School Daze through Pictures and Stories

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A quick peek in the SLC archives turned up this back-to-school gem from Carolyn S. Brodie highlighting picture books and related resources.

Subscribers to SLC can read find many more articles with book and activity recommendations at School Library Connection.

This assortment of fifteen school-related picture books, both classic and new, is meant to be enjoyed. These stories will foster connections for students as they are introduced to memorable characters, situations, and storylines in a variety of school settings.


No doubt this will prove to be a year filled with promise, new beginnings, and lots of learning! The following list of great books should get the school year off to a great start.


Allard, Harry. Miss Nelson Is Missing! Illus. by James Marshall. Houghton Mifflin, 1977.

When Miss Nelson disappears, her disruptive students in Room 207 are faced with a one-of-a-kind substitute teacher until Miss Nelson returns.

Print out a fun reader’s theater script ( Another script can be found at:

A literature guide from the “Learning to Give” site provides before, during, and after questions in relation to the story ( Eight activity ideas are suggested for family involvement, but can be easily adapted for the classroom or library.


Daywalt, Drew. The Day the Crayons Quit. Philomel, 2013.

Duncan is surprised to find a stack of letters when he comes to school one day. They just happen to be from his crayons who express their feelings about how they have been used (or not).

An article from the International Reading Association’s page “Reading Today Online” includes cross-curricular ideas for The Day the Crayons Quit (

The Teaching Thief blog includes a “mentor writing text” idea (

Another teacher’s blog called The Classroom Bookshelf includes several ideas including letter writing, opinion writing, defining story, and artistic exploration (


Henkes, Kevin. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. Greenwillow, 1996.

This is the classic Henkes story of a child (in this case a mouse) taking a favorite new thing to school (in this case a purple plastic purse) that results in consequences when not following the rules.

Print out a fun maze of Lilly trying to get to her purple plastic purse (

A related Nancy Polette literature guide ( includes ideas for sentence starters, writing a Lilly song, a spelling game, and a writing pattern activity.

A wonderful eighteen-page booklet, “The World of Kevin Henkes: A Picture Book Guide,” has been created by HarperCollins ( The guide includes activities for Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse on pages fourteen through fifteen.


Houston, Gloria. My Great-Aunt Arizona. Illus. by Susan Condie Lamb. HarperCollins, 1992

This is a poignant and memorable story of the author’s relative, Arizona Houston Hughes, who taught generations of Appalachian school children in a one-room schoolhouse.

A collection of several curriculum-related activities has been created by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (, and another collection of ideas is available from the Homeschool Share site (


Layne, Steven. T Is for Teachers: A School Alphabet. Doris Ettlinger. Sleeping Bear Press, 2005.

This alphabet book features school-related topics, such as books, kindergarten, and principal, for each of the letters of the alphabet. Each topic is accompanied by a poem and information.

A twenty-seven page guide to accompany this alphabet book can be found at the Sleeping Bear Press Teacher’s Guides/Activities page ( Scroll down the alphabetical list to find T Is for Teachers.


Litwin, Eric. Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes. Illus. by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2011.

Pete the Cat is back—and this time he’s rocking in his school shoes. Pete discovers the library, the lunchroom, the playground, and lots of other cool places at school. And no matter where he goes, Pete never stops moving and grooving and singing his song…because it’s all good.

You can download the free companion Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes song from the HarperCollins webpage ( Explore the page for many other ideas including downloadable activities and links to the other Pete the Cat picture books and I Can Read books.

A direct link to a page for children to color their own school shoes is also available from HarperCollins (

The book trailer for Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes can be found online (


Pattou, Edith. Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden. Illus. by Tricia Tusa. Harcourt, 2007.

The students in Mrs. Spitzer’s class are lovingly tended as they grow and thrive through the school year.

A corresponding English/Language Arts and Fine Arts Lesson ( has students ultimately creating what they would plant in their gardens.

A beginning of the year activity focused on principals using this book and sharing with teachers is also available (


Piven, Hanoch. My Best Friend Is as Sharp as a Pencil: And Other Funny Classroom Portraits. Schwartz & Wade, 2010.

Grandma comes to visit and asks her granddaughter questions about school which her granddaughter answers through similes depicted through collages made from objects around the house.

The Washington Children’s Choice Picture Book Award: 2012 Activity Packet has a page that suggests creation of simile collages ( Book titles featured in the packet are in alphabetical order, and readers can scroll down to find My Best Friend Is as Sharp as a Pencil.

