Books are a great way to help put kids at ease the first few weeks of school. They can help set the tone, give a message, or help kids feel welcome. Sometimes books are a way to engage kids that might feel apprehensive, or aren’t quite sure yet. Here are 6 fabulous books for back to school in music class. (Full disclosure: some affiliate links but it won’t change your price. No pressure!) If you love to shop independent, I’d love to suggest Powell’s Books based out of Portland, OR.

Something else to mention is that all six of these books for back to school in music have a Social emotional learning aspect to them. Some deal with apprehension, nerves, and back to school ‘jitters’. Some deal with personal differences, racial differences, physical differences, and cultural differences. Two deal specifically with names, and the importance of learning to pronounce all names correctly. The last book on this list deals specifically with emotions that arose from the pandemic.

1. The Day You Begin

The Day You Begin
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: Rafael López
ISBN: 978-0399246531
Buy the book on Amazon

A lovely, diverse bak that really illustrates to kids that there are things everyone feels apprehensive about at the beginning of school. Names, how we look, the food we eat, what they did or didn’t do, or that sometimes trying new things can be scary. This book tells students it is a good thing to make space for themselves, that people have things in common with you, and things that are different than you, but there is space for everyone.

2. All Are Welcome

All Are Welcome
Author: Alexandra Penfold
Illustrator: Suzanne Kaufman
ISBN: 978-0525579649
Buy the book on Amazon

Similar to The Day You Begin, All Are Welcome features diverse characters and goes through some of the things they might experience during the school day. Stated a little more simply, this book would be great for younger students.

3. Your Name is a Song

Your Name is a Song
Author: Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
Illustrator: Luisa Uribe
ISBN: 978-1943147724
Buy the book on Amazon

Music teachers have been clamoring for this one with good reason. This book highlights several diverse names and includes pronunciations for each to normalize pronunciations no matter the name’s perceived difficulty. The main character of the story deals with her name being difficult for her teacher and her new classmates to pronounce, so her mother teachers her that names can be sung. This is a great tie in activity for learning names, or later, as students are more comfortable, arioso activities.

4. The Name Jar

The Name Jar
Author, Illustrator: Yangsook Choi
ISBN: 978-0440417996
Buy the book on Amazon

Similar in theme to Your Name is a Song, The Name Jar is about a child who moves from Korea to the United States. When she finds that the kids on the bus cannot correctly pronounce her name, she tells her classmates the first day that she hasn’t picked a name yet and asks her mother for an “American” name. As her classmates try to help her find a new name, byway of slips of paper put in a jar that she draws from each day, she tries new names. One day she runs into a classmate at the local Korean store where she is greeted by her real name. Her classmate, realizing her real name, returns to school the next morning and removes the name jar. She introduces herself with her real name.

5. Music Class Today

Music Class Today!
Author: David Weinstone
Illustrator: Vin Vogel
ISBN: 978-0374351311
Buy the book on Amazon

This book is a sweet little book that shows some of the fun things we might do in class, but shows students it’s ok to be apprehensive at first, and join when they feel ready.

6. Outside, Inside

Outside, Inside
Author, Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
ISBN: 978-1250798350
Buy the book on Amazon

Not your typical back to school book, Outside, Inside deals with the hard things we’ve collectively experienced. Staying inside everywhere, some people needing to be outside, and things we experienced together.
NOTE: This book does depicts essential workers in masks, and hospital images, including people in severe conditions. The images are small but if you have students who had family members ill or pass, this may be difficult for them.

I hope that these give you some great ideas on how to include literature in your first music classes this year!

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