A book is a dream you hold in your hands. – Neil Gaiman
I love this quote because it really does capture the power of books. Books allow us to be curious and explore even the toughest topics.
Even though I have over 400 books in my office, I’m often at my local used bookstore or shopping Scholastic sales to get more. Why? Have you ever sat with a student that only answers with “I dunno” or just shrugs at you? Me too!
Shut down, quiet clients are tough, but I have found that a good book is an effective way to reach even the most stonewall of students. Simply asking the student “What do you think the character is feeling?” or “What do you think the character should do?”, allows students to discuss topics and feelings in a way that feels safe.
Although it’s hard to narrow down my favorite school counseling book titles, I created a list of my favorite titles along with lesson ideas to go with each to really help bring the books to life. I also created these FREEBIE book conversation cards to go along with every book on the list.
Kindness: We’re All Wonders
by Raquel J. Palacio
Did you love the movie Wonder? Check out this beautiful picture book based on the chapter book.
Activity: Become a certified kind classroom by participating in Random House’s kindness classroom challenge. Author and publisher websites are often a great source for ideas and activities.
Mindset: After The Fall
by Dan Santat
More than just a play on the adorable classic, Humpty Dumpty, this book thoughtfully speaks to getting up after a “fall” or trauma and facing your fears. I love the “hatch” ending, which inspires students to embrace what’s next.
Activity: Pair with your favorite team activity like the marshmallow tower challenge or marshmallow sculpture game.
Grief: The Goodbye Book
by Todd Parr
This beautiful picture book is funny and colorful, making it easy to talk about such a hard topic.
Activity: This book works to talk about all types of loss. After reading, create a memory book about the lost loved one or pet.
by Gordan Korman
What would you do if you got to restart? The main character in this story seemingly gets an opportunity to do just that. After falling off his roof and waking up with amnesia, he is ready to start again. However, he quickly realizes decisions he made in the past have lasting consequences and implications. This book tackles many topics like friendship, reputation, and peer pressure.
Activity: This chapter book would be great to read with a book club or lunch bunch. Before having students round-robin read, check out this great article by Edutopia on alternatives ways to have students read aloud. Between sessions, have your book club complete random acts of kindness and report back.
Gossip: The Secret Olivia Told Me
by N. Joy
It’s no surprise this book received a Coretta Scott King Book Honor. The secret is represented by a red balloon that continues to get bigger as the book progresses. The simple illustration creates a perfect analogy for rumors and gossip.
Activity: Play a game of telephone!
Career: What Does It Mean to Be an Entrepreneur?
by Rana DiOrio
It’s easy to focus on academic requirements for a job, but this book focuses on the skills and traits you can’t quantify. Our students will have jobs that haven’t even been created yet, so I love the idea of focusing on the character traits needed to be successful in any career.
Activity: Have students visit your favorite college and career website. Many states have their own, like collegefortn.org.
Teamwork: It Takes A Village
by Hillary Rodham Clinton
The author notes that her inspiration was a simple message: “We are all in this together.” The book is poignant and thoughtfully poses the question, “What can we do to change the world?”.
Activity: Partner with your favorite teamwork game, like Saving Sam. Did you get a gratitude tree from the Target dollar spot? Repurpose it by having each student write on a leaf a way they can contribute to the class and school community and check out these ideas from Counselor Keri.
Friendship: Pirate, Viking, & Scientist
by Jared Chapman
Pirate is friends with Scientist. Viking is friends with Scientist. Pirate and Viking are not friends! Sound like some of your referrals? I read this book every year and it still hasn’t gotten old. It’s a great way to talk about a friendship of three and feeling stuck in the middle between two friends who don’t get along.
Activity: Show students this Bill Nye science experiment on pressure. Debrief by discussing the pressures of friendship.
Next, have students create a “formula for friendship” or have partners complete a Venn Diagram (like the one from Counselor Up!) about each other. You can also check out the activity pack I created to go with this book.
Tolerance: All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
This is one of the most powerful books I have read in the past year. I’m not the only one moved. This New York Times Best Seller has received many accolades. Told from two different points of view, the main characters struggle with hard questions about tolerance, acceptance, and racial tension.
Perseverance: Three Ninja Pigs
by Corey Rosen Schwartz
A hilarious play on the classic Three Little Pigs, this story is about three ninjas that need to stop a bully.
Activity: Get students excited by watching Ormie the Pig.
Students hold out their arms at shoulder height. They do each of these exercises three times in a row. The first set should be slow, the second a medium speed, and the last set as fast as you can without losing form.
- Circle wrists clockwise leading with the pinky finger.
- Circle wrists counterclockwise.
- Palms down, flick flingers as if you have water on them and you are trying to get someone wet.
- Repeat finger flicks with palms up.
- Make the smallest elbow bend you can and straighten arms.
Need more? Have students draw their own perseverance pig who represents a personal goal and check out my activity pack.
by Stacy McAnulty
Being brave is more than just facing your fears. Explore what it means to be brave with this picture book guaranteed to make you smile.
Activity: Follow @stacymcanulty on Twitter. Ask students to complete the sentence “I am brave when..” by drawing or writing. Share their answers with the hashtag #IamBraveWhen.
Find scraps of cloth or fabric at your local Goodwill, Old Time Pottery, etc. and have students create their own capes. If your school allows, have students dress up like their favorite hero.
by Stacy McAnulty
Unlike her book Brave, all the characters in this book are female. The story reminds me of a “Dove” commercial that empowers girls to look past their outer qualities and focus on intrinsic strengths that make them truly beautiful.
Activity: Cut out paper hearts and have students write down one thing they love about themselves, then use the hearts to create a bulletin board.
Perseverance, Problem Solving, Opportunities
What Do You Do with A Problem? What Do You Do With An Idea? What Do You Do With a Chance?
By Kobi Yamada
These picture books are exquisite, eloquent, heartfelt, and transcend age. Reading them is like watching a powerful short film.
Activity: Host a genius hour! Prompt your students: “If you had the chance to solve any problem, what would your idea be?”
Follow up: “What do you need to make that idea a reality?” Have students create a visual representation of their idea by making a picture collage from old magazines, write about it, or use iPads to interview each other.
What does it take to make their dream a reality? Watch this Ted Ed video.
Professional Development: Impact Therapy: The Courage To Counsel
by Ed Jacobs
This book empowers counselors to have fun in sessions, engage in powerful solution-focused techniques, and break the rules, like interrupting the client.
Activity: Pick up some cheap props, like a chair or butcher paper, to try out these active, yet brief ideas. To see the strategies come to life check out the Impact Therapy YouTube Channel.
What books made it onto your school counseling book list? What activities do you pair with them?
Laura Filtness is the School Counselor in Knoxville, TN and was the 2017 TSCA Elementary School Counselor of the Year. You can visit her blog, Paws-itive School Counseling or follow her on Twitter @sassy_school. Laura creatively infuses her love of dogs into her counseling program. The best way to sum up Laura’s love of her dogs is that she proudly once won a crazy dog mom contest. Her dog, Boss, is a certified therapy dog with H.A.B.I.T. and loves helping kids read.