What’s in Your Back-to-School Bookcase?

By Barbara Gruener

As we at Westwood-Bales Elementary prepare for the 2013-2014 school year, we’re displaying a few of our newest titles in our Character Case:

The Way I Act by Steven Metzger is kind of like a character dictionary for kids. It explains types of behavior in a way that is easy for little ones to understand. One of my favorite pages describes how “Kids with character are good at doing the right thing.” In the back of the book there’s a note to parents that lists five ways to help kids put the book’s words into action.

“In his newcomer to the children’s literature market, Dr. Bob Sornson explores the virtue of empathy in Stand in My Shoes. Little Emily asks her older sister what “empathy” means and learns all about walking in someone else’s shoes to understand what they’re feeling. This Love and Logic gem will help you teach caring and compassion to children.

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst is a perfect springboard for a discussion on how something intangible (love) connects us. It’s a wonderful book to read with students who are experiencing separation anxiety. In this masterpiece, twins Jeremy and Liza talk with their mom about “the invisible string” that “reaches from heart to heart.”

Dorothy, the feisty little learner in Catherine Urdahl’s Polka Dot Fixes Kindergarten, spends her first day of kindergarten figuring out what she has in her trusty fix-it-kit that will help solve the problems she encounters with an unkind classmate. Ask your students what they would put in a fix-it kit if they could bring one to school.”

Peace Week in Miss Fox’s Class by Eileen Spinelli tells the story of a teacher who is tired of all of the fighting in her classroom. She responds by declaring a Peace Week, during which students will follow rules they’ve devised together: No fighting, no saying mean things, help others. Realizing that it feels good to be kind, helpful and fair, one student wonders what it would be like to have Peace Week year-round.

An oldie-but-goodie, Curious George’s First Day of School by H.A. Rey, features the curious and often precocious monkey making a big mess by mixing paint colors. Of course, the mess only gets bigger when he tries to be a helper and clean up after himself. A humorous look at how George monkeys around but ultimately manages to fix his mistakes, it never fails to be engaging and endearing to your students.

Bad Apple by Edward Hemmingway is a 2013 title with a lot of potential for student discussions and reflection on friendship. Mac the Apple and Will the Worm are an unlikely pair. Mac’s friends shun him when Will is hanging around, so Will decides that Mac is better off without him. Would Mac rather be an apple with a worm or a lonely apple without him?

And last but certainly not least, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of the new girl, Maya, and all of the chances to be kind to her that Chloe and her friends repeatedly and intentionally pass up. When Maya moves away, it’s like a splash of cold water on Chloe’s face to realize that she let her only opportunity to create a “kindness ripple” with Maya go out and forever get away. Such an authentic and moving story.

Have you read any of these? Please share your opinion in a comment here. What other books will you be reading during your first few weeks back in your character building?

Barbara Gruener is a counselor at Westwood-Bales Elementary School in Friendswood, Texas. Check out more of her work in her blog, Corner on Character.