25 Children’s Books For Back-to-School
“Back to school!” These words can evoke a variety of emotions in the hearts of children everywhere. For some, this time can be full of anxiety and concerns over making friends, fitting in, and finding their way around a new school or classroom. Even self-directed learners and homeschool families can feel the jitters associated with a new year of learning. Stories are a great way to prepare for what’s to come and to soothe worries about the new school year. Children will feel more confident when they see characters in books thriving in new learning environments. Here are 25 titles selected by Western MA mom, Lisa Woods, just in time for the new school year.
The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!
by Mo Willems
Mo Willems is one of my favorite authors of all time. His books are so funny, and kids respond well to them. The Pigeon books are hilarious, and this latest one about Pigeon trying to get out of going to school is as enjoyable as the rest. Pigeon is scared about going to school. He says he already knows everything and the backpacks are too heavy. He has lots of reasons why he can’t go. Pigeon is very passionate about refusing to go until he lays his eyes on the school bus that will take him there. We all know how he feels about buses so he can’t resist. This book is silly and fun but can be very helpful for kids who may be anxious about their first day.
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates!
by Ryan T. Higgins
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates! is about a little T-Rex named Penelope, who is nervous about going to school for the first time. She doesn’t know what her classmates will be like. Will they be nice? How many teeth will they have? She is surprised when she finds the students are all people… so she eats them, as a T-Rex does. (I love that at the beginning of this book there is a little message from Penelope that the T-Rex is extinct and can never eat kids, so not to worry.) Her teacher makes her spit them out, but she had a hard time every day, trying not to eat the delicious kids. One day she tries to make friends with the class goldfish until it bites her finger. She did not like that, and now that she knows how it feels she realizes why the kids were afraid of her. She does not try to eat any more kids and makes lots of new friends.
Here is a reading of this super cute book by one of my favorite YouTube channels. It’s adorable how the little girl calls Penelope (Penn-a-lope-y) so cute!
The Invisible String
by Patrice Karst (Author), Geoff Stevenson (Illustrator)
The Invisible String is a story to help with separation anxiety. Every year, many children (and parents) have some feelings of worry or sadness about going back to school. I have always found this book so helpful in reminding them that we aren’t ever really alone. They are always connected to the people they love, even when we can’t see them.
Dear Mr. Blueberry
by Simon James
Dear Mr. Blueberry is a sweet little book about a girl named Emily, who writes back and forth with her teacher. Emily is convinced a whale lives in her pond, and her teacher is very nice about it even though he doesn’t believe that could be true. It’s a great book about the power of imagination and more importantly about how the kindness of a teacher can help kids feel good about themselves.
Mae’s First Day of School
by Kate Berube (Author)
In Mae’s First Day of School, Mae has decided she is not going to school; she tells her parents this whenever they ask her to get ready to go. She’s too worried about what will happen if she misses her mom too much or if the other kids don’t like her. Once she arrives, she decides to hide, so she doesn’t have to go in. A little girl named Rosie finds her hiding spot and decide they will hide their together. While hiding, they both talk about why they are too scared to go in. Finally, a tall lady named Ms. Pearl joins them in their hiding spot and tells them she’s glad they’re not going to school since she isn’t going either, it’s her first day, and she’s too scared. She worries the kids won’t like her or she might miss her cat too much. After sharing their feelings, they all decide to go to school together.
The Night Before Preschool The Night Before Preschool
by Natasha Wing and Amy Wummer
The Night Before Preschool The Night Before Preschool is a terrific book for kids who will be going into preschool. It’s told to the rhythm of The Night Before Christmas. The pictures engage the kids and help them to see what kinds of things might happen during their preschool day.
