Diverse Book Set: Back to School

Many teachers, including myself, have a go-to list of books we like to use at the beginning of a new school year. The only problem with this– most likely they have already had a teacher (or two) read it to them in previous years. This summer I made it my personal mission to discover new and exciting books that give a peek into the diverse perspectives and experiences of students from all over the world, showing us that no “first day” is exactly alike. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Happy Reading,

Shannon

Elementary

I’m New Here and Someone New by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Are you new here? Do you know someone new? In I’m New Here and Someone New, young readers explore the immigrant experience through both “windows” and “mirrors.” In I’m New Here, readers meet three recent immigrants trying to adjust to a new country and school. In Someone New, the same story is told from the perspective of the students who welcome the newcomers. An honest and heartwarming look at diversity, inclusion, and friendship.

Purchase Someone New, Purchase I’m New Here

An A from Miss Keller by Patricia Polacco

Trisha is nervous about being chosen for Miss Keller’s writing class. “Killer Keller” demands that her students dazzle her with their writing, and rumor has it that she has never given an A. The rumors turn out to be all too true—there’s just no pleasing Miss Keller. Then an unexpected loss leaves Trisha heartbroken. Thoughts of teachers and grades forgotten, she pours out her soul in a personal narrative. And when Miss Keller reads it, she tells Trisha, “You’ve given your words wings.”

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A Letter to my Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson

Dear Teacher, Whenever I had something to tell you, I tugged on your shirt and whispered in your ear. This time I’m writing a letter. So begins this heartfelt picture book about a girl who prefers running and jumping to listening and learning—and the teacher who gently inspires her. From stomping through creeks on a field trip to pretending to choke when called upon to read aloud, this book’s young heroine would be a challenge to any teacher. But this teacher isn’t just any teacher. By listening carefully and knowing just the right thing to say, she quickly learns that the girl’s unruly behavior is due to her struggles with reading. And at the very end, we learn what this former student is now: a teacher herself.

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School Days Around the World by Margriet Ruurs

Author Margriet Ruurs begins this engaging informational picture book by posing an intriguing question: “What is a school? Is it a building with classrooms? Or can it be any place where children learn?” The fascinating stories that follow will expand how young readers think of school, as they learn about the experiences of real children in thirteen different countries around the world. The children who are profiled live in places that truly span the globe, however, while there are huge differences in their environments, all the children share similar desires to learn, read and play with others.

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It’s Back to School We Go!: First Day Stories from Around the World by Ellen Jackson

The first day of school is an event that brings mixed emotions to children everywhere. There is excitement in seeing old friends and it’s nice to begin a new year with a new teacher and good intentions. But first day feelings are mixed. Will last year’s friends still be friends? What if the new teacher doesn’t like me? Or what if the work is too hard? Ellen Jackson and Jan Davey Ellis portray children from eleven different countries experiencing their first day back at school. Each child’s first-person account is enhanced by a fact box that tells us something about the culture from which the child speaks, so that the reader is able to compare and contrast the experiences of children from different parts of the world. In words and pictures the author and artist have captured the diversity of children’s school experiences, while at the same time capturing how much the world’s children have in common.

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I Walk with Vanessa: A Story about a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët

This simple yet powerful picture book–from a New York Times bestselling husband-and-wife team–tells the story of one girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. Inspired by real events,  I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help. By choosing only pictures to tell their story, the creators underscore the idea that someone can be an ally without having to say a word. 

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The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.

There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it. Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael López’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.

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Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter

Young Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone since her parents disappeared. In despair, her grandmother risks everything to enroll Nasreen in a secret school for girls. Will a devoted teacher, a new friend, and the worlds she discovers in books be enough to draw Nasreen out of her shell of sadness? Based on a true story from Afghanistan, this inspiring book will touch readers deeply as it affirms both the life-changing power of education and the healing power of love.

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When I was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton

Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. Ignoring her father’s warnings, she travels far from her Arctic home to the outsiders’ school to learn. The nuns at the school call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do menial chores, but she remains undaunted. Her tenacity draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn. But the young girl is more determined than ever to learn how to read.

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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Follow a group of children through a day in their school, where everyone is welcomed with open arms. A school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yarmulkes play side-by-side with friends in baseball caps. A school where students grow and learn from each other’s traditions and the whole community gathers to celebrate the Lunar New Year. All Are Welcome lets young children know that no matter what, they have a place, they have a space, they are welcome in their school.

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First Day in Grapes by L King Perez

When Chico starts the third grade after his migrant worker family moves to begin harvesting California grapes, he finds that self confidence and math skills help him cope with the first day of school. 

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Rain School by James Rumford

It is the first day of school in Chad, Africa. Children are filling the road. “Will they give us a notebook?” Thomas asks. “Will they give us a pencil?” “Will I learn to read?” But when he and the other children arrive at the schoolyard, they find no classroom, no desks. Just a teacher. “We will build our school,” she says. “This is our first lesson.”

James Rumford, who lived in Chad as a Peace Corps volunteer, fills these pages with vibrant ink-and-pastel colors of Africa and the spare words of a poet to show how important learning is in a country where only a few children are able to go to school.

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Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her new dress, her classmate wants to make her feel better, wondering: What does it mean to be kind? From asking the new girl to play to standing up for someone being bullied, this moving story explores what kindness is, and how any act, big or small, can make a difference―or at least help a friend.

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Rulers of the Playground by Joseph Kuefler

One morning, Jonah decided to become ruler of the playground. Everyone agreed to obey his rules to play in King Jonah’s kingdom . . . Everyone except for Lennox . . . because she wanted to rule the playground, too.

A gloriously rendered, hilariously deadpan tale of playground politics.

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The Class by Boni Ashburn

Count along with twenty young students from nineteen different homes as they get ready for their first day of kindergarten. Alarm clocks go off and students all over town wake up and get ready for their big day. Some feel eager, others are nervous, and a few are even grumpy! But they all get dressed, eat breakfast, pack backpacks, and make their way to school, where they will meet their new teacher and become a wonderful new class. Boni Ashburn’s snappy rhyming text and Kimberly Gee’s adorable and diverse group of children make this a great pick for little ones getting ready for their first day of school.

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A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby

In a unique narrative, readers meet a diverse group of six children ranging in age from Kindergarten through fifth grade. With nerves and excitement each child gears up for a new school year by hustling in the morning, meeting new teachers and new classmates during the day, and heading home with homework and relief by day’s end. 

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The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes

Starting kindergarten is a big milestone–and the hero of this story is ready to make his mark! He’s dressed himself, eaten a pile of pancakes, and can’t wait to be part of a whole new kingdom of kids. The day will be jam-packed, but he’s up to the challenge, taking new experiences in stride with his infectious enthusiasm! And afterward, he can’t wait to tell his proud parents all about his achievements–and then wake up to start another day.

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