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.

  • I Knew You Could!

    by Craig Dorfman, illustrated by Cristina Ong

    Available from:

    From “I think I can” to “I knew I could,” The Little Engine That Could helps kids of all ages realize that anything is possible if you just put your mind to it! A great book for anyone entering a new chapter in life.

    Activity: 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.

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  • 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

    Available from:

    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.

    Activity: 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.

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  • 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

    Available from:

    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.

    Activity: 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.

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  • 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.

  • Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend!

    by Cori Doerrfeld

    Available from:

    “Every goodbye,” this sweet story tells us, “leads to a hello.” Two friends say goodbye and hello to the changing seasons — and then one friend moves away, and they must say goodbye to each other. Cori Doerrfeld helps kids understand transitions and the beauty that they bring in her usual sensitive and gentle way.

    Activity: 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.

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  • 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.

  • Harold Loves His Wooly Hat

    by Vern Kousky

    Available from:

    When a crow snatches Harold’s prized woolly hat off his head, he's desperate to get it back — until he discovers there are others who need it more.

    Activity: 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.

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  • Get excited for summer.

  • Get children excited about the end of the school year, the excitement that summer brings, and the beauty of time spent outdoors.

  • And Then Comes Summer

    by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jamie Kim

    Available from:

    Lighten up the mood by reading And Then Comes Summer, which illustrating all the fun seasonal activities for kids to enjoy, from fireworks to fairs!

    Activity: Start a countdown to the last day of school. Brainstorm all the exciting activities kids can do while on summer vacation.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated in 2023.