1. Build a Stronger Vocabulary: Hearing new words in new contexts expands their knowledge of words.

2. View Books in a Positive Way: Being read to encourages kids to see and experience reading as an enjoyable experience which makes them more likely to become lifelong readers.

3. Improve as Writers: When children hear quality texts read aloud, they learn about what good writing consists of authentically through real-world modeling from the author as a mentor.




REDUCING STRESS AND ANXIETY: Kids today are experiencing more symptoms of anxiety than ever before. Pausing during a busy day of academics to sit and listen to a story is relaxing and comforting.

CREATING SUCCESS OPPORTUNITIES FOR ALL: Reading involves so much more than calling out the words seen on a page, but since statistically 1 out of 5 students is Dyslexic (the majority are never diagnosed), many kids do not feel, and are not viewed, as strong readers. Often those same kids who struggle with fluency shine when it comes to listening comprehension and book discussions. Read alouds help all children learn to love engaging with literature instead of dreading time spent with books.

EXPANDING THEIR WORLD:  Books expose readers and listeners to other geographical areas and cultures.

DEVELOPING THEIR SCHEMA: Young learners retain much of what they hear in stories. Introducing them to places, scientific topics, and events in history through read alouds builds a foundation for future learning about those subjects at a deeper level.

BUILDING AWARENESS AND EMPATHY: Children's lit is one of the best channels for helping students understand something they have not personally experienced.

REFLECTING WHO THEY ARE: When children see themselves and their own life situations in the characters and events of books, it becomes a means of self-affirmation which strengthens their self-confidence.


INCREASING ATTENTION SPAN: The events and ideas in stories unfold slowly. This encourages children to listen, pay attention and concentrate, which helps to increase their overall attention span.

PROVIDING A SAFE WAY TO EXPLORE THEIR FEELINGS: Reading a story aloud that explores particular emotions helps some children to accept their own feelings and understand how others feel. Reading aloud and discussing stories helps children feel more comfortable discussing their emotions with others.

EXPOSING READERS TO NEW GENRES, AUTHORS, and TEXTS: Exposing kids to books they may not have selected on their own expands their interests in a variety of literature.

CREATING TEACHABLE MOMENTS: Kids learn best when they don't know they are learning. When you read aloud you are modeling fluency and expression. When you pause to think aloud, you are teaching them how to analyze a story, figure out words in context and make meaning of what is being read. This is so much more effective than formal lessons.

STRENGTHENING COMMUNITY: Read aloud time promotes bonding and strengthens relationships through shared experiences and discussion. This develops the social, communication and interpersonal skills necessary for being part of a healthy community.

IMPROVING LIFE-LONG READING SUCCESS Research has shown that reading aloud daily to children is one of the most important contributions to long-term success. You have the power to spark a lifelong love of reading.


  • Fitting it In
  • Time to Plan Lessons
  • Interruptions (bathroom, blurting out)
  • Student Engagement
  • Ability to Align it to the Standards
  • Selecting Books to Read
  • Pushback from Administration
  • Organizing the Books
  • Knowing Which Questions to Ask
  • Accountability
  • Finding Resources that Relate to the Story
Each Picture Book Companion Contains:
  • Interactive Read Aloud / Reading Response Questions that Are Standards-Based
  • Social Emotional Learning Discussion Prompts that Use Characters and Events from the Read Aloud to Springboard Meaningful Conversations
  • A List of Vocabulary Words with Kid-Friendly Definitions Selected from the Book with Two Printable Activities 
  • 30 Story-Based Writing Prompts with Stationary that Complements the Book
  • Grammar Teaching Points and a Printable that Enable You to Teach Writing Skills by Studying Sentences Taken Directly from the Mentor Texts 
  • Print-and-Go Graphic Organizers and Pages to Practice Important Reading Strategies

You do not need to spend your personal time outside of the school day hunting for resources and activities for your students. In fact you should not be doing that, but unfortunately that has become the norm for teachers and can often feel like it is expected.

The keys to success when it comes to reclaiming your time outside the contracted workday as your own are to set boundaries, be organized, and be consistent in your planning. 

Take Back Your Nights & Weekends


Starts with a Story makes it super easy to do that when it comes to your literacy instruction.

  • We have curated and evaluated lists of books that make great read alouds (including the newest ttitles) and summarize and present them to you with teaching points they lend themselves you don't need to hunt for book titles on your own.
  • We have crafted a lengthy list of text-based questions for you to ask your students. Best of all, we have categorized those questions by reading strategies and skills (such as summarizing, character traits, author's purpose, main idea and details, setting analysis, and more) you can easily align your read alouds to your district's learning map or your curriculum's scope and sequence.
  •  Each of our book companions provide dependable quality and consistent you can quickly and easily plan and prep lessons and activities for reading, writing, grammar, word study, and vocabulary.

