First Weeks of School Read Aloud Picture Books for Upper Graders

I love using picture books all year long, so it only makes sense to launch each school year with some of my very favorites.  Sometimes my lineup will change, but these are a few of my tried and true titles that I always use.

Oh Miss Rumphius, you'll always be my favorite.  This book talks about a woman who uses her life to see the world, follow her heart, and make things a little more beautiful. 

We read and then have a VERY casual discussion (remember, it's the beginning of the year, which makes these types of conversations perfect to practice conversational moves and accountable talk!) about ways WE could impact the world.  As they talk and share, I'm jotting their thoughts on the board.  I encourage them to think both big AND small.  Picking up trash is just as important as creating organizations to help the homeless.  ALL acts of kindness and charity and hope are important.

Then, everyone gets a 5x7 index card and we fold the sides into the middle, making two little "doors" or flaps.  On the inside of one flap, they write their name.  On the other inside flap, they write a list of the places they'd love to see one day (bring in that geography!).  Then, in the middle, they explain how THEY will change the world (personal favorite part).

The next day (this typically takes 2 days), I put out plates of acrylic paint in the colors of Miss Rumphius' lupines and provide the students with Q-tips.  They draw green stems on the covers of the flaps and then dot the paint to create lupines on their cards.

I just adore these!

Okay, next up is another book that is dear and precious and carries a lesson that really resonates with my fifth graders.  The book is called Mr. Peabody's Apples and it's written by Madonna.  I believe it may be out of print (and therefore very expensive), but you could always look it up on YouTube because there are several read alouds of it.

I've had my copy since my first year of teaching (2003) and I treasure it!

This book is about the power of our words and actions, as well as our relationships with others.  This one leaves the room SILENT and you can almost see their gears turning as they process and apply.

But, before we even READ it, I put students in groups of 4-6 and give each group a paper plate and a small tube of toothpaste (Dollar Tree or beg local dentists!).  I tell them that I'm about to give them ONE minute and their only task is to squeeze out as much toothpaste onto the plate as possible.  I tell them to not think about anything other than getting that toothpaste out.  Have fun!  Just squeeze it out!

They love it.  The room will smell quite minty, very quickly!

Then, I give each student a toothpick.  I tell them that NOW they have to face the consequences (which can be positive or negative) to their actions and using ONLY their toothpicks, get the toothpaste back in the tube.

Not. As. Much. Fun.

I even give them extra time.  They start out hopeful and then realize that it's an impossible task.  We clean up (baby wipes are perfect) and they come to down to listen to the book.

Once we've read the book, we launch into a discussion about the power of our words.  I use depth and complexity icons (I use THESE) to guide us and I'm jotting down their thoughts on the board.

It's good stuff, friends.  Really good, really deep, really important stuff.

At this point, we do review (as they've done it in fourth grade) the structure of a text response.  I use everything in HERE to help us and it serves us so well.

They take their ideas and the next day, they respond.  This is often their very piece of writing they submit so I read through these carefully, leaving notes and calling them up the next day to go over one-on-one.

This is, honestly, a book we refer back to all year long.

Okay, next up!  Her Right Foot.  LOVE this one, too!

Throughout these picture books, I hope you see how we are enjoying rich, complex literature, all while directly tying them into our specific standards.  I'm talking reading, writing, listening and speaking.  You can cover so so so much with picture books!

Alright.  Back to Her Right Foot.

If you haven't read this one, promise me that you will, k?

There is a part that talks about immigration and freedom and how we can never stand still in the face of these ideals.  I GET CHOKED UP EVERY SINGLE YEAR.

But you know what?  It's really THAT moment that my students see me as a reader, a thinker, and a true lover of literature.  It almost starts breaking down walls and shows them the power of the written word.

We read this one and tie it into symbolism.  We use the resources found HERE and it's honestly one of my favorite ways to get them digging deeply into their thinking.

We talk symbolism all year long but launching with the Statue of Liberty feels important and just right.  You can grab the little statue HERE.  Not necessary but they do love to see her right foot lifting up.

Speaking of another important book, full of rich meaning: Fly Away Home.

This is another one of those books that captures the students and you can pretty much hear a pin drop.

