Each spring, I see a round of teachers and parents clamoring on social media about the best gifts for teachers. As you might imagine, mugs and tchotchkes are generally derided, while gift cards are usually lauded supreme.
While everyone loves a gift card, here’s my bold belief on gifts for teachers: none of those gifts will make the lasting impact a book will. Does it have to be a brand new book? No. Does it have to be a great book? Yes.
If you’re unsure what to give, consider asking your child’s teacher directly if they have a classroom wish list for books. Maybe the school library isn’t well-stocked, or perhaps the classroom books look a bit ragged. There’s always cause for giving books as gifts. Plus, your kids will love a trip to the local bookstore to help pick out something for their class.
We tend to give books away at the start of the school year to ensure the class has plenty of reading time to get through all those delectable, hand-picked treasures.
Bottom line: give books. For bonus points, maybe put them in a cute tote like this one.
Preschool (ages 3-5)
Don’t Go to School by Máire Zepf
When a mother bear can’t handle being separated from her little cub, her young son, Benno, gently reassures her and then kindly lets her spend part of the morning with him in his new classroom. It soon becomes obvious that Benno belongs in school and not his mother.
This heartwarming role-reversal book is one of the best of its kind. Preschoolers can’t get enough of this flipped script picture book.
Play Day School Day by Toni Yuly
A young girl and her brother play together. Mona, the older sibling, is anxiously awaiting returning to school. When her brother, Milo, asks, “What’s school like?” Mona talks about how school is a mix of studying science and art, reading and writing, mixed in with playtime and friends.
With bold images communicating much of the story, the sparse text is ideal for preschoolers.
The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! by Mo Willems
Pigeon is irate that he has to go to school since he already knows EVERYTHING, not to mention that he’s not an early bird and school starts in the morning. Besides, what if he doesn’t like school? And so goes an endless list of concerns and worries, featuring one of the most beloved children’s book characters of the last decade.
In true Pigeon fashion, the humorous twist ending when Pigeon realizes how he’ll get to school (spoiler: the bus) is the cherry on top.
Early Elementary (ages 5-8)
What I Am by Divya Srinivasan
A young girl is questioned: “What are you?” and she ruminates on what to say but eventually says nothing. She is a multitude. A girl and a daughter, an Amma (mother) to her stuffed animals, a vegetarian, and an artist. At times she wants the company of friends, and other times she prefers to be alone.
Each page juxtaposes the mix of human emotions that coexist within us and are more than a simple expression of our race and/or ethnicity. An ode not only to the Indian American experience (with a thoughtful author’s note) but one that resonates with children of all ages.
We gave this to my daughter’s elementary school classroom because it’s that good.
The Circles All Around us by Brad Montague
A young boy sits in a circle with a chalk line around him, alone like an empty library with one lone book. So a bigger circle is drawn for those inside his immediate family to share.
A circle of love that can expand one more ripple to include extended family like cousins and grandparents. But what about friends? They need a circle too. And then there are the teachers, coaches, and neighbors who make a difference; they too can be included in a bigger circle.
“It doesn’t mean the circle is easy. It can get harder the more we share. But wonderful things can happen when love is known and felt everywhere.” A discussion starter about personal space, boundaries, friendship, and classroom kinship.
Dear Teacher by Paris Rosenthal
A love letter to teachers of all disciplines. From music teachers to gym teachers to swim teachers and gymnastics coaches. Teachers inspire and encourage; they teach us how to focus and breathe deeply. They are there during the triumphant and difficult moments.
In short, they are some of the most influential everyday superheroes. This has quickly become a perennial favorite of ours to give to teachers.
Our Class is Family by Shannon Olsen
“When you think of a family, you might picture one in a house.” But family doesn’t have to be those you’re related to; there’s another special place where kids spend a lot of time. The classroom is that place, where friends come to learn and be kind, where it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from one another, and grow and feel connected to each other.
Written by a second-grade teacher, this is an affirming community-building book.
Rescuing Mrs. Birdley by Aaron Reynolds
Miranda Montgomery knows about wild animals from watching Nature Joe’s animal show. From her careful observations, she understands the importance of safely rescuing animals found outside their natural habitat.
When Miranda spots her teacher, Mrs. Birdley, outside the classroom (at the grocery store, gasp!), she formulates a plan to get her teacher safely back to the school.
After a few foiled attempts, Miranda changes her tactics to ensure Mrs. Birdley is swiftly returned to the classroom where she belongs.
Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali
Musa is skeptical when his kindergarten teacher says her favorite day of the year is meeting all the new students.
When the teacher then asks the students to tell the class about their favorite days of the year, the multicultural students are able to celebrate all the days that are special to each of them, from one Muslim student’s celebration of Eid Mubarak to a Jewish child’s Shanah Tovah spread (including apples, honey, and challah bread), to Feliz Navidad and Las Posadas.
At the close of the year, the teacher gives each student a calendar to remind them what special holidays happen throughout each month of the year. An inclusive and celebratory look at holidays celebrated throughout the world.
You Matter by Christian Robinson
If you’re small, you matter. If you come last, you matter. If you have pain (even if you are the only one who feels it), you matter. If you’ve failed, you matter. If you feel lost or alone, you matter. Whether small or big, young or old, YOU matter.
This book is a timely and universal message from one of the great modern picture book makers.
The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes
A confident young boy takes considerable care in getting ready for his first day of kindergarten. After grooming and eating a hearty breakfast, the precocious youngster reminds his parents that growing up is part of the deal. A confidence-boosting book that showcases how much children want the responsibilities that come with each new age and phase.
We’re thrilled that there will be another book similar to this one called The Queen of Kindergarten (releases in May 2022).
I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët
On the walk home from school, a classmate sees Vanessa being bullied by another student. She returns to her group of friends and tells them what happened. The group parts ways for the day, and she continues to contemplate what she witnessed all evening. At breakfast the following day, she has an idea.
Told without words, this compelling story comes with a section at the back of the book to help children know what to do when they see someone being bullied.
I am a Thief! by Abigail Rayner
Overcome by the shiny green gem in her classroom, Eliza Jane Murphy pockets the treasure only to be overcome with guilt, an emotion she tries to combat by questioning those close to her if they’ve ever stolen anything.
This book gives a heartfelt look at how to deal with stealing. The concluding and reassuring message is that people (children and adults alike) are more than just one bad decision.
A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele
Pip is a pig that likes normal things. That is until one day when a classmate makes fun of her lunch. Humiliated, Pip later voices her jumbled thoughts in an emotional outburst to her parents.
That weekend, on an excursion to the city with her family, Pip is introduced to an array of diverse languages, cultures, races, and food. Told with an approachable school-age appeal, this is the ideal book for anyone who has ever felt “other,” especially when it comes to the inevitable school lunch comparison, and an excellent discussion starter for a classroom setting.
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