Book Club: Back-to-School

Read and discuss books about welcoming others and building new friendships, even when it's hard!
Ages 5-14 / 30
min Activity
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  • Read books about making new friends by practicing skills such as open-mindedness, vulnerability, and empathy
  • Share their insights and personal experiences during a follow-up discussion

Supporting Research

Research shows that reading narratives (nonfiction and fiction) supports students in developing empathy, perspective taking, and social competence by providing them with the opportunity to simulate characters’ worlds, emotions, and behaviors. Educators should encourage students to practice perspective taking and emotion recognition to understand and connect with the experiences described in the texts, and consider actions they can take to foster more kindness and inclusivity in their communities.

To learn more about these skills, and how they promote students’ healthy growth and the development of empathy, please check out our Empathy Framework.


Activity Partners

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Ages 5-7 years old: The Day You Begin

Reflect on how we can build new friendships after reading the book "The Day You Begin" by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael López.

Discussion questions:

  • How does the main character feel at the beginning of the book? How does she feel as she begins to share about her summer, and how do her classmates respond to her story?
  • Have you ever felt like the “new kid” or like you didn’t belong? What happened? How did it make you feel? Was there anything that someone did (or could have done) to make you feel welcome? 
  • What are some ways that you can make others feel welcome? What’s one action that you want to take this week?

Ages 8-10 years old: The Other Side

Reflect on how we can build new friendships after reading the book "The Other Side" by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E. B. Lewis.

Discussion questions:

  • In the beginning of the book, how does Clover feel when she sees Annie across the fence? How does her mother react to Clover’s curiosity, and why do you think she reacted this way? 
  • Why does Clover finally decide to talk to Annie? How do things change after that between the children? 
  • What does Annie mean when she says, “Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down.” What is her hope for the future? 
  • What do you think the fence represents? Are there “fences” that you’ve noticed or experienced in your own life? What are they, and why do they exist?  
  • What are some ways that you want to try “crossing a fence”?

Ages 11-14 years old: Counting by 7s

Reflect on how we can build new friendships after reading the book "Counting by 7's" by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

Discussion questions:

  • At the beginning of the book, how does Willow feel about her family’s accident and starting a new school? 
  • How is Willow able to find joy and process her grief by the end of the book? Which characters does Willow build connections with throughout the book? How do these relationships impact Willow’s experience dealing with the loss of her parents and navigating school?
  • What labels or categories is Willow assigned throughout the book by others at school? How do these labels make her feel? 
  • Have you ever been assigned labels by others at school? How did these labels make you feel, and how did you react?
  • What connections with family members, friends/classmates, or teachers have helped you get through challenging times in the past? Which relationships help you find joy during tough times?
  • What are some ways you can offer support to peers who are experiencing challenging times?

If students in both classes have individual devices (e.g., mobile phone, tablet, laptop, etc.)...

Use a platform such as Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams which allows you to screen-share during a video call. 
One educator should set up the Kahoot! game and share the code with students in both classes by following this tutorial about using Kahoot! in a remote learning environment, and share their screen so everyone can follow along.

If students in either class don’t have individual devices...

Follow the same instructions above, with one educator starting the game and sharing their screen so both classes can follow along.  
Instead of students joining the game to answer the questions, they can hold up their fingers, call out their answer, or use a paper template to indicate their response.

If you prefer not using Kahoot!...

Use this document (Spanish version) to prompt students.