I always plan a read-aloud on the first day of school, no matter if I am teaching 4th grade or college. A great read-aloud can build community, make people laugh, start a conversation, ease anxiety, and set the tone for the year. It says that books are valued. It says that stories are important. It can give voice to those who need one. Talk with teammates and your school librarian for some suggestions. But here are a few titles to get you thinking.
A hands-down favorite is Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. Henkes is a fantastic author/illustrator and his book about little mouse Chrysanthemum, who loves her name until she goes to school, is perfect for launching a discussion about names. If you don't know Henkes' work, take a look. His books are beloved by children and adults alike.
A great one for first-year teachers is First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg. Sarah Jane is nervous about starting at a new school, and doesn't want to go to the first day. Kids find it hilarious that in the end, it turns out Sarah Jane is a teacher! Even teachers are nervous at the beginning of the year.
Never Ride Your Elephant to School, written by Doug Johnson and illustrated by Abby Carter is a silly cautionary tale. Most students wouldn't need convincing that bringing an elephant to school is a bad idea, but just in case, this funny read will warn them sufficiently.
Minerva Louise at School, by Janet Morgan Stoeke tells the story of a wacky chicken who decides to check out the elementary school she mistakes for a 'big, fancy barn.' It shows the school through the world-view of a chicken, and you'll fall in love with Minerva Louise.
Wish I Were a Butterfly, by Ed Young. After being told he is ugly by a frog, a little cricket wishes he were a butterfly. But when the butterfly hears his music, it wishes to be a cricket, sharing with students that we all have gifts to share instead of being jealous of one another. This book is appropriate for older students as well.
The North Star by Peter Reynolds. We're all on a journey, though it is sometimes hard to know what path to follow. In this book, we learn to embrace our unique journey through life. This book is appropriate for older students too.
Some additional suggestions include: My Name is Maria Isabel by Alma Flor Ada, Beatrice's Goat by Page McBier, A Fine, Fine School by Sharon Creech, Once Upon an Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton, Stella Louella Runaway Book by Lisa Campbell Ernst, No, David! by David Shannon
Middle School / Junior High
For middle school / junior high reading and English classes, I used to pick a book that would be completed fairly quickly and that had a hook within the first couple pages. Some books that I found kids loved include: Found or Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick, Out of My Mind or Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper, Knuckleheads by Jon Sczieska, and We All Fall Down or Fade by Robert Cormier. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens is often a hit too. Math teachers can choose Math Curse by Jon Scieszka, Sir Cumference and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwander, or G is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book by David Schwartz. For social studies classes, I usually selected a historical fiction novel that linked to the time period we'd be studying. A good place to look for good nonfiction for social studies or science classes is to search the Orbis Pictus award winners. Some of my recent favorites include Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery, If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge, by Mark Aronson, The Frog Scientist by Pamela Turner, and An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1763 by Jim Murphy. Other authors to consider include Jacqueline Woodson, M.T. Anderson, Walter Dean Myers, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Pete Hautman, Gordon Korman. The Newbery Awards are always good places to start, but I also like YALSA's Teens' Top Ten, since those are voted on by kids (instead of grown-ups like the other awards).
Read alouds might seem like a harder sell for older kids, but you'd be surprised at how they love having a book read aloud to them too. A lot of the suggestions for junior high hold true for middle school as well. For high school, something to think about is reading current newspaper or magazine articles pertaining to your content area, showing students early the connection of your discipline to their lives. The New York Times published links to NYT stories from recent years that have interested high school students as read alouds. Check out the page - there might be some that fit your content area well! Authors of fiction that might be great for high school classes include Sherman Alexie, Sandra Cisneros, Markus Zusak, Chris Crutcher, Sharon Flake. If you don't know YALSA yet, check it out. Tons of recommended read lists. Check out the Alex Awards, Michael Printz Awards, the Pura Bupre Award, and the Coretta Scott King Awards, all sponsored by the American Library Association for some quality suggestions.