I was extremely fortunate to have the most amazing kindergarten teacher three times for each of my children. It’s a hat trick that other moms would oooh in admiration.
“How did you pull that off?” they would ask.
I will only divulge that it does pay dividends to help out in the classroom.
Our kindergarten teacher’s bookshelves were busting at the seams with piles and piles of every great picture book one could imagine. She started the year off with starting kindergarten picture books that included diversity picks. She also included a weekly picture book that had SAT type of vocabulary words embedded in the story. She would read the story and the kids would guess the meaning of the words based on text. There was a special chart with the highlighted words for each book that she kept up in the classroom.
She also was sensitive to LGBT issues; often a child in her class would have two same-sex parents. She would read them It’s Okay to be Different and And Tango Makes Three.
Kindergarten is such a wonderful time to explore the world via picture books. I’ve picked some of my favorites and hope you will share some of yours by leaving a comment! Thank you!
1. The Day of Ahmed’s Secret by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, illustrated by Ted Lewin
Most of us don’t realize that going to school is a privilege. Certainly, my kids don’t think twice about that so I love this picture book to set up the year realizing that life is different for kids around the world.
Ahmed is a little boy in Cairo who spends his day delivering butane gas tanks. His secret is special and wonderful surprise that he wants to divulge later that evening to his family (and has to do with literacy). It’s also probably a goal for most kindergarteners.
2. Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
Starting school makes most kids nervous and Kevin Henkes captures this anxiety in a way that kids can relate to, yet feel like they can overcome it just like Wemberly!
3. The Family Book by Todd Parr
When my oldest, Grasshopper and Sensei, was in kindergarten, she was befuddled that her classmate could have two moms. It was so confusing to her (and her classmates) that the child got a lot of questions. His mothers suggested this book to help kids understand that families come in all different shapes and sizes. My daughter was very accepting of this idea but when she made a new friend in middle school, again she was confused when this girl had FOUR moms! Can you guess how? My daughter gets it now: two moms who divorce and remarry.
4. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole
When I saw my kindergarten teacher at the school book fair and she asked me what I recommended, I said that this picture book is banned even though it’s a true story of two male penguins who raise a baby chick. She immediately scooped it up and said that she has kids with same-sex parents and wanted to add it to her library (even though it was a hard cover picture book and a little expensive!).
5. Halibut Jackson by David Lucas
The week my child was Star of the Week, a parent is allowed to visit the classroom to read a story to the class. I chose two books; one funny and one for the really shy girl I noticed the first day of school.
Halibut Jackson is so shy that he makes special ensembles that allow him to completely blend in with his surroundings. It’s a strategy that works pretty well at the library and the grocery store but one day he gets an invitation to a party and his special outfit does not take into account that it’s a GARDEN PARTY! But what happens when people finally see him is heartwarming!
I have this book on my Best Picture Books You’ve Never Heard of list.
6. The Empty Pot by Demi
I love all of Demi’s books but this one is my particular favorite. It’s a message about honesty and having the courage to make the decision to be honest, even when your peers seem to be doing something different! Her illustrations are something to savor too! We used this book for a Chinese New Year’s book club for kids.
7. From Here to There by Margery Cuyler, illustrated by Yu Cha Pak
Kindergarteners don’t always have a sense of place in terms of where they live in the world. I know mine didn’t! This picture book is a fun way for kids to get a sense of geography as a little girl travels from her house to the universe. The visuals help to illustrate her place in the world as she travels higher and higher with a bird’s-eye view (or rocket ship view!).
8. Hot Day on Abbott Avenue by Karen English, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
Wonderfully illustrated with collage art, this picture book makes palpable the hottest day of summer in an inner city as two best friends wait for the other to apologize so they can enjoy the pleasures this steamy day also brings — double dutch, ice pops and their renewed bond of best friendship.
9. Come on Rain by Karen Hesse, illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Tess hopes the rain will come to bring relief to the hot, sticky day and when it finally does, it’s a street-wide celebration with moms and kids.
10. Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard and E.B. Lewis
Picture books can teach history. With a double lesson of Reconstruction era and the end of slavery, Virgie, a girl, is allowed to attend school despite objections from her brothers hat it’s too far for her or that girls don’t need school. They are all going to learn to live free.
11. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
In the most gentle of inner-city adventures, a little boy sets off with his dog after a massive snow dump capturing the joy of No School Snow Days and the pleasures it brings including snow angels, snowball fights, fort building and simply dragging a stick through the snow. Use this book to celebrate winter, even if you don’t get snow where you live. The diversity angle is a bonus!
12. The Mysterious Tadpole by Steven Kellogg
I have this book on my Librarians as Superheroes list because it’s Miss Seevers, the librarian, who helps young Louis with his pet troubles. She figures out that Alphonse, his pet, is a Loch Ness Monster. She has a great idea for raising money so that Louis can buy the parking lot next to his apartment building to build a pool for Alphonse to live in. Who but a librarian would know about an ancient shipwreck filled with treasure AND that Alphonse would be capable of retrieving it? Only a superhero librarian! And might I add that Miss Seevers was not even working at the library when she did all this! This was all on her own time!
13. Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola
We love all of Tomie de Paola’s books and our love began with the first of the Strega Nona picture books. Strega Nona means “grandmother witch” in Italian. When Strega Nona goes off over the mountain to visit Strega Amelia, her assistant, the bumbling Big Anthony thinks that he can conjure up magic with comedic results.
