A Backpack Full Of 14 Books
The perfect picture books to get ready for the excitement (and jitters) of the first day of school!
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Okay, this is a monster post. Here’s why: I LOVE back-to-school season.
You can smell the late summerness of it all. The smell of the last barbecues of the season wafting through the air and late-evening walks as the sun gently glimmers into dusk. Maybe it’s the consumerism of my American soul but nothing screams of potential, new beginnings, and possibility quite like the smooth zippers on a brand-new backpack, perfectly pointy No. 2 pencils straight from the box, or the blank pages of a new notebook yearning to be scribbled in.
It’s not just the excitement of going back to school (although for parents I’m sure getting to this point in itself feels like a victory)—it’s what this moment portends. I liken it to stepping onto the End-of-the-Year Train. You board at Back-to-School station and get off at New Year’s Day, exhausted, weary, and nauseous from a long few months of travel. You’ll have partied your way through Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the winter holidays until the whirlwind comes to an abrupt, screeching halt on New Year’s Day. You’ll get off and realize you now have to traverse the Prairie of Nothingness on foot in the biting cold before the green, grassy fields of Spring beckon. I think that’s why there’s so much anticipation for this time of the year. It’s the beginning of something before the big fat nothing.
So in light of my love for this time of year, I have definitely gone overboard with my first-day-of-school picture book recommendations. To make this easy for yourself, feel free to scroll down to the sections that are relevant to you:
NOTE: The “What to expect from school” and “Excited to start schools” books are fun reads for all kids. For the rest of the books, I’d stick to reading the books that address your kid’s specific anxiety. The last thing you want to do is accidentally plant seeds of doubt if it’s something they aren’t even worried about!
Tell me what you love best about this time of year (or if you hate it, I’d like to hear about that too)!
For babies and toddlers…
Lola Goes To School
Written by Anna McQuinn and Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
Recommended Ages: 2-5 years
This adorable book outlines what a day at school can look like for toddlers. As Lola gets ready and attends school, kids get a peek into all the different activities they’ll do at school. I would recommend this for toddlers starting in daycare or preschool. The illustrations are soothing with their rich hues and soft edges. I also loved the diverse representation in this book!
Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready For Kindergarten
Written by Joseph Slate and Illustrated by Ashley Wolff
Recommended Ages: 5-6 years
This fun book shows everyone—students and teacher alike—getting ready for the beginning of the new school year. It’s done in a creative way to also encourage kids to recognize the alphabet. We start with Adam Krupp waking up on the first day of school and, one by one, students with names starting with the other letters of the alphabet getting ready. Interspersed are scenes of Miss Bindergarten coming in early to get her room ready for her new Kindergarteners. The rhyming text that helps us acquainted with each student just adds to the fun. The illustrations are exceptionally well-done. Simple for each student but really come to life in the scenes with Miss Bindergarten—lots of little details that add to the charm of Miss Bindergarten’s room.
For kids wondering what school will be like…
Written by Joanne Steward Wetzel and Illustrated by Julianna Swaney
Recommended Ages: 2-5
This makes me want to grow a mermaid's tail and jump straight into the ocean. Surely a Mermaid School does exist?! The subdued pastel watercolor drawings are ethereal and gentle. You can’t help but want to make a seashell necklace for yourself or learn your A-B-Seas. We follow Molly, an outgoing mergirl, on her first day of school and all the activities she does. I loved the clever way of changing some details to incorporate the realities of undersea living. For example, trumpet fish and drum fish provide musical accompaniment during Molly’s music class. With its rhyming text, it’s fun to read aloud and observe how things are a little different at Mermaid School. The very last page is a precious Mermaid School handbook with the cutest instructions and tips. This will be a hit with the merpeople-loving kids!
Written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt and Illustrated by Shane Prigmore
Recommended Ages: 3-6 years
I ADORED this take on a day in kindergarten. Kids’ imaginations are so vivid and such a vital learning tool for them to explore the world. This book leans right into their scope for imagination and creatively transforms kindergarten into a planet. All its students are little aliens exploring Planet Kindergarten for the day before returning to their home planets (and parents). The book does a clever job of changing the details we’re so familiar with into space-themed ones. Teachers are commanders and playgrounds are equipment testing sites. The illustrations are powerful and dynamic and very thematic. It truly makes you feel like you’re in a space!
For kids ready for first-day fun…
So you’ve got kids who are raring to go. Yay! Hope these books bring a smile to their faces as the first day of school takes an unexpected turn…
Written by and Illustrated by Drew Brockington
Recommended Ages: 4-8 years
A young boy boards the big yellow school bus filled with trepidation. Not excited at all about the first day at a new school, he realizes once he’s on the bus that it’s actually full of puppies. With no adult in sight and confused as heck, he sticks it out and you uncover what it must be like to go to puppy school. The story is hilarious and you can’t help but giggle as he attends the various classes or uses the bathroom. The illustrations are nice but it’s the well-done expressiveness of the main character that really makes the story shine.
Monster School: First Day Frights
Written by and Illustrated by Dave Keane
Recommended Ages: 4-8 years
When Norm starts his first day of school, he knows he won’t fit in. He’s just an ordinary young boy—average, even—but he knows at this school he’s going to be pretty different. You see Norm’s school is actually a school for monsters and Norm’s lack of horns, tails, and fangs means he stands out. As he goes about his day, being unintentionally different, you can’t help but laugh at his interactions with the other students. Soon they realize Norm is one of them even if he is different. This is a great story to remind kids that no matter the school, learning is still learning; and, no matter how different you are, you can still find and make friends.