They are also great for last minute activities (as in, "Oh Fudge! It's Monday morning and didn't get my plans done!" (except you probably use a word that is not 'fudge' in that sentence) as well as emergency sub plans, because let's be happens.


FACT: 1 out of 5 students are Dyslexic. In today's high-tech, busy world, less families are reading to their young children at home. For some students, English is not their first language. Modeling and directly teaching comprehension strategies through read-­aloud experiences provides ALL YOUR STUDENTS with the ability to access texts and participate in the discussions and activities regardless of their current reading abilities or past experiences.

Starts with a Story Provides Equal Opportunities for ALL Learners to:

  • engage with a variety of books and topics
  • show their individual strengths as readers
  • feel a sense of pride in their abilities
  • be an important and active part of the classroom community of collaborative learners
  • and most importantly learn to LOVE books and reading instead of associating it with feelings of dread, shame, or failure
  • Then, through guided and independent strategy practice, students learn to use these strategies to make sense of their own reading. Lessons also include plenty of time for independent reading practice and individual conferences so that students of varying levels will be able to develop as readers at their own pace. In a world of sound bites expressed quickly in electronic formats, students benefit from having time to think about, hear, and share complete ideas.


Stories are filled with situations that relate to social skills and emotions.  Books provide a wonderful opportunity for collaborative social-emotional learning (SEL) experiences in your classroom.

Teaching social and emotional skills can improve students’ mental health, decrease anxiety, prevent bully-like behaviors, and improve behavior.

When students analyze the behaviors, reactions, situations and emotions of characters they hear about during a read aloud, they gain both an increased understanding of the text and a greater understanding of their own feelings and actions.

Integrating social emotional learning into text-based questions and related class discussions is a time-efficient strategy and highly-effective way to strengthen the social and emotional intelligence of your students.

Our book companions make it easy for you because we have identified specific topics to focus on based on the events in the books and we provide you with talking points to initiate meaningful conversations. These group discussions will help your students to make sense of their own feelings, develop empathy and help them to understand why individuals may react in certain ways.


Rudine Sims Bishop introduced us, through her scholarly writing, to the concept of windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors as a metaphor. Bishop wrote...

Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that refl ection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience.

In a more recent article, author Uma Krishnaswami expanded upon the idea by adding an additional metaphor...

 A prism can slow and bend the light that passes through it, splitting that light into its component colors. It can refract light in as many directions as the prism’s shape and surface planes allow. Similarly, books can disrupt and challenge ideas about diversity through multifaceted and intersecting identities, settings, cultural contexts, and histories. They can place diverse characters at these crucial intersections and give them the power to reframe their stories. Through the fictional world, they can make us question the assumptions and practices of our own real world.

Both women remind us of the important role children's literature can play in the develop of how individuals view themselves and the world around them. For that reason, we select the books we include with intention to make it easier for you to serve your students and help them to become confident thought leaders.



In the real world, we read non-fiction books to learn information we are interested in or need to know for a specific purpose. We join book clubs to socialize with friends who share a love of literature and to have meaningful conversations about the events in the stories we read together. We browse book stores with coffee in hand and search for interesting new titles that are categorized by the genres we like and the authors we love. We enjoy curling up with a good book in our favorite comfy locations or listening to an audio book of choice as we drive or workout.

Can you imagine what your perception of reading would be if you could only read sitting upright at a desk? Think about how you would feel about books if you could only read black and white photocopies with numbers down the left margin to identify each line so you could reference it in an open response writing assessment. Imagine how often you would want to pick up a book if you needed to silently bubble in the correct answers to surface-level questions every time you finished it.

This is what we have been doing to our students.


And the worst part is, we are not only causing kids to view reading as an undesirable activity by which they are judged, but we are limiting their opportunities to actually be learning.

Every time a child reads or listens to a story, he is exposed to vocabulary, concepts, ideas, cultures, and events that expand his horizons and foster his academic growth and inspire his interests. Doesn't it seem silly to waste precious moments of childhood learning how to perform on a standardized test when that same valuable time could be used having a long-term, positive impact on their lives and the lives of others.

Want to know a secret? It is the well-rounded, well-read, enriched, inspired and motivated kids who always do well on those stupid tests anyhow. 

Here's the best can foster all of those characteristics in all children with a library card and intentional shared reading experiences.


Come along on a quick video tour.


Join the Starts With a Story Book Club now to get access to ALL of our 550+ picture book companions!



Well, to begin with, all of those books you see in the picture...but I could only hold so many.

The list of completed book companions is constantly growing. There are currently over 600 titles completed 

Check out the up-to-date, interactive, book inventory below for the complete list.

I know what you are thinking...that is A LOT of book companions...which probably has you wondering two things:

  • Will I be able to use them all?
  • How in the world can one person produce that many book companions?