My Best Friend Is as Sharp as a Pencil is one of the books featured on a Scholastic Page ( that includes some terrific ideas connected to poetry writing with children.

For another collage portrait picture book (with similes) by Hanoch Piven, find My Dog Is as Smelly as Dirty Socks: And Other Funny Family Portraits (Schwartz & Wade, 2007).


Polacco, Patrica. Thank You, Mr. Falker. Philomel, 1992 (gift edition 2012).

This is the story of how one teacher can change a child’s life forever and, in this case, is a thank you from Patricia Polacco to one of her own childhood teachers.

The Professional Development Institute includes a page of activities related to Thank You, Mr. Falker with vocabulary words, writing activities, and discussion questions (

A worksheet that uses vocabulary from the story and focuses on dividing words into syllables is available (


Rathmann, Peggy. Officer Buckle and Gloria. Putnam, 1995. (1996 Caldecott Medal).

Officer Buckle’s safety tips are often ignored by the children of Napville Elementary School, that is, until he brings along a police dog named Gloria who begins to liven things up.

A Weston Woods/Scholastic study guide is available (

A United Way Beyond the Book “before, during and after” reading guide for Officer Buckle and Gloria is available (

Print out a crossword puzzle from Houghton Mifflin (


Rosenthal, Amy Krouse. One Smart Cookie: Bite-Size Lessons for the School Years and Beyond. Illus. by Jane Dyer. HarperCollins, 2010.

A cookie-baking theme serves as the foundation for the introduction to vocabulary words and “bite-size lessons” related to the school years.

A simple matching vocabulary activity is available (

A copy of the cookie recipe in the book can be shared as a handout for students to take home (

Learn how to make “cookie play dough” (


Scotton, Rob. Splat the Cat. HarperCollins, 2008.

Splat wonders if he will make new friends on his first day of Cat School, so he brings his pet mouse in his lunch box for company, but chaos erupts when Seymour escapes!

Weston Woods/Scholastic has a study guide ( that accompanies the Splat the Cat video, but many ideas can also be used with the book including questions that could be asked before and after reading.

A thirteen-page activity kit from publisher HarperCollins is available (, which includes a “Pin the Tail on Splat” game, connect the dots page, a word puzzle activity, and draw and color pages.

Check out the Teaching Ideas page for a number of activities and content area related ideas to accompany a reading of Splat the Cat (

An additional collection of content-related activities can be found at The Monarch Award page where Splat the Cat was a nomination for the 2011 K-3 Illinois’ Children’s Choice Award (


Wells, Rosemary. Timothy Goes to School. Dial, 1981 (Reissued by Viking, 2000).

A little raccoon named Timothy learns about making friends during his very first week of school. (This Rosemary Wells title remains my favorite read-aloud for the first week of school.)

Extension ideas can be found in Rosemary Wells Teaching Guide for several of her classic titles ( Ideas for Timothy Goes to School include talking about feelings, a talent show, making friendship cards, and creating a skit.

Other Rosemary Wells titles related to school include the Yoko (Hyperion, 2009) books as well as Yoko Learns to Read (Hyperion, 2012) and Yoko Writes Her Name (Hyperion, 2008).


Woodson, Jacqueline. Each Kindness. Illus. by E. B. Lewis. Penguin, 2012.

When Ms. Albert teaches a lesson on kindness, Chloe realizes that she and her friends have been wrong in making fun of new student Maya’s shabby clothes and refusing to play with her.

Go to the site ( to hear Jacqueline Woodson share background for writing this story that centers on kindness and also hear the author begin to read the first part of the book.

This site has excellent discussion questions and extension ideas for Each Kindness (

An interesting Pinterest site about “kindness” with a number of pins connected to activities can also be used (

A blog post focusing on kindness to others from The Creative Librarian’s blog is available (


Yum, Hyewon. Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012.

In a very clever twist to the first day of school, it turns out that it isn’t the little boy who is most worried—it is the mother!

Watch the video clip of this picture book on YouTube (

Hyewon Yum won the 2013 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award for Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten. Check out the EJK Award page of winners since 1986. Awards and honor books are now given each year for both new authors and new illustrators (


For more lists of “back to school” books, go to one of the following lists:

Bankstreet Library: Back to School Books.

Parent’s Choice: Back to School Books.

Reading Rockets: School Days.

Brodie_CarolynCarolyn S. Brodie, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus at Kent State University, School of Library and Information Science.


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