Education Opinion

Books That Build Community

By Donalyn Miller — August 16, 2012 5 min read
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Daydreaming about the new school year, I envision our classroom as a supportive place where my students and I take risks and learn. I see caring people who embrace our differences and discover what we have in common. I think about laughing and crying together. My students and I will become a family--bonded by shared experiences in a community where everyone has value.

Successful classroom communities need cultivation to flourish. What my students need to learn is important, but the conditions that allow learning to happen concern me more. While standards and learning targets dictate the content I must teach, I construct the classroom environment. How my students and I interact creates a climate that supports learning and provides social and emotional safety.

During the summer months, I read and reread books I might use in our classroom and consider how each text serves my students. Reading books together creates shared experiences that foster community-building and literacy development. Looking through my summer reads and booklists, I have selected a few titles to launch our learning year.

Communities of Readers and Writers

Ask Me by Antje Damm. From commonplace (“Who is your best friend?”) to thought-provoking (“Whom do you miss?”) this nifty book of questions invites children to reveal personal information, reflect on their lives, and learn more about each other. Engaging illustrations accompany each question and provide further response opportunities. Designed as a conversation starter between parents and children, Ask Me provides a unique resource for writing and discussion topics.

BookSpeak!: Poems about Books by Laura Purdie Salas. This collection offers 21 poems on everything bookish from characters to indexes to falling asleep while reading. At turns humorous and informative, BookSpeak! is the perfect text to launch a reading year and reinforce a love of reading.

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine. Modeled after William Carlos Williams’ “This Is Just to Say,” Levine presents over 40 insincere apologies for misdeeds. Children, often encouraged to apologize when they don’t want to, will appreciate Levine’s honesty and humor and consider writing false apologies of their own.

Communities Who Value All Members

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban: Shy and self-conscious, Mattie Breen dreads starting another school year. Apprenticing herself to the school custodian, her Uncle Potluck, Mattie hopes to avoid her classmates when school begins. Brilliantly written, Hound Dog True is a powerful book to share at the beginning of the school year when many students feel apprehensive and worry about finding friends.

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper: Eleven year-old Melody has cerebral palsy. She lives in a world of silence-- unable to talk or write. Although she is extremely intelligent, her classmates and more than a few teachers, see her as simple-minded. Out of My Mind sparks powerful conversations about embracing every student in our schools and valuing every child’s right to learn.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger: Dwight is a misfit, so weird that the other sixth graders avoid him. For mysterious reasons, Dwight creates an origami Yoda puppet, wears it on his finger, and uses it to dispense advice. The other kids usually avoid Dwight, but they are drawn to Yoda’s seemingly helpful wisdom. This book sends the message that all kids have something to contribute. Read aloud The Strange Case of Origami Yoda; then introduce students to Angleberger’s sequels, Darth Paper Strikes Back and The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: Auggie Pullman is born with Treacher Collins, a chromosome disorder that results in severe facial deformities. He is homeschooled for many years because of his ongoing need for extensive surgery and his parents’ fear about how Auggie will be treated. When Auggie begins fifth grade, his parents decide to send him to school. Wonder is a remarkable book about courage, love, and the difference one person can make in the lives of others.

Communities Who Have Fun

Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein: It’s time for little red chicken’s bedtime story, but she’s so enthusiastic about the book that she can’t help interrupting Papa. If there is a chicken on the cover, you can predict the book is funny. Children will see themselves in this clever story. Use this book as a springboard for conversations about classroom discussion etiquette or just enjoy the chickens.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen: Bear has misplaced his pointy red hat. Questioning the other woodland animals, the distracted Bear finally discovers the location of his hat. Amused by the dark and hilarious surprise ending, my sixth graders declared I Want My Hat Back one of their favorites. Klassen takes his deadpan visual humor into the ocean in this year’s follow-up, This Is Not My Hat.

The Wonder Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. What do you wonder? This random assortment of riddles, word games, and poems offers answers to our wonderings and encourage inquiry. Short selections are perfect for transitions, energizing breaks, and the beginning or end of class.

Communities Who Care about the World

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy: In 2002, Kimeli Naiyomah returned home to his Maasai village from New York City with news of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Moved by the horrific story, the Maasai respond by donating their most sacred and valuable possessions, fourteen cows, to America. A powerful book about compassion and hope, 14 Cows for America shows our connections in a global community.

A Bus Called Heaven by Bob Graham: One morning, Stella discovers an abandoned bus outside her house. The bus, labeled Heaven, inspires Stella’s diverse neighborhood, who turn the bus into a community space. This is a sweet book about one community and the dilapidated--but still useful--bus that brings them together.

Laundry Day by Maurie J. Manning: When a red cloth floats down from the clotheslines overhead, an honest shoeshine boy climbs from window to window in a NYC tenement building searching for the cloth’s owner. The boy’s journey up the building celebrates America’s rich immigrant heritage and the importance of honesty and caring.

I look forward to meeting my new students next week. I hope you enjoy a marvelous new school year in your classroom and school communities.

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.