Don't worry. Those thoughts crossed my mind too. Here's what you need to know:

I don't expect you to use every single page or even every single book. However, it was important to me that you have MORE than you need so you can pick and choose what is best for your classroom. As for how I am able to create so many...I have help. ;)

This is truly a project I am dedicated to and passionate about, but there is no way any one person could create 600+ picture book companions at the level of quality you and your students deserve. I genuinely believe teamwork and collaboration are key when it comes to creating educational resources and I could not be more proud of the amazing team of highly-qualified, motivated, talented, and dedicated educators that are working together to get these amazing resources in your hands. They have classroom experience, advanced degrees in reading and curriculum and instruction, and most importantly, a shared-passion for literacy. Plus, they are all REALLY good people.



(Scroll up and down and side to side to see all the links and details.)


The video below walks you through the components found in each of our 550+ picture book companions. It explains the purpose of each page, details how to use all of the student activities & shares what you'll find in the teacher guides.




Below are three of the ways we are enthusiastically helping teachers like you. We welcome you to take part in all of them. We offer a FREE Facebook group, tons of printable resources, and (coming soon) professional development focused on all things literacy. Click through each of those links below to join us.


Our Facebook Community is free to all teachers and homeschool families. Join us to ask questions, share ideas, and learn about great books to use as read alouds. We look forward to having you collaborate with us.



Our goal is to create a library of resources to help you bring quality read aloud experiences to your students. Learn about new books & how to use them in lessons as well as tips for organizing & managing your read alouds.



Imagine having everything you need to easily engage your students in enjoyable and purposeful literacy-based can. You'll be AMAZED by the abundance of resources you'll have access to choose from.


Frequently Asked Questions

The short answer is that the resources are being used enthusiastically and successfully by teachers in grades K-5, as well as by school counselors, reading specialists, tutors, special education teachers at all levels, and homeschool families.

However, it was designed to best align to grades 1-3, but by design it does lend itself to meeting the needs of students in Kindergarten as well as grades 4 and 5.

Let's dive deeper.

Unlike a basal curriculum, these resources were meant to be used with the picture books being read aloud to the students. We really felt passionate about creating something ALL students could access. It was also important to us that if a teacher were to change grade levels that educator could continue to use them year after year.

In direct response to the question:

Each book unit includes 30 different writing prompts with differentiated lined paper.

The printables were designed to be somewhat open-ended (meaning no specific directions are printed on each). We did that so teachers could easily modify the assignments to meet their students where they are at. 

Teachers can select the words they want to focus on for vocabulary and word study. This is another reason the units are applicable to multiple grade levels as well as the varied levels of learners within every classroom.

My personal favorite part of each unit is the social emotional learning lessons because they provide a springboard for rich class discussions around important social and mental health topics. 

The focus sentence activity was also designed in a way that allows teachers to select the sentence from the text they want their students to work with. We provide examples and lesson ideas for you. A first grade teacher may use the sentence to spotlight capital letters at the beginning of the sentence, with the pronoun "I" and for proper nouns found in the sentence. A 5th grade teacher might use that exact same sentence, but put the focus on quotation marks and metaphors. 

Keep in mind this resource was designed by:

  • a National Board certified teacher
  • with 17 years experience in grades K-4
  • who is now a homeschool mom with experience in grades 1-7
  • oh and her children are Dyslexic and have ADHD. This resource was originally designed for them so you can be sure it was created with passion, love, and a genuine desire to see the students engaged and finding great success in literacy (spoiler alert: they do!)

This is more than just a resource. It is a passion project created by an experienced educator who designed it with the goal of creating an engaging, multi-purpose resource that would be accessible to students at a variety of levels.

Oh my goodness, we know how busy you are. Every member of the Starts with a Story Team is an experienced classroom teacher who 100% understands the struggles of trying to "fit it all in."

Starts with a Story is not one more thing to do. In fact, it's the opposite. Starts with a Story was designed to make your life as a teacher easier without sacrificing quality education for your students.

There are a lot of activities included because we wanted you to have lots of choices.

With one read aloud you will have the ability to teach:

  • comprehension skills and strategies
  • all different types of writing
  • grammar
  • vocabulary
  • phonics
  • social emotional learning
  • listening skills
  • speaking skills

They can be used for:

  • writer's workshop
  • reader's workshop
  • guided reading
  • intervention
  • word study


Teachers also love using them for:

  • Sub Plans
  • Homework
  • Morning Warm Ups

Most likely, YES!

We designed Starts With a Story to align with the CCSS and TEKS. There is a great deal of overlap of those standards between grade levels. 

We provide teachers with a guide that identifies which skills are targeted in every book. 