14. Mr. Tanen’s Ties by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
It’s an added bonus for us that this picture book is set in Massachusetts and based on an actual principal but all kids can relate to this story of a principal with a vast tie collection that he uses to express himself. Too bad, Mr. Apple, the school superintendent, thinks his ties are unprofessional. He makes Mr. Tanen wear a plain sad blue tie instead. When Mr. Apple has to fill in for Mr. Tanen — the blue tie gives him the blues — the ties have a way of changing Mr. Apple’s life.
I also love that Cocca-Leffler lets the kids solve the problem and depicts the children as a rainbow of diversity.
15. The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin
It’s tough when you are different from your neighbors whose gardens are brimming with beautiful flowers rather than wriggled, weird and unrecognizable vegetables. But when it’s time to harvest, the ugly Chinese vegetables become the most tantalizing and delicious soup and everyone in the neighborhood wants to trade to get some.
16. Hog-Eye by Susan Meddaugh
Getting on the wrong school bus was the young pig’s first error and the path through the forest is, unfortunately, inhabited by a wolf who grabs her and wants to make her into soup. Luckily, she knows how to read and uses clever thinking to outwit the wolf. If he wants the soup to be delicious, she has some suggestions of ingredients for him to add. But beware of her Hog-Eye stare which will cause doom (and itchiness) to whoever crosses her!
17. Moses Goes to a Concert by Isaac Millman
My middle child, PickyKidPix, has a hearing impaired child throughout most of her elementary school years. It resulted in her class learning some basic sign language including the alphabet and simple phrases. Moses Goes to a Concert is a great book for kids to understand our differences.
Moses goes to a special school for the deaf and they are taking a field trip to a concert. But how can they hear the music? His teacher, Mr. Samuels, has two surprises for them at the concert!
18. My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tololwa M. Mollel
Picture books also allow kids to travel to other countries to see who other kids live. I love My Rows and Piles of Coins for introducing kids to life in Tanzania. A little boy, Saruni, is saving his money to buy something special. Whereas my kids might save money to buy a toy for themselves, Saruni is saving to buy something to help his mother. It has a wonderful message of determination and unselfishness.
19. A Symphony of Whales by Steve Schuch
Kindergarteners can relate to animals in distress. My kindergartener teacher has all kinds of class pets that include hatching chicks at the end of the school year which she uses as the base to teach all kinds of things including math!
I think there might be a kid who grows up to become an animal rights activist as the result of exposure to books like this. You never know. A book can open all kinds of doors!
A beautiful and haunting story about a Siberian girl who comes up with a plan to save hundreds of beluga whales trapped by ice.
20. Doctor DeSoto by William Steig
Do picture books ever get honored with a Newbery award? It’s a rare one that does. Dr. DeSoto won a Newbery honor is this really fun story of a husband and wife mice dental team that outwits a fox with a rotten bicuspid. I gifted a copy to my dentist!
21. The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small
This is one of my all-time favorite picture books. It’s a perfect marriage of words and illustrations depicting a gentle Great Depression story with an uplifting ending.
Times are tough so Lydia Grace Finch’s family send her to live with her uncle Jim, a baker facing hard times which naturally makes him stressed and unhappy. She leaves her farm with a suitcase full of seeds to the big gray city when she keeps busy slowly transforming her space into a more cheerful atmosphere. By the time her parents have found work and can send for her to return, she has a final surprise for her uncle.
22. Yoko by Rosemary Wells
When my oldest was in preschool, her teacher went to the beach and brought back kelp for the water table. My daughter saw the brown seaweed and announced to her class, “We eat that!” We do, we eat a lot of seaweed products. Her teacher was a little taken aback, but, being fast on her feet, responded, “yes, many people eat seaweed” as if it wasn’t weird at all.
Our family joke now whenever we see or eat seaweed is to announce: “We eat that.” We think it’s so funny but for young Yoko, her Japanese lunches and snacks are the reason why she’s getting bullied at school. Her wonderful teacher wracks her brain to find a way to get the kids to be more accepting of raw fish and seaweed. She comes up with the idea for International Food Day where each child has to try EVERYTHING! While the Food Day is a success, Yoko’s offering isn’t touched. luckily Timothy is still hungry and he discovers his new-found love for sushi and Yoko makes her first friend,
23. Abuela by Arthur Dorros
A little girl imagines that she and her grandmother fly over the sights of New York City.
24. Tomas and the Library Lady by Pat Mora, illustrated by Raul Colon
I have this picture book on my Top 10 Best Latin American Books for Kids and my Undocumented Immigrants in Children’s Literature. If you want more books to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, I also have a roundup.
A true story about a boy whose family are itinerant farm workers and the kindness of a librarian who introduces him to a whole new world of books.
25. When the Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger and Susan Katz, illustrated by David Kanietakeron Fadden
Debbie Reese says, “So many books and stories about American Indian and First Nations peoples confine us to the past. Verbs are in past tense. Stories are set ‘long ago.’ Given that state of affairs, is is not surprising that children (and adults) don’t know that Native people are very much part of the present day, and that we live our lives with many of the same conveniences everyone else has. Computers. Cars. Jeans.” Here’s a picture book that shows a visual of Native American children side by side with their past and present lives.
26. Alexander and the No Good Terrible Bad Day by Judith Voirst
My kindergarten teacher has a sticker and prize box daily reward system. Most the time, the kids are rewarded with a sticker for good behavior. A sheet of stickers entitles them to the prize box but some days just don’t go well and my kids would come back without stickers either resolute in an outcome that they could live with though feeling like they were misunderstood or sometimes completely devastated. But we all have those No Good Terrible Bad Days and Alexander’s version makes us all feel better that our day was not as bad as his!
p.s. A few more lists:
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