Growing Reader

Sweet Picture Books and Rituals for the End of the School Year

by Lindsay Barrett

Photo credit: kali9, E+ Collection/Getty Images

The last weeks of the school year have a palpable feel. Summer break beckons to both children and school adults, and days are full of “lasts” and culminating events. Don’t underestimate the range of emotions that transitions bring for students, though. A school year is a significant amount of time — time in which a great deal of social, emotional and academic learning occurs — and saying goodbye is a big deal.

Here are some rituals for celebrating growth and wishing each other well, along with picture books to introduce them in the classroom:

  • Share memories and triumphs.

  • Reflecting on favorite experiences and exclaiming over accomplishments solidifies the year in students’ memories and honors their efforts.

  • Love Is

    by Diane Adams, illustrated by Claire Keane

    There are many parallels between the rhythm of a school year and a young girl’s year spent raising a duckling in Love Is. The tender story shares how the pair played and learned together during the year, along with the mixed emotions of their tearjerker goodbye. After reading, compose a class chart or book about your year together. Talk about the memories you’ll cherish when students move on, from the everyday to the momentous.

  • Cloudette

    by Tom Lichtenheld

    Cloudette yearns to do “big and important things,” but she isn’t sure how to begin. Her intense focus as she eventually “lets it pour” bears striking resemblance to a child’s concentrated effort to finally solve a math problem or cross the monkey bars. After reading, invite students to write and draw about their big and important accomplishments during the year. Take time to share as a group and offer congratulations.

  • Acknowledge changes.

  • Changes can be tricky for children to articulate when they happen gradually. Reflecting back to the beginning of the year can help students grasp the myriad ways they’ve changed.

  • Little Tree

    by Loren Long

    Little Tree starts out small, just like his companions in the forest. As the other trees progress through their life cycles, though, he’s hesitant to drop his leaves and move forward. When he finally does, he begins to grow and change as well. Each illustration shows a stage of his gradual transformation. After reading, show students pictures from early in the school year alongside more recent photos. First ask them to label the ways they’ve visibly changed, such as losing teeth or growing taller. Then reflect together on invisible changes in their hearts, heads, and hands, such as how they’ve become more confident or caring, gained new knowledge, or acquired new skills.

  • Express gratitude.

  • Many individuals impact students’ academic and emotional lives during a school year. Saying thank you can bring a peaceful sense of closure — and is especially appreciated by those who often go unrecognized.

  • A Letter to My Teacher

    by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

    A Letter to My Teacher is a heartfelt thank-you note from a student to the second grade teacher who had a special knack for spinning her challenges in a positive way. After reading, brainstorm a list of people who’ve supported students during the year — for instance, specialist teachers, the custodian, the secretary, the nurse, peers, parents, and aftercare providers —and invite your class to draw or write thank-you notes to them.

  • Share emotions about moving on.

  • Goodbyes are bittersweet when you’ve cared deeply for someone. Reading about and discussing examples of goodbyes in books can give students tools for navigating them in real life.

  • Penguin and Pinecone

    by Salina Yoon

    Penguin and Pinecone is the story of a penguin that befriends a small pinecone, only to be devastated when he realizes that his new companion wasn’t meant to live in freezing temperatures. Penguin lovingly returns his friend to the forest, leaving it wrapped in a handmade scarf. On a return visit, he joyfully spots the scarf atop a flourishing pine tree. Create mementos for each other during the last weeks of school, such as t-shirts or autograph books everyone signed, to reassure students that you’ll always “stay in each other’s hearts,” just like the book characters.

  • I Wish You More

    by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

    I Wish You More turns goodbye into a collection of affirming wishes, like “I wish you more ‘WOO-HOO’ than ‘WHOA!’” and “more hugs than ughs.” Discuss applicable contexts for the author’s wishes and compose additional ones for each other specific to your group.

  • Pass the torch.

  • Being able to pass along wisdom or gifts to others can make students feel proud of their own growth and ready to take on what’s next.

  • Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion

    by Mo Wellems

    In the final installment in Mo Willems’s trilogy about a girl and her beloved stuffed rabbit, Trixie makes the big decision to bequeath Knuffle Bunny to a crying baby. After reading, ask your students what advice or tokens they feel ready to leave behind for next year’s class. Spend time during the final days of school preparing their offerings.

  • Say, “See you soon.”

  • It’s reassuring to children to know that they can stay in contact with their friends and teachers, even when their daily routines no longer intersect.

  • Gotta Go, Buffalo

    by Haily Meyers and Kevin Meyers

    Lighten up the mood by reading Haily and Kevin Meyers’s fun Gotta Go, Buffalo, which offers alternatives to a definitive farewell like “Toodle-oo, Kangaroo” and “Take care, Polar Bear.” Make plans to stay in touch, perhaps by preparing cards and addressing envelopes to send summer mail or preparing journals to be returned to you in the fall.

How do you reflect on and celebrate the school year with your class? What books do you enjoy sharing in the last weeks of school? Let us know in the comments section below.

If you’re looking for more lesson plans, book picks, and reading tips for your classroom or library, make sure to check out our Teach Brightly page!