Best January Read-Alouds for Upper Elementary Students

Winter break has come and gone, and you are eager to get back into the swing of things with a fresh start of engaging class read-alouds for the month of January. You’re caught in between “well-rested students who have just come off a long break” and the “my students have been out of the routine and aren’t motivated to get back” slump. But what if I told you that the January read-alouds you choose this month can make all the difference?

We can change the narrative and spark excitement for getting back to school with tons of engaging, relatable, and inspiring books to read aloud to our students. Whether winter reads about family, snowman books, nonfiction texts, or picture books, I’ve got just the list of titles you need.

This blog post is going to showcase a list of favorite books that will grasp your upper elementary students’ attention while providing enjoyable winter stories that help sharpen your readers’ skills. Let’s dive right in with my list of favorite January read-alouds for your students! This post contains affiliate links. We may receive a commission if you make any purchases after clicking on one of these links.

Favorite January Read-Alouds Perfect for Your Classroom

1. Bringing in the New Year

“Bringing in the New Year” by Grace Lin is a story about a Chinese-American family preparing for the Lunar New Year. The timing is great for this text, as your students can make connections about what they do for the new year in their homes and the New Year’s resolutions they make. This culture-rich book is a perfect read this January and can be quickly read during your morning meeting or transitioning between subjects or tasks during the day.

An extended activity that would be great for your students after this read would be to compare and contrast the Lunar New Year with the American New Year. This is a must-add to your January read-aloud book list.

January Read-Alouds
“Bringing in the New Year” by Grace Lin

2. Brave Irene

“Brave Irene” by William Steig is definitely a read-aloud to share with your students this month! It is a story about a young girl whose mother is a dressmaker. Irene is tasked with delivering a gown for her mother, but many challenges arise. This wintertime story highlights the power of determination of the little girl and inspires us with how brave she is through her adversities. As an extension, you can have your students make text-to-self connections to the story and write a personal narrative about a time when they had to be brave. This is an absolute must-add to your January read-alouds list.

January Read-Aloud
“Brave Irene” by William Steig

3. Winter Candle

“Winter Candle” by Jeron Ashford is just the book your students need this winter season. This heartwarming story ties in MANY cultures and customs and shows how one small candle can bring so many families together. This is a great story for teaching the plot, discussing characters, and figuring out the theme of a text. My favorite part about this text is how it teaches about several different holidays that students may not know much about or may have never even heard of! Exposure is given with this book and it easily became a favorite to read! Be sure to add “Winter Candle” to your list of read-alouds this month; your students will thank you!

January Read-Aloud
“Winter Candle” by Jeron Ashford

4. Martin’s Big Words

“Martin’s Big Words” by Doreen Rappaport is a biography of Martin Luther King Jr. This is a great nonfiction book that teaches all about the impact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had on the world and shows just how courageous he was during the Civil Rights Movement. This text could easily be used to compare and contrast with other historical figures. You can also use graphic organizers to show the main idea/central idea and details of his life and sequence of big events. This powerful read is a must for your read-aloud stash this month.

January Read-Aloud
“Martin’s Big Words” by Doreen Rappaport

5. When Martin Luther King Jr. Wore Roller Skates

“When Martin Luther King Jr. Wore Roller Skates” by Mark Weakland is a light-hearted book that shares all about Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood. We have learned and celebrated all of the great accomplishments MLK achieved as an adult, but do your students know much about how he was as a young boy? Children of all ages can connect to this book and have their eyes opened to just how normal of a child he was. This book will leave your students feeling inspired to achieve great things in their lives and make an impact on the world just as he did.

Use this text to compare and contrast with “Martin’s Big Words” or to sharpen your students’ visualization skills through the use of vivid descriptive language written by the author.

6. Winter Bees

“Winter Bees” by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen is an excellent way to bring poetry into your reading this month! This is one of my top poetry picture books chosen this month, and it is a great way to work on several poetic elements like rhyme, rhythm, tone, and figurative language. This story, told in verse, tells about different animal behaviors and all of their survival methods during the winter. Your students will get to explore different forms of poetry from free verse to expository styles. As a writing extension, students could select a different animal that was not mentioned in the book and write a poem about its life during winter.

January Read-Alouds
“Winter Bees” by Joyce Sidman and Rick Allen

7. The Hat

“The Hat” by Jan Brett is a fun winter story about a sweet little hedgehog who unintentionally gets a girl’s stocking stuck on his head as a hat. This book pairs perfectly with “National Hat Day” on January 15th (check out my National Day Writing Prompts here) and is a great book for discussing sequential order and story plot. Jan Brett is a phenomenal author, and you can never go wrong with any of her titles. Make sure to add this one as one of your read-alouds this month; I guarantee your students will enjoy this engaging tale.

