Whenever fall rolls around (or mid-summer in some places), I honestly feel the air tingle with a myriad of back-to-school emotions. These feelings course through us as we recall our own childhood school days and relive the experience through our offspring.
Although most are geared towards children ages 3-7 years old, the last book on this list is one I think would benefit every home and classroom, as it is a wonderful book about kindness and inclusion that has great potential to generate conversation and resonate with readers of all ages.
If you’re looking for a back-to-school tradition, for the past two years we have gathered 2-4 picture books and donated them to my daughter’s classroom at the beginning of each year. It’s a great way to break the ice and ensure that familiar books are being read throughout the school day. If you have even more energy or time, you could also volunteer to read to your child’s class on a regular basis. Hopefully these 15 books will help ease any back-to-school anxieties that your child (or you) may encounter.
By: K-Fai Steele
Pip is a pig that likes normal things. That is until one day when a classmate makes fun of her lunch. Humiliated, Pip later voices her jumbled thoughts in an emotional outburst to her parents. That weekend, on an excursion to the city with her family, Pip is introduced to an array of diverse languages, cultures, races, and food. Told with approachable school-age appeal, this is the ideal book for anyone that has ever felt “other,” especially when it comes to the inevitable school lunch comparison. A marvelous debut.
By: Alexandra Penfold and illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
A rhyming ode to the diversity of a school that welcomes everyone (no matter what you wear, where you’re from, or how you start your day). With numerous nationalities and cultures reflected, the inclusive message is an excellent way to engage children in anti-bullying discussions throughout the school year.
By: Davina Bell and illustrated by Allison Colpoys
“I can’t wait to share with you how smart you are the whole day through.” Thus begins this lyrical look at how children demonstrate acumen in daily acts. From doing crazy dances, and matching pairs, to picking what to wear, children learn by doing and imagining, or simply by sitting and observing. Celebrate the myriad of ways smart exists in this affirming and whimsically detailed book. While it’s not technically a school-specific book, we honestly can’t recommend it enough.
By: Annie Silvestro and illustrated by Dream Chen
A month before school starts Rosie gets ready for her first day by playing school for weeks in anticipation. However, when the first day of school actually arrives, Rosie complains of feeling unwell. Her dad and mom reassure her by telling her she has nervous butterflies in her belly. On the way to school as Rosies starts to talk to new friends and try new school activities butterflies escape from her mouth. Gorgeous illustrations and a tender ending make this an especially charming back-to-school story.
By: Máire Zepf and illustrated by Tarsila Krüse
When a mother bear can't handle being parted from her little cub, her young son, Benno, gently reassures her and then kindly let's her spend part of the morning with him in his new classroom. Although it soon becomes obvious that Benno belongs in school and not his mother. This heartwarming role-reversal book is one of the best of its kind. As a bonus, count up the numerous bear paws found throughout the book.
By: Priscilla Burris
School starts and everything is new! The teacher, classmates, crayons, and individual cubbies. Follow a group of young children through traditional school-day routines including: circle time, snack time, reading and math, and plenty of outdoor/recess time. With energetic images and a multicultural group of students, this book is perfect for preschoolers and kindergarteners alike.
By: Jody Jensen Shaffer and illustrated by Claire Messer
Getting ready for school isn’t just for parents, teachers, and children. Busy Bus, an expressive yellow school bus, takes care to ensure he is ready for his first big day. But what if he gets lost? Luckily his driver, Ben, is there to gently guide him as he prepares to welcome children and safely shuttle them off to their first day of school. An excellent primer for any child that will be taking the bus to school.
By: Kate Berube
It’s Mae’s first day of school, but she isn’t going. Once on school property she scurries up a tree and ponders the idea of simply living there forever. Soon another little girl, Rosie, climbs up to the leafy perch and together they share a cookie while discussing why exactly neither of them plan on going to school. When an adult (who happens to be the teacher) joins them, the young girls realize that maybe they aren’t the only ones feeling anxious about starting school. An especially sweet read.
By: Peter Brown
A young boy named Bobby is not impressed by his monstrous teacher, Ms. Kirby, who stomps and yells and is a stickler for rules. One Saturday morning while at the park, Bobby unexpectedly runs into his teacher and what a surprise. Baffled, the two sit together in awkward silence until they decide to show one another their favorite spots in the park. As Bobby starts to see his teacher as more than a monster, the two are able to connect on a human-to-human level. Filled with demonstrative images and tongue-in-cheek wit, this book is easily a modern classic.
By: Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson
A brand new school, Frederick Douglass Elementary, relishes quiet time alone with the Janitor. However, when the Janitor mentions teachers coming, and children too, the school is uneasy about the prospects. On the first day the children arrive, the school is overwhelmed by so many children. Each peeking into every closed door and playing all over his jungle gym. And when the children complain about school, he feels defensive by their comments. Throughout the day, as he slowly gets to know the children and listens to their lessons, a unique and welcoming friendship begins to unfurl. A unique book with universal appeal.
By: Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
A confident young boy takes considerable care in getting ready for his first day of kindergarten. After grooming and eating a hearty breakfast, the precocious youngster reminds his parents that growing up is part of the deal. A confidence boosting book that showcases how much children want the responsibilities that come with each new age and phase. Take 20% off full price wasabi kids basics in the shop with code WASABI20 and you can match this kindergarten king!
By: Mo Willems
Pