Back to School Character Building Books & Activities

One of my favorite things about the beginning of a new school year is all the new books and read-alouds. I have a little bit of a book addition, so I love finding new books that teach students valuable lessons that will help them throughout the year. I’ve compiled a list of new books (published within the last few years) that will be a wonderful addition to the first few days when you are teaching procedures and going over classroom expectations. Hopefully, these books can be used throughout the school year to continue reinforcing a positive class culture. I am also sharing some links for read-aloud videos of some of these books. You can post QR codes in stations or post the links to your class website so students can read independently. You could even have your students respond to the book with their thoughts and feelings by using or another group response app.

What Should Danny Do? & What Should Danny Do? School Day by Ganit & Adir Levy

I am excited about this series! It’s written as a “choose your own adventure” style where students determine the choices the main character will make. The decisions your students make will impact the outcome of the book. There are positive and negative choices and the story shows natural consequences based on the main character’s actions. This innovative book teaches children that their choices will determine their day just as their choices for Danny will determine his day. Some of Danny’s choices include: being satisfied with what he has or yelling until he gets what he wants; helping a girl that spilled lemonade on him or yelling at her; and asking for a snack or taking chocolate without permission. I imagine that kids will love rereading this book to see how it will change each time. Combine that with the social-emotional impact that it can have on your class and it’s a win-win.

Follow-Up Activity: Go to the official site for What Should Danny Do? and click on Teacher Resources to grab some free downloads you can use in your class.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
Watch a Read-Aloud Video here!

This is the book for any child that has ever felt different or out of place, especially if they are walking into a new school. Written in beautiful free verse, the story focuses on encouraging children who may feel insecure about themselves. Whether those insecurities come from your curly hair, your skin color, your eating habits, or your accent, we’ve all felt like an outsider at some point. In this sweet story, Woodson encourages the reader to step out of their comfort zone and share who they are while learning to be accepting of others’ differences.

Follow-Up Activity: Have kids play All About Me BINGO to see how much they can learn about each other (and what they have in common).

We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio
Watch a Read-Aloud Video here!

“I know I can’t change the way I look. But maybe, just maybe, people can change the way they see..”

I’m sure you’re familiar with Palacio’s bestseller, Wonder, but now this story of acceptance and courage is relatable for a much younger audience. This story is about a young boy, Auggie, with Treacher Collins Syndrome, which causes facial disfigurement. This is a simplified, first-person account, about Auggie’s struggle to fit in at school. The overriding theme challenges us to change the way we see.

Follow-Up Activity: Grab this free educators guide from

I’m NOT Just a Scribble by Diane Alber

This seemingly simplistic story, written in rhyme, focuses on a character named Scribble. He thought he was just like everyone else until he meets a drawing. Initially, the drawings don’t want to include scribble because he’s different, but he teaches them about kindness and inclusion in a fun way.

Follow-Up Activity: Create an inclusion anchor chart. Have students brainstorm ideas that will include everyone, especially when they notice someone being left out or sitting alone.

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde

What does it mean to be human? Well, we all make mistakes, but that’s not all. We also have the power of choice and we can move past those mistakes and impact those around us in a positive way. Empathy and compassion can be difficult concepts for children to grasp, but the simplicity and straightforwardness of the story make it easier for them to understand.

Follow-Up Activity: Counselor Keri has developed a great roll and respond activity that students can use to make connections with their classmates.

The Bad Seed by Jory John
Watch a Read-Aloud Video here!

All the other seeds know that this seed is just plain bad! He’s never nice to anyone, he cuts in line, he’s rude, and he lies. But then we find out that he’s had a rough life, and it changed his attitude. Now, he wants to be happy, but he realizes it’s hard to be good when you’re used to being bad. Of course, changing is difficult and he doesn’t always make the best choices, but he doesn’t give up. Funny and uplifting at the same time, this story helps us remember that everyone has trials in their past that have shaped them, but we can choose to make ourselves better. You should definitely check out the other books in this series: The Cool Bean and The Good Egg.

Follow-Up Activity: Remind students that sometimes people struggle to see the good in themselves, especially if no one else does. Have students write down compliments on sticky notes and exchange them with their classmates. You can also grab this writing activity from CreateEducateInspire.

BE QUIET! by Ryan T. Higgins

Rupert the mouse can’t wait to star in his artistic wordless picture book. However, his friends won’t stop talking about anything and everything. The story is told entirely in dialogue fashion and will have young and old giggling uncontrollably. His friends discuss how to make a wordless book, what should be in it, and how it will look all while Rupert admonishes them for talking. After pages of constant conversation, Rupert finally snaps and goes into a hilarious rant. Not only will this story have your students laughing, but it will also help them understand the need for quiet at times.

Follow-Up Activity: Gather the class on the rug and select several students to act out a scenario. Two students attempt to have a conversation while one student constantly interrupts, or one student tries to read quietly while another keeps talking. Discuss the importance of listening when others are talking and not disturbing others during quiet activities.

My Magical Words by Becky Cummings

Our words have power, and what we say about ourselves is incredibly important. Cummings introduces the idea of self-talk in this charming picture book. In a clear fashion, she teaches children many “I AM” statements that will build their self-confidence. From the very beginning, children will be inspired to believe in themselves as they read, “You are a masterpiece, one-of-a-kind, created perfectly with an eye for design. From your hair, to your toes, to the way that you speak, all of these differences makes you unique.”

Follow-Up Activity: Have each student write a positive affirmation on a sticky note. They can take it home with them and put it someplace where they can see it and read it each day.

That Rule Doesn’t Apply to Me! by Julia Cook

There are a lot of rules that Norman “Noodle” Edwards doesn’t like. There are even a few that he’s sure don’t apply to him, so he tends to break those. When given a poetry assignment, he is determined to write about all the rules that stink. His mother helps him discover all the things that would happen if there really weren’t any rules. Many students will relate to Noodles dislike of rules, but they’ll also be able to see the importance of all the rules we have at school. After reading, have students brainstorm all the rules (in school, home, or in the community) they can think of and possible consequences if none of them were followed.

Follow-Up Activity: Have students brainstorm all the rules (in school, home, or in the community) they can think of and possible consequences if none of them were followed.

I know there are many more books that are perfect for the first few weeks of school. What books do you use at the beginning of the school year?

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