January Read-Aloud
“The Hat” by Jan Brett

8. Owl Moon

“Owl Moon” by Jane Yolen is a classroom classic, especially during the cold weather and winter season. One of my absolute favorites, this story is about a young girl and her father going “owling” one night. While on their adventure, they encounter a mysterious nighttime bird, a real owl! This heartfelt story teaches the themes of patience and appreciation for nature. It is a great book for practicing figurative language (there is a ton), visualizing, and summarizing the text. This book has always been my go-to each winter, and your students will think it is an excellent choice, too!

January read-aloud
“Owl Moon” by Jane Yolen

9. The Mitten Tree

“The Mitten Tree” by Candace Christiansen is a fun winter book that will leave your students feeling inspired to spread kindness. This book focuses on a kind deed that an older woman does for some young children nearby. It teaches the importance of doing acts of kindness out of the pure joy and goodness from the heart to help others.

With this text, you can easily implement “theme” into this read-aloud lesson, as well as intentionally planning out questions to ask before, during, and after reading. It also has the opportunity to discuss making connections whether text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world. Make sure to incorporate this title to your January read-louds list.

January read aloud
“The Mitten Tree” by Candace Christiansen

10. The Giving Snowman

“The Giving Snowman” by Julia Zheng is a touching story about a snowman and his giving heart. The snowman sees different animals that are in need, so he gives them what he can. Ultimately, he is left with nothing. He begins to melt when the sun comes up and the animals come back to rebuild him. It teaches the sweet theme of showing how others show up for each other during different times of need.

This book reminds me so much of the similar story, “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, and could be used to practice the skill of comparing and contrasting different texts. Students can do an extended writing response, too, about a time they have given to someone or have received something they needed from somebody else.

January Read-Aloud
“The Giving Snowman” by Julia Zheng

As we step into January and begin the second semester, your selection of read-alouds is your secret weapon. Navigating the delicate balance between post-holiday relaxation and the need to jump back into routines can be tricky, but the right stories have the power to bridge that gap. The lineup for your January read-alouds should be viewed as a thought-out selection of texts that are going to reel your students in and keep them wanting and desiring more.

This list of books not only gives all of the winter feels and snowy vibes, but also enriches students with opportunities to practice various reading skills and extended writing strategies. Your students will be eager to read the whole month of January, and your “teacher heart” will be glowing from the excitement and growth amongst your students.

Additional Activities for January

Aside from read-alouds, if you are in need of some additional January activities for your classroom, I’ve got you covered! Here’s a list I have created for you that includes resources that can engage your students in literacy this month!

January Writing Prompts: These writing prompts align with daily “National Days” to keep your students engaged and writing the entire month of January.

Martin Luther King Jr. Biography and Lapbook: This is great to use to keep the learning going after one of the captivating read-alouds on MLK.

Martin Luther King Research Project

MLK Jr. Day Literacy Activities: This is another extension activity to continue learning about the heroism of Martin Luther King Jr. It incorporates nonfiction reading, comprehension questions, and writing.

MLK Day Choice Boards: These choice boards give 18 opportunities for writing about Martin Luther King Jr. The types of writing vary and students can engage in creative writing to celebrate MLK.

Looking Ahead…

Black History Month is in February! Get ready to celebrate all month long and expose your students to a different Black/African American figure every day with my Black History Bundle!

This bundle showcases 50 Black Americans, past and present, to be celebrated this month. There is a healthy mixture of common and less common individuals so your students can build on their existing knowledge while building new knowledge!

Get access to kid-friendly nonfiction biography reading passages, lapbook research project templates, biography profile pages, and all of this comes in a printable and digital option and in multiple sizes.

Check out this low-prep Black History Bundle today!

As always, reach out if you have any questions and I hope January is filled with engaging and purposeful reading and writing!

Keep diving into literacy!

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Hey, I'm Megan!

I am a literacy specialist and curriculum designer who loves sharing tips and ideas to help students thrive in literacy! It brings me joy to await those a-ha moments and to see light bulbs turn on!

I have a huge passion for reading and writing and love to co-mingle the two any chance I get! You can expect to learn new strategies and ways to keep your students engaged during your literacy block! I am so glad you’re here!

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