August 05


Back-to-School Read Alouds by Melissa Stewart

Are you a member of the #classroombookaday Facebook group? If not, click the link and join right now. Seriously, do it. I’ll stop and wait until you’re done.

Okay, now that you have access to an amazing resource that’s going to change the way you think about and share picture books with your students, check out the fantastic visual Jillian Heise (the Wisconsin school librarian who founded and maintains #classroombookaday inspired by Donalyn Miller’s #bookaday challenge for teachers) posted in late July.

Great idea, right? After all First Day Jitters was published 22 years ago. Why not try a newer book that today’s students can connect with more strongly?

As Heise says, “many teachers have a tendency to stick with tried & true favorites for read aloud. . . . But with the wealth of children’s literature we have available to us today, and how much beautiful representation and connection we can find from it, I have a hard time with using the same go-to books . . . this year is a great time to update [First Day Jitters with] something more relatable that will support students’ social emotional learning and start building classroom community from the very start.”

I whole heartedly agree, but as a nonfiction author and advocate, I couldn’t help but notice that only 1 of the 18 books Jillian suggests is nonfiction. So I decided to add some more nonfiction options in the comments.

I remembered that I’d created a text set of fiction and nonfiction back-to-school titles for 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction, which I co-wrote with Marlene Correia, so  I flipped to page 119 and spotted three great nonfiction titles.

One World, One Day by Barbara Kerley and This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Math LaMothe focus on what daily life, including school, is like for kids all over the world.

Adventures to School: Real-life Journeys of Students from Around the World by Baptiste Paul highlights some surprising ways kids in aa wide variety of countries and cultures travel to school each day.

But as I perused the fiction books we’d recommended, I almost had a heart attack. The second book in our list was . . . First Day Jitters.

Ack! In creating that list, I’d fallen right into the trap Jillian’s terrific visual is trying to combat. Thank you, Jillian, for helping me see my own bias.

Sometimes classics have a lot of offer, but we need to constantly rethink our choices. Sometimes fiction has a lot to offer, but including nonfiction options can be a way to reach even more students.

So what do I hope you’ll do on the first day of school? Read one (or more) of the wonderful books Jillian has suggested to help kids think about the nervousness (and excitement) most us feel on the first day of school—or in any new situation. This can help students understand that what they’re thinking and feeling is universal. They aren’t alone.

Then read one (or more) of the books I’ve shared above to extend that sense of universality. Going to school is an experience that kids across a wide range of countries, cultures, races, and religions all have in common. We are similar in more ways that we are different.

And then perhaps end by letting students know that in some parts of the world, children wish they could go to school, but they don’t have that privilege. We should all be grateful for the opportunities we have to learn about the world and how it works and our place in it.

Have a great school year, Everyone!

Melissa Stewart has written more than 200 science books for children, including the Sibert Medal Honoree Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. She co-wrote 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books and edited the anthology Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-winning Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing. Melissa maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Nonfiction and is available for school visits and professional development workshops.