Starts With a Story allows Teachers to:

  • Teach the State Standards Using Authentic Literature
  • Spiral Skills, Strategies and Standards Over Time
  • Supplement an Existing Reading Curriculum or...
  • Use AS the Primary Source of Literacy Instruction


As long as you are a member you will have unlimited downloads to all of our book companions! Woohoo!

You don't have to worry about going out and buying a bunch of books. We made sure to select popular titles that teachers may already have in their own collection, or can easily borrow from a coworker’s library or school's media center.

We also checked the online catalogs for several public libraries in different areas of the country to make sure the titles we chose were readily available to you.

It was important for us that the books were easily accessible for teachers.

No way! The purpose of Starts With a Story is to make reading meaningful and fun for students. While we do include graphic organizers for you with each book, the companions come with so much more. 

Our team has reviewed each book and selected the reading comprehension strategies that make the most sense for that title and crafted intentional questions for you to use during an interactive read aloud, as part of a literature circle, or even as reader response prompts.

Each companion also includes 30 writing prompts directly related to the story that cover 10 different styles of writing. We’ve selected key vocabulary words for you and wrote kid-friendly definitions. We’ve identified grammar focus areas for each book and listed examples of how the author used each in the text. We’ve also included a collection of social emotional lesson ideas that are based strictly on characters and events in the story.

Inside the membership, we have included an alignment guide for the different skills and strategies.

You will find a guide for reading comprehension strategies, grammar skills, and social-emotional learning topics. 

For each title, you can use the alignment guide to see which skills the book companion can be used to teach.

The great part about our book companions are that they are designed for teachers to pick and choose what they want to focus on. If you want resources for a one lesson read aloud you can choose which comprehension questions to focus on. However, if you want to use the book over the course of a week and integrate writing, grammar, comprehension, and social-emotional learning there are plenty of resources to do that! 

Many teachers have told us that they LOVE having these to leave as a full day of sub plans all ready to go.

Yes! We have complete book companion for you to try out. You can grab it by clicking here.

Yes! The book companions are available for individual purchase in our Clutter-Free Classroom teacher shop.

The product you are purchasing gives you access to a library of digital resources. Unlike a pair of pants or a book, you can't really return a PDF, video, or other file once you've downloaded it. For that reason, we do not offer any refunds for payments that have been processed. 

No, in accordance to our terms of use, you are not permitted to share your login credentials or any of the resources. Please read the complete terms of use below for further details.


By purchasing or downloading this resource, you are agreeing to our terms of use. You may use it year after year with the students you teach. It is intended for one teacher or one homeschool family. 


All rights reserved by Jodi Durgin | The Clutter-Free Classroom

  • This product is to be used by the original purchaser only.
  • It is intended for classroom and personal use only.
  • Copying for more than one teacher, classroom, department, school, or school system is prohibited.
  • Sharing this resource (or any component) of it electronically with all previous listed entities is prohibited. 
  • This product may not be distributed or displayed digitally for public view.
  • Failure to comply is a copyright infringement and a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Clipart and elements found in all included resources are copyrighted and cannot be extracted and used outside of this file without permission or license.

Yes! Even if you own one or more of the book companions, this book club will be a valuable resource to you because you'll have access to hundreds of book companions at your finger tips that are organized by title, as well as by holiday and season. This will equip you with the resources you need to teach literacy instruction confidently while meeting the diverse needs of your students. You'll also have access to any new book companion we create in the future at no additional cost.

We're happy to answer all of your questions!

You can reach us at [email protected].

Is the Science of Reading (SoR) a hot topic in your school? As you may know, SoR is an approach to literacy backed by evidence and research for all learners. It emphasizes the importance of systematic and structured phonics, as well as phonological awareness. When you look at Scarborough’s Rope, SoR focuses on the bottom braid. So how do we target the top part of the rope? That is where Starts with a Story comes in! Starts with a Story allows students to build background and print knowledge by studying engaging children’s books. Starts with a Story examines high-tier vocabulary, language structure, and grammar. Together with SoR, Starts with a Story helps readers to become more strategic and understand critical comprehension strategies in reading!


"I love my SWAS membership. It has made my read alouds so much more engaging and interactive. The students love the choice in writing prompts. I also really like the social emotional piece to the lesson plans. "

Founding Member of Starts with a Story Membership | 2nd Grade Teacher

"This is so well put together! As a special education teacher, this product hits so many of my student's IEP goals in one book. I love that I can read the same story to everyone, and have them work on the individual page(s) based on their needs. "

Special Education Teacher

"As a first year teacher, it takes me a long time to create a unit of work. You have given me a ready made outline I can use for different books "

Member of the Starts With a Story Membership

"It is straightforward, easy to use, and I am able to find exactly what I'm looking for. "

Member of the Starts With a Story Membership

"I was blown away by the thoroughness of the book companions."

Elementary Teacher

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