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January Books & Activities Your Upper Elementary Students Will Love

Coming back after winter break, to a brand new year, is always fun. There's excitement in the air, but it can also feel like the first day of school all over again.  Routines and procedures will fall into place as you get back in the swing of things, and reading aloud will help your students feel welcome after an extended time away.  Here are some of my favorite read-aloud books to share throughout the month of January and a few meaningful activities that will help your students get back in the swing of things in the new year.

1. A Year of Everyday Wonders by Cheryl B. Klein

A Year of Everyday Wonders” by Cheryl B. Klein is a great book to read in January because it tells of a year of “firsts.”  It is a great way to show students that the New Year is a time when you can start fresh and enjoy everyday wonders. You can discuss the year that has passed or the year ahead. Students can share things they tried for the first time, things they enjoy as yearly traditions, or something they want to try in the New Year.

2. Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats

Whistle for Willie” by Ezra Jack Keats is a great story to talk about setting goals, working on those goals, and persevering through challenges.  Peter really wants to whistle for his dog Willie and works hard to make it happen. This is such a classic book that your students will enjoy as you set goals for school and home in January.

3. Every Month is a New Year: Celebrations Around the World by Marilyn Singer & Susan L. Roth

Every Month is a New Year: Celebrations Around the World” by Marilyn Singer is a beautiful book that shows celebrations around the world throughout the year.  Each page shows the calendar and how a new year begins in different parts of the world with different celebrations.  It has gorgeous illustrations and teaches of customs from all around the world.

Students can discuss their own New Year celebrations or traditions as they learn about celebrations from around the world. Having students complete a foldable book is a great way to share their thoughts with small groups or during a morning meeting.

4. Big Plans by Bob Shea & Lane Smith

Big Plans” by Bob Shea is a fun story about a confident boy that has “big plans.”  It is a great book to read to talk about how many times we talk about plans and goals for the new year…but what can you do to actually make those plans happen?  Students can share goals, resolutions, or plans and how they will work to make them happen too.

5. There by Marie Louise Fitzpatrick

There” by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick is also another favorite when discussing goal setting.  It is a great way to begin a conversation about setting goals and how will you get “there.”  We have to work hard to reach our goals and get “there” and this book is a really great way to introduce goal setting.

You can have your students work on setting goals for the New Year as well. Starting the new year with goal setting can be helpful after an extended break. Students can look back on accomplishments from the past year and look forward to the year ahead.

You can also read all about New Year's resolutions as students discuss their own goals.

6. Snow Day by Lester Laminack

Snow Day” by Lester Laminack is such a fun book to read when (and if) you have lots of snow or a snow day.  There's so much excitement when there is a big snowfall and even more when there's a snow day!  Your kids will love this book just as much as they love the snow days!

Cross your fingers for a snow day and have students complete a fun book the next day.

7. Catching Thoughts by Bonnie Clark

Catching Thoughts” by Bonnie Clark is a great story to read as you discuss a new year and starting fresh.  For every child who has been weighed down by sadness or anxiety, this story teaches kids how to acknowledge unwanted thoughts, show them compassion, and how to find positives. Coming back from break can sometimes feel overwhelming and “Catching Thoughts” is a thoughtful story to share to help students deal with unwanted feelings and welcome happiness too.

8. Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick

Finding Winnie” by Lindsay Mattick is the true story of Winnie the Pooh.  While it may not seem like a January-themed book, AA Milne sold the rights for the story of Winnie the Pooh to be used for television and other goods in January of 1930…and the rest is history.  This is such a great book and mentor text to share with your class.

You can also find a close reading passage and activities about Winnie the Pooh here.

9.  Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport

Martin's Big Words” by Doreen Rappaport is truly my favorite book to read when discussing the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.  There are the most beautiful illustrations by Bryan Collier and of course, such a powerful message.  This is such a great book to discuss famous quotes from MLK Jr. and how they still ring true today.

10. Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson

Let the Children March” by Monica Clark-Robinson is a genuinely moving book to share if you are discussing the life of Martin Luther King Jr.  Students will be able to see how children also had to fight for their rights and how no matter their age, they fought to make a difference.  You and your students will be moved by the photos and the poetic words that document this time in history through children's eyes.

11. Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 by Alice Faye Duncan

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968” by Alice Faye Duncan is historical fiction that tells the story of Lorraine Jackson, a nine-year-old that witnessed the sanitation strike; which was Martin Luther King Jr's final stand for justice before he was assassinated.  It is inspired by a Memphis teacher's story that participated in the strike as a child.  Taking a look beyond Martin Luther King Jr. and seeing how his fight for justice inspired and helped those around him will leave an impact on your students in the month of January.

12. The Bad Seed by Jory John

The Bad Seed is always a favorite. It is funny, keeps kids engaged, and is a great one to start off the new year.  It's a good reminder for kids that you can always start fresh…the Bad Seed changed his attitude and that opportunity is there for them too!

13. After the Fall by Dan Santat

After the Fall is the story of what happens after Humpty was put back together again.  It is a wonderful story of encouragement through hard times and will have you and your students thinking. It is a great book to read at the start of the New Year because your students can think about things that they have overcome and help them set goals for the rest of the year.

There are so many great activities to do with this book to discuss a growth mindset and how to overcome fears.

14. Malala's Magic Pencil by Kerascoet

Malala's Magic Pencil is a wonderfully written and age-appropriate story that tells the story of Malala Yousafzai.  It will empower your students and challenge them to think. As you enter the New Year, this is such a great story to challenge students' mindset about school and their return after a long break. Malala went through so much and is a great example for everyone.

15. Nerdy Birdy Tweets by Aaron Reynolds

Nerdy Birdy Tweets is a fun story that is a wonderful starting point to discuss the digital footprint that we make as we explore the internet and the world of social media.  It's a great discussion starter that your students can most definitely relate to! As you begin the New Year, it is a fun but important read.

16. The Book of Mistakes by Corrina Luyken

The Book of Mistakes is one of my favorites that really exhibits how we can continue on, even when we make a mistake.  It is full of imagination and fun illustrations and is a great book to read to students as they readjust to the habits and routines of the school day.

There are so many great books that help students adjust as they come back from break, help them set goals for the New Year, and learn about important people, events, and holidays in January. You can find more favorites here:

There are so many great books about beginning a New Year, setting goals, and starting fresh and I have a guide that will help you throughout January. You can grab a few of my favorite activities, find book suggestions, read lesson ideas to use throughout the month, and more…

Shop the resources in this post here:

*Please note that this post does contain affiliate links and I receive a small commission when you purchase books through these links*

I hope you found some great ideas to use throughout the month of January!

Happy Teaching!

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