Happy Back-to-School Time! This used to be one of my favorite times of the year when I taught elementary between setting up the classroom, meeting my students, planning with my colleagues, and talking with my families. I want to honor that we are coming out of a rough 2+ years in Education and Back-to-School will be exciting for some and harrowing to others. However you are feeling in your Back-to-School journey, I see you and I feel for you.
The first few weeks of school are so important to set up a strong classroom community or get your own children ready to tackle the new year! Books are a great way to get these jobs done. As a teacher, the books I chose for the first few weeks of school were the ones I spent the most time considering: What messages do I want to convey? How can I get students excited about the new school year? What books went well with my first weeks of school activities? How can I teach social emotional learning and rules, routines, and procedures with these books?
I have put together a series of book lists that I think are perfect for the first couple months of school! We will be releasing each list throughout the beginning of the school year. In our Back to School with Colorful Pages series, you will find:
- Books About Starting School
- Books to Get to Know Each Other
- Books to Introduce Social Emotional Learning
In this list of “Diverse Books to Get to Know Each Other”, we have diverse books that can be used to get to know your students and/or read to your own children to empower themselves and learn how to appreciate the differences in others. I feature books that are mostly by Authors of Color and perfect for any classroom and home. Like usual, there are some ideas about what you can do with the books or why they are good for this topic. Check out the list below and Happy School Year!
That’s Not My Name!, by Anoosha Syed
The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Conversation
Age Range: 3-5 years old
That’s Not My Name! is a story about Mirha, her name, and her first day of school. When Mirha goes to school, everyone mispronounces her name and tries to give her nicknames she doesn’t want. She decides to just get a new name to make it “easier”. After telling Mama about it, Mama explains to Mirha the meaning behind her name and her name story. This helps Mirha and the readers learn an important lesson about names, especially within the classroom setting
As someone who has her Native Hawaiian name mispronounced all the time, I related to this book so so so much! This is an important lesson to teach students within the first couple weeks of school. Consider using this book to talk about the importance of names and pronouncing them correctly. You could have the class create a poster together about what to do when you forget how to pronounce a name and what to do when someone mispronounces your name.
Becoming Vanessa, by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Representation
Age Range: 3-6 years old
Vanessa Brantley-Newton wrote this picture book about a little girl named Vanessa and her first few days of school. On her first day, Vanessa puts on her fanciest outfit and goes to school, but throughout the day becomes increasingly self-conscious about her appearance and name. She comes home wanting to have a simpler name and wear plain clothes. Her mom then tells her the story behind her name and rejuvenates Vanessa’s confidence.
This is a really fun book about being confident in yourself and your name. It would be a great book to read during class introductions. You can also use it to do a lesson about Name Stories and have students write about why they like their name.
Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, by Sonia Sotomayor
The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Representation
Age Range: 4-7 years old
Just Ask! is a picture book about celebrating the different abilities of kids. Each section introduces the readers to a child, explains their disability and abilities, and then asks the readers a question to help them understand the child’s experience more. This book is set up to encourage empathy, empowerment, and reflection around ability and disability.
Sonia Sotomayor’s book would help increase the inclusivity within a classroom community. It can help students think about what makes them different, brave, and themselves within the class. I would suggest doing a read aloud around it and have students reflect on the questions the book poses. Later on in the year, you could reread this book to talk deeply about disabilities and abilities once a strong classroom community is more established.
Hair Twins, by Raakhee Mirchandani
The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Exploration
Age Range: 4-8 years old
Raakhee Mirchandi’s picture book celebrates the special hair bond that a Sikh father and daughter have as Hair Twins! It shows the routine that they do together to get their hair ready in different ways. At the end, it shows a beautiful few pages of many caregiver-and-child pairs and their Hair Twin hairstyles.
Hair Twins would be a fantastic book to read at the start of the year to celebrate different hairstyles and cultural traditions around hair. One activity I like to do with this book is have students do self portraits where they really focus on creating their hair using construction paper and scissors. This is a really fun activity for students that includes art and helps them practice their fine motor skills. I also use it to introduce expectations around scissors and glue sticks.
Bilal Cooks Daal, by Aisha Saeed
The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Exploration with Some Conversation
Age Range: 2-7 years
Bilal Cooks Daal is about Bilal getting ready to introduce his friends to his favorite food, daal. Bilal and his friends help Abu make the daal. Halfway through the book, his friends start to question how it looks and they say some hurtful things about how it might taste, which makes Bilal worried about what they will think of his favorite dish. By the end of the book, Bilal and his friends invite more kids from the community and they all enjoy daal together.
Aisha Saeed’s picture book can be used to spark a discussion about students’ favorite foods and/or their family’s favorite foods. This is a really important discussion to make the classroom more inclusive while also getting to know each other more. I would read this book around lunch time and have students write and draw about their favorite foods. Additionally, you could use this book to talk about “Don’t yuck my yum” and how we want to make sure to respect each other’s food choices during lunchtime just like Bilal’s friends should have.
Ordinary Ohana, by Lee Cataluna
The Spectrum for Multicultural Lit.: Exploration
Age Range: 4-7 years
Everyone who has seen me present knows that this is my favorite book because of how empowering it is to my own Native Hawaiian identity! Ordinary Ohana follows a little boy named Kainoa as he introduces all the members of his family. He talks about his family’s culture and Hawaiian family traditions. The illustrations by Cheyne Gallarde are also very endearing.
Ordinary Ohana can be used to talk about families. After reading this book aloud, you can have a discussion about students’ families. In addition, you could have students draw family pictures or family trees to hang up in the classroom. Or, ask students to bring in family pictures and have them introduce their family members in front of the class (if they are comfortable with it). When they are done introducing their family members, you can ask them to hang up the family picture on a bulletin board. This was always my students’ favorite bulletin board in the classroom!
My Heart Fills With Happiness, by Monique Gray Smith
The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Mostly Exploration
Age Range: 3-5 years
My Heart Fills With Happiness is a picture book all about what fills our hearts with happiness. It features Indigenous children and families along with some cultural elements as well. The illustrations make readers’ hearts brighten through the color contrasting and the characters’ joy depicted.
I always use this picture book to have students share about things that make their heart fill with happiness. This is one of the best ways to get to know your students and what they like. With the right facilitation, you can also use it to have students pay attention to what makes their peers happy and how they can use this to help each other create a classroom community of joy.
That’s My Friend!, by Vad Lee & Khayla Lee
The Spectrum of Multicultural Lit.: Exploration
Age Range: 2-12 years
Vad and Khayla Lee’s picture book is all about celebrating cultural diversity! In this book, a little girl is on a playground and introduces the readers to her friends. Each of her friends has a different cultural background and way of dressing.
I love using this book to talk about culture and cultural differences! You can read this book to your students or children to talk about how people come from different cultures and we should love and respect their cultures. In the classroom, I will introduce the vocabulary word of “culture”, read this book, and then have students draw or write about their culture or their friends.
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