Written by and Illustrated by Monica Arnaldo
Recommended Ages: 5-7 years
This is a most unusual story. What do you get when you put a group of children who are attending school for the very first time with no teacher in sight? Children who start to believe that their teacher is a sandwich, obviously. You get lesson plans that are themed around sandwiches of course. There is absolutely no way you or your kids can read this book and not be smiling ear-to-ear. And I encourage you to peek out the classroom window and see what else is happening as the kids continue their school day. This book is truly a gem and the watercolor and pencil artwork is warm and inviting in its coziness. It makes you want to curl up on the circle time rug with the kids and stare up at Mr. S.
For kids filled with first-day jitters…
Sesame Street’s What If… Answers To Calm First-Day-Of-School Jitters
Written by Sonali Fry and Illustrated by Joe Mathieu
Recommended Ages: 3-6 years
This is a fantastic “reference” book to help kids navigate starting or returning to school. No matter how excited a kid is to resume school, some nervousness is bound to be a part of the experience. Various Sesame Street characters ask their adults questions about starting or going back to school and the adults provide thoughtful responses. This isn’t necessarily a book that I would sit and read with a kid front to back. Rather, if they’re nervous about something specific, this book can be a fun way to show them that their favorite Sesame Street characters have anxiety around some of the same things too. Even if you don’t read it with your kids, this is pretty helpful for adults too on how to respond when a child mentions shares their feelings of anxiety.
Norman’s First Day At Dino Day Care
Written and Illustrated by Sean Julian
Recommended Ages: 2-6 years
Norman is a small yellow dinosaur starting his first day at Dino Day Care. The thing about Norman is he’s rather shy. Unused to so many familiar faces and high-pitched voices, Norman is often hiding behind things. With each activity, we see Norman long to play with others but his natural reticence takes over. Even when he pushes himself, it ends disastrously (according to him). He finally has a talk with his teacher who encourages him and reminds him it’s okay to be shy. When he is paired with another dinosaur to perform something, Norman befriends another dinosaur and together they muster up the bravery to perform something. This was a really sweet story that will strike a chord with bashful kids. There were lots of good messages: 1) there’s nothing wrong with being shy as affirmed by the teacher, 2) play to your strengths (and everyone has them), 3) it can take time to warm up and that’s okay, 4) shy people often have to be brave! The bright watercolors do lovely justice to these baby dinosaurs. You just want to scoop them up and give them a hug.
The Best Seat In Kindergarten
Written by Katharine Kenah and Illustrated by Abby Carter
Recommended Ages: 5-6 years
One of the trickiest parts of starting school is wondering if and how you’ll make friends. For so many kids, no matter how outgoing or shy, this is one of those seeds of doubt that come with starting a new school year. I love this book for coming up with an easy, gentle way for kids to start building relationships with their peers. On a nature walk on the first day of school, Sam’s teacher encourages them to find something interesting and share it with the rest of the class once they get back. Sam helps his peers find the things they’re looking for and ends up empty-handed, or so it seems. This lovely series includes books about starting first grade and second grade too so if your kid enjoyed this one, consider getting the others as kids move up a grade.
P.S. For more books on making new friends, check out this post.
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates
Written and Illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins
Recommended Ages: 4-7 years
It’s unfair to expect a baby T. Rex not to eat her human classmates. Like anybody, Penelope Rex is nervous about the first day of school. She wonders about her classmates and if she’ll make friends. So when she actually starts school imagine her surprise when she discovers her classmates are delicious human children! So, obviously, she eats them. Quickly, Penelope realizes this doesn’t make her popular and she begins to feel lonely when she doesn’t make any friends. This comical absurd story may not have a message, except perhaps don’t eat your peers, but it provides much-needed levity in the hubbub of back-to-school. The illustrations do an absolutely marvelous job of bringing visual hilarity to the already hilarious text. If you enjoy this one as much as I did, I encourage you to check out the other Penelope T. Rex books.
First Day Critter Jitters
Written by Jory John and Illustrated by Liz Climo
Recommended Ages: 4-8 years
From the first page, you will be smiling as you read this amusing Jory John book. The book layout feels like a comic strip with text bubbles and story panels filled with endearing characters. As critters prepare for their first day of school, they share their jitters. Things they’re nervous about. Readers will be able to empathize with many of them. When they all show up in the same classroom, they look around at each other nervously. As they get to know their teacher and one another they realize that they all have ways to help each other cope.
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For kids with separation anxiety…
If your kid is having some separation anxiety, check out my list of favorite separation anxiety reads especially as it relates to school. Having said that, I loved this book for addressing an angle to separation anxiety that kids feel but isn’t commonly depicted:
Pirates Don’t Go To Kindergarten!
Written by Lisa Robinson and Illustrated by Eda Kaban
When my kid moves up a class, there’s always that pang in my chest that the teachers who I’ve formed a bond with are no longer going to be my companions on this parenting journey. I imagine it’s ten times harder for kids. To have to leave behind a trusted adult and teacher is so difficult. This story does a lovely job, in a fun way, of highlighting this particular form of separation. Pirate Emma is unwilling to leave the side of Cap’n Chu, her fearless preschool leader. The Kindergarten spaceship is much too different from her beloved preschool pirate ship. Her teachers band together to help her navigate this change. I loved how spirited Emma is and how she really leans into the pirate theme with humorous results. The illustrations are absolutely lovely with wonderful details that make it fun to spend time really scouring through (I mean that bedroom of hers is booty-ful!).
Do you love this time of year as much as I do? Or, if you hate it, I’d like to hear about that too!
P.S. If your kid is dealing with a specific first-day-of-school jitter I haven’t covered here, please email me at email@example.com and I will try to find a book that might help!
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