There are two other books by this author that are told in the same manner, The Night Before Kindergarten and The Night Before First Grade. You can check out read aloud videos on YouTube for all of these. Here is The Night Before Preschool:
All Are Welcome
by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman
I love this simple story with a great message repeated throughout of “all are welcome here” and ending with “you are welcome here.” All Are Welcome is a great look at the diversity of schools and how to help others feel included. The pictures are vibrant and engaging, and the rhyming words are fun in which to listen. Here is an enjoyable reading of this book:
David Goes to School
by David Shannon
There are several books in this series, David Goes to School. All are about David and how he gets in trouble all the time. My kids never really liked these books, I think because the illustrations of David are a little off-putting. I have always liked the book’s message, that there are often kids that struggle to behave within social standards. In this story, David is excited to be back to school, but he is a real challenge for the other students and the teacher. He cuts in line; he chews his gum loudly, and he draws all over his desk. His teacher makes him wash all the desktops, and when he’s done, and the teacher sees what a great job he did, she praises him, and he gets a sticker. I love this because every student at one time or another will do something that gets them into trouble. This story shows kids that even though they may “mess up” that they can redeem themselves.
How to Get Your Teacher Ready
by Jean Reagan (Author), Lee Wildish (Illustrator)
My kids love How to Get Your Teacher Ready. It’s about students getting their teacher ready for the school year. She’s nervous and doesn’t understand how things work in the classroom. I always hear a lot of laughter when I read this book aloud. My kids love to see the teacher needing their help and how her students make her feel better.
If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t!
by Elise Parsley
A hilarious cautionary tale, If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t! is told by Magnolia who gets in trouble all day because of the alligators’ antics. Magnolia wanted to bring an alligator to school for show and tell and assures the teacher that he won’t eat anyone. As it turns out, that is not the trouble he causes. He shows her funny pictures that make her laugh out loud. When he decides he’s hungry during class, she gives him some gum, and he makes so much noise eating it that she has to go to the principal’s office. I’ve read this aloud during a library class I teach, and the kids loved it so much that they asked their teacher to add it to their classroom library.
Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-of-School Dilemma
by Keith Calabrese and Juana Medina
In Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-of-School Dilemma, Lena’s shoes are nervous about starting kindergarten. Her dad helps her get dressed by asking how her other clothes are feeling, and maybe they can talk to her shoes and help them feel brave. They go through each item, and finally, Lena remembers that her headband is very outgoing and loves making friends. She has her headband “talk” to her shoes while her dad steps out of the room. In the end, her shoes decide to be brave, and she heads off to kindergarten. I love this book so much because the dad lets her communicate in her own way. She’s able to tell him that she’s feeling nervous and doesn’t know what to do. Rather than shaming heror babying her, he gets downtoher level and encourages herto solve the problem herself.
The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School
by Laura Murray and Mike Lowery
In The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School, students mix up the ingredients for gingerbread cookies in class and make a gingerbread man. When he’s finished cooking the kids head out to recess while he cools. He wakes up to find himself alone and tries to find the kids. The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School is a hilarious version of the little gingerbread man story. He meets the gym teacher, the nurse, and the principal on his journey and then finally makes his way back to the classroom and finds the students all there waiting for him. I love that they made little gingerbread furniture for him so he would have his own desk and chair.
Miss Nelson Is Missing! (Read Along Book)
by Allard Jr., Harry G., and James Marshall
Miss Nelson Is Missing! is an oldie but a goodie. I remember reading this book when it first came out in 1977. This title is a hilarious book about a class that will not listen to the very sweet and kind teacher. One day she doesn’t come to school and in her place is Miss Viola Swamp. A mean and nasty teacher who won’t let them get away with anything. Now that the kids realize how good their teacher was, they wish she would come back. When she does return, the kids are thrilled to see her. What they don’t know is back at home there are a costume wig and dress that look strangely like Miss Viola Swamps. A great story about not knowing how good you have it till it’s gone. There are two other books in this series that are worth checking out too.
by Amy Husband
In this very funny and imaginative story, Michael sends his teacher messages by way of letter, telegrams, and postcards. He doesn’t want to go to school and writes about all the adventures he’s having that will prevent him from going back to school. He tells lots of stories about fighting pirates, hunting treasure, and even space travel. The teacher’s response in a letter back to him has him rethinking his plan of missing school. I love how this book is written in ways that you have to turn the book around to read some of the pages. The pictures are funny, and my kids loved reading it.
