The Magic of Picture Book Read-Alouds to Promote Community Building

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Two of my favorite books to share at the beginning of the year are Whoever You Are by Mem Fox and All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka.  Both books celebrate the diversity of our world.  Beautifully illustrated, Whoever You Are by Leslie Staub and All the Colors of the Earth by the author, both remind us of how we are all different, yet the same no matter where we come from. They open the door for conversations about the diversity in our classrooms and communities which can continue throughout the year as we celebrate special occasions and holidays as well as individual family cultures.

Another topic I always explore right away to help build a classroom community is names–the importance of their names and the origins and meanings of them.  Helping children learn about their friends’ names allows them to remember their names more readily and helps to develop friendships more deeply. Although children have been arriving at schools with “different” names for many years, currently we are noticing that many more families are going outside the “usual” list of names for their children. Sometimes they might be hard to pronounce and/or are so different they might cause some unease for the children as they begin school.  My own grandchildren, Jago and Miela, have experienced questions and misunderstandings. There are several books that explore those ideas.  The Name Jar written and illustrated by Yangsook Choi is about a newly immigrated Korean girl and how she and her classmates learn the importance their own names and embracing differences. Chrysanthemum written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes also explores the importance of our names and whom or what we might be named after.  My Name Is Johari by Anne Sibley O’Brien, hard to find, but available in big book format through National School Products, is another great book that has those themes.  Perhaps if you look through your storage closets at school, you will find this one hidden away.

Swimmy by Leo Lionni is a great introduction to the importance of sometimes needing to work together as a team to accomplish a task.  It can also help children understand how to develop leadership skills while they enjoy experiencing the narrative and illustrations as Swimmy becomes the leader who saves the school of small fish from the larger predator fish. The beautiful illustrations as well as the story explain how being part of a team whether as leader or follower can be so important.

Giraffes Can’t Dance written by Giles Andreae and beautifully illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees is a fun book that explores several topics that can help build community—being different and accepting that about yourself, making fun of others and its effect, sometimes finding friends when we don’t expect it, and the power of encouraging others.

There are so many other great books that you can read and reread throughout the year that will help keep your classroom a cohesive and caring place where all your students feel accepted, important, and safe. There are books for almost every social and/or emotional situation that might crop up in your classroom and one of the best ways to help children understand and work through those is through reading aloud books that highlight the situations. A book can be the “seed” for necessary conversations to grow so that feelings of community and friendship always permeate the classroom.  We might visit more of those in a later blog.

Be sure to visit our Amazon Book Store under “Resources” at our website literacy.rice.edu for other recommended books.

Authored by Margaret Immel, Rice School Literacy and Culture

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