I mean, there are just so many important discussions to be had with this one but I really let my kids guide our conversation.  I love using this book to really take an analytical look at colors illustrators and authors use and what those colors can tell us a reader.

Once I've read it, I pass out a copy because I've typed up the text (grab it for free HERE).  This is our opportunity to dig into depth and complexity icons, using and applying them both independently and in whole group conversations.

This is a great time to informally assess their understanding of icons but if you don't use them, then use this time push their thinking and examine things through new perspectives.  

Again, we use our text to write text responses, with THIS resource really helping them with the structure of a constructed response.

It's just an awesome book.

The next one!  I love What Do You Do with an Idea

Encourage students to listen and think and watch how the illustrations change.  We always discuss why the artist and author would choose to do this and how it could contribute to the bigger message.

We talk about how our heads are full of ideas, too.

I take pictures of each student and print on my classroom printer.  It's only black and white but I think it's almost better that way.

I print out and students cut around their heads.  Then, cutting just above their eyebrows, cut a straight diagonal line.  They glue the pieces on cardstock and write all the things that are in their heads.  I hang these up and they make a stunning display that celebrate how unique we each are!

The Word Collector is another fave and it definitely fires us up for the study and collection of words!

This is a sweet book and once we've read it, we set up our own word collector journals (we use THESE).  These store our content-specific words and they get used all year long.

We've used these small notebooks from Target but this year, we are actually using composition books and collecting words across the curriculum, with each section tabbed for the different areas.

I also adore this book called, I Am Peace because it leads into our discussion of mindfulness.

A couple years ago, I bought THIS chime off Amazon and it's been a great addition to helping us breathe mindfully and focus on our own peace.

I like reading this book and practicing mindfulness the very first week of schools.  It definitely helps with those first week, back to school jitters!

How about those books that just send a message of goodness?  I love these two titles: Most People and Come with Me.  We read and discuss about current events because they often hear (and see) scary things.  We discuss the good and how we, as global citizens, can continue to contribute to the good.

Also, these conversations after a book, and during morning meeting, are what truly help contribute to our classroom community.  I 100% believe in it.

Alright, next up is a sweet story that ends with math and I love it!  Ordinary Mary!

This is all about how ONE tiny act can create a ripple and in turn, impact billions of people.

We read this and then I send them back to their desks.  They put a sticky note in their planners (we use planners but you could also do homework folders or whatever you use to send work home in) and number it one through five.

They jot down five easy, ordinary things they could do today.  We share out and it's everything from "fold the clothes" to "clean my room without complaining" to " smile at someone."  We spend the rest of the week during morning meetings checking in to see how it's going.

Super simple, super important.

Okay, next steps...

I screenshot, shrink, print, and laminate the cover of each picture book we read throughout the year.  It's only a hassle the first year and then you can reuse, reuse, reuse.

We use THIS product from my sweet friend Joanne and track the themes we see.  Theme is HUGE in upper grades and I've found that this is a really accessible way to open discussions and visually attach deeper meaning with books.

By the end of the year, this is COVERED with mini picture books (I have a freebie HERE) and it always feels leaves me feeling sad to remove them once the school year is done.

We do this work during morning meeting but I'll read a picture book at any time of the day.  I think they are rich with vocabulary, global issues, and give ME an opportunity to continue modeling expression and active thinking skills with upper graders.

So, give it a try and let me know if you have a favorite book you always read at the beginning of the year!

To shop many of these books and MORE, visit my storefront HERE!


  1. Hi Jill, Thankyou for all your wonderful ideas. The link for the text of Fly Away Home sends you to your Book Covers Freebie (thanks!). The text for Fly Away Home is not in that resource. Could you help me find it? Thanks again.

  2. Hi Jill! I am your biggest fan! I love everything you post! :). I am using many of your picture book lessons to start off my year and I couldn't find the typed out document you made for Fly Away Home. I downloaded the free resource and there was the Miss Rumphius doc instead. Can you help me find the Fly Away Home doc? I appreciate your help!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Thanks for all these great books and lesson ideas! Yes, Mr. Peabody's Apples is really pricey on Amazon, but I just bought a copy on ebay for under five bucks. There are quite a few for that price too. Yay!

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