by Kevin Henkes
Chrysanthemum is one of my all-time favorite books. I recently read it to all the kindergarten through third-grade students at my children’s school, and they loved it. It’s a great story about a little mouse with a big name. Chrysanthemum is a lovely story about a beautifully named mouse who goes to school only to find that some of the other kids think her name is too long and too odd. A group of girls tease and bully her every day and turn an exciting time into a miserable one. It had always broken my heart how happy she was on her way to her first day, and then how bleak she felt after being teased. Unfortunately, her teacher does nothing to stop the teasing, which has always bothered me. Finally, she meets the wonderful music teacher who everyone immediately adores. When this teacher hears the other student making fun of Chrysanthemum, she steps in and tells the class that she is also named after a flower, the Delphinium. Not only that but as she is pregnant, she thinks she may name her child Chrysanthemum. Now all the girls want flower names and suddenly think Chrysanthemum is the most beautiful name you can have. It’s incredible how kind words from a well-respected teacher can shape a child’s self-esteem, and how this teacher was able to show all the kids another perspective, and it took care of the bullying all at once.
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
by Kevin Henkes
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is another win from Kevin Henkes. Lilly loves school and loves her super cool teacher, Mr. Slinger. She wants to be a teacher like him when she grows up. One day, Lilly brings her brand new purple plastic purse to school with all her treasures inside. She is so eager to tell everyone about it during the show and tell that she keeps taking it out and looking at everything. Mr. Slinger makes her give everything to him until the end of the day. Well, this does not sit well with Lilly. She no longer thinks her teacher is cool and does not want to be a teacher when she grows up. She draws an unflattering picture of him and turns it in with all the other pictures. Mr. Slinger returns her purse, but she barely acknowledges him. It isn’t until she’s on her way home that she finds inside her purse a bag of tasty snacks and nice note from her teacher telling her that tomorrow. Now she is embarrassed and remorseful, but she can’t apologize until the next day. Lilly goes home and puts herself in time out. She draws a new picture of Mr. Slinger with a better story about him. Lilly arrives at school early to apologize. Mr. Slinger is very kind and asks her what they should do with her other picture. They decide ripping it up would be best and then he lets her show off her purse and treasures during show and tell.
The Recess Queen
by Alexis O’neill and Laura Huliska-Beith
In The Recess Queen, Mean Jean believes she rules her classmates and can do pretty much whatever she wants. The kids try to stay out of her way and not touching anything until she does. One day a new kid, Katie Sue, arrives and since no one made her privy to Mean Jeans rules she enjoyed herself at recess. She even asks Mean Jean to play jump rope with her. The other kids have always been too afraid to play with Mean Jean. By the end of the day, all the kids are having a great time, and Mean Jean is no longer mean. Even though this is a story about a bully being mean to everyone, the author makes it engaging with funny words and rhymes. The pictures are interesting and fun and help children connect with how everyone is feeling.
Mr. Wolf’s Class
by Aron Nels Steinke
In Mr. Wolf’s Class, we meet, Mr. Wolf, a brand new fourth-grade teacher who is as nervous as the kids starting the school year. This wonderfully illustrated graphic takes us through the ups and downs of a fourth-grade classroom. There are lots of different personalities and issues like one child is fatigued every day, another fidgets a lot, and one student doesn’t like loud noises. Even though there is some arguing between the kids, it ends with all of them finding friends. They also learn how their behavior can impact others.
by Kyo Maclear (Author), Byron Eggenschwiler (Illustrator)
Operatic is a graphic novel about a group of middle school students who are about to go off to high school. They are all in a terrific music class together with a teacher who is so engaging and makes the subject matter super cool! He wants everyone to find their perfect song, so he chooses a different genre of music every week and has them listen to different songs in his class. Nothing clicks for Charlie until she hears opera music. Specifically, Maria Callas. She becomes super interested in her life and music and does a lot of research about her. She finds out that Maria had a sad life experience and people had been very cruel to her, including her mother. While this is going on in music class, Charlie is also infatuated with one of her classmates, Emile. He’s a very quiet boy who sits next to her in class. She’s also worried about another boy in her class who hasn’t been to school in a while. We find out that he was made fun of after the talent show when he sang on stage. The story is interesting, sincere, and, I think, constructive for middle school kids who are worried about friends, fitting in, and finding out who they are as they grow up.
by Palacio R. J. and A. Orcese
Wonder is another wildly popular book, so most people may already be acquainted with it. Wonder is the real-life story of August Pullman, who was born with a congenital facial abnormality. He has been homeschooled all his life, but now that he’s going to be attending public school. He’s nervous about how he will be received. He has a tough time at first, but as time goes by, he makes friends and learns to deal with people staring at him. I’ve heard him described as an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face, and I think that really fits him. Wonder is a wonderful book! My kids read it in school, and we saw the movie together. Both the book and film are terrific!
