outside and embarks on a new-found appreciation of fresh air, exercise and the sounds and sights of the great outdoors. After some deep introspection, the potato sets himself a resolution to achieve a better balance between screen time and time spent enjoying the outdoor world.
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 Smart Cookie, The Good Egg and The Cool Bean). As well as guaranteeing giggles, this story can provide an opportunity to reflect on healthy lifestyles and personal resolutions – perfect for the start of a new year.
The Friendship Bench by Wendy Meddour & Daniel Egneus
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?
Anita and the Dragons by Hannah Carmona & Anna Cunha
This is a story of leaving the place you call home, facing your fears and embarking on new adventures. Anita loves the small, beautiful village in the Dominican Republic where she lives. She spends her days exploring the island, imagining herself as a valiant, brave princessa as she watches the ‘dragons’ (aeroplanes) fly overhead. One day, she finds that she must say goodbye to her beloved Abuela and her treasured island and travel with her family to a new home far away. As she walks into the unknown and to new adventures, she needs all the courage she can muster to come face to face with, and ride inside the dragon herself.
The descriptive language and use of metaphor in this story are stunning, as are the beautiful illustrations in muted pastel shades. Young children will really engage with Anita, her imagination and her love of home in this gentle story of courage and moving on, and older children might be thinking ahead to when they leave to face ‘the dragon’ that is High School! Ask children to think about what new adventures might come their way this year and how they could approach new challenges with a positive mindset.
The Invisible by Tom Percival
A moving, powerful story that shines a light on those that feel invisible in our world. Isabel and her loving family are forced to leave their home due to poverty. Feeling alone and invisible to the world, Isabel begins to notice the many other people living in similar circumstances – in fact, there are other ‘invisible’ people everywhere. Isabel is stirred to action and decides to make a difference to her new community in the little ways she can. By gradually improving small things that cost nothing, she starts a community movement and, before long, colour floods into her life and the lives of others once again.
This is a moving and hope-filled picturebook. More and more pupils will relate to the difficult financial situation that Isabel’s family faces and now more than ever is a time for communities to rally together. Ask pupils to challenge themselves to find ways to make small, positive differences in the communities in which they find themselves this year. Will they pick up a dropped pencil when they see it on the floor or just walk on by? Will they help a teacher carry a pile of books? Will they smile and say good morning to an elderly neighbour on the way to school? Or perhaps get involved in a litter pick or community tree-planting project?
This story links to whole school values of tolerance, kindness and caring and can be used for developing a sense of belonging and community. It shows how anyone can make a positive impact on those around them, regardless of how little they have. This beautiful book would make a super focus point for a start-of-year assembly or could be studied in detail in classrooms.
For more ideas of books to start the year or to focus on fresh starts and resolutions, we’ve compiled a New Beginnings booklist.