Because of Mr. Terupt
by Rob Buyea
At the beginning of the school year, a group of students get a new fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Terupt. The kids are not friends at first, but Mr. Terupt has a way of bringing everyone closer, and the school year starts to become enjoyable. This teacher sincerely cares about his students and engages them in a way most teachers never have. However, one snowy day, the kids can go out and play in the snow as a reward, but Mr. Terupt suffers a terrible accident. As awful as it is, the incident brings the kids closer to together and helps them to get to know each other genuinely. I read Because of Mr. Terupt to my kids at bedtime, and it took us about a week to finish. The story can be a little intense, and more than once I read ahead a bit to see how things were going to work out so they could go to sleep on a good note. There are some challenging topics, like a student who is shunned because her mom had her at sixteen, and another girl who is a manipulative bully. In the end, everything works out, and the students learn something about themselves and their new friends. Because of Mr. Terupt is a book worth reading.
President of the Whole Fifth Grade
by Sherri Winston
President of the Whole Fifth Grade is a hilarious story about Brianna, a fifth-grader who desperately wants to follow in the footsteps of her hero, celebrity chef Miss Delicious. When she finds out Miss Delicious attributes her success to being the fifth-grade president, Brianna decides she must do the same thing. She finds that she will have competition and has to decide to play fair or use dirty tricks to try to win. She learns a powerful lesson about treating yourself and your loyal friends with respect. There is another book in this series that takes place in sixth grade.
by Raina Telgemeier
In this excellent book we meet sixth-grader, Raina, who fell and broke her two front teeth. This dental disaster is a real event that happened to the author, and she included it in this funny and interesting story. In Smile, the reader follows Raina as she goes from middle school to high school, dealing with all the drama and angst that goes along with growing up. Her dental issues continue through the years, she has to get braces and have some surgery, but through it all she makes friends, deals with bullies, crushes and all the insecurities everyone faces in school. I will say one cautionary note would be that when she falls and breaks her teeth, the pictures were kind of intense for younger kids. The drawings are cartoons, so it’s not too bad, but depending on the age or sensitivity of your child you might want to read it with them at first. I hope this doesn’t dissuade you from checking this book out. It’s fantastic. I love this author. She has written five books that are beautifully illustrated and get to the heart of the drama in kids lives. She was also involved in illustrating The Babysitters Club books into graphic novels. My daughter loved these, and I was so excited that she was reading the same books that I read as a kid.
I Funny: A Middle School Story
by James Patterson (Author), Chris Grabenstein (Author), Laura Park (Illustrator)
I Funny: A Middle School Story is an excellent story about Jamie, a middle school student who has a plan to become a standup comedian. In the meantime, though, has to move in with his aunt, uncle, and cousin Stevie who is a bully. He finds out about The Planet’s Funniest Kid Comic Contest, and he decides to enter it. Stevie tells him that the only reason people laugh at his jokes is because he’s in a wheelchair. This comment takes the wind right out of Jamie’s sails as he worries that might be true. This book is filled with humor and all kinds of lessons on being true to yourself, dealing with bullies and being comfortable in your own skin.
by Kristen Gudsnuk (Author)
Making Friends is about a girl named Dani, who is having a hard time navigating 7th grade. She’s finding it hard to keep her old friends since they’re in different classes and even harder to make new friends. Dani is given a sketchbook by her great aunt that turns out to be magical. Anything she draws can become real. She decides to draw a best friend and thinks that will solve all her problems but instead it causes some new ones. This book is filled with the drama of junior high; bullying, relationships, family issues, body image, and many other issues that affect middle school students. I liked the message about being yourself and realizing who are your true friends.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa spent a decade traveling the world for her work before realizing her dream was to create art and write. She now lives in Chicopee, MA with her husband and two children where she homeschooled her kids for the early grades. Lisa has a real passion for books, especially children’s literature, collecting children’s books since the age of fifteen. She is now working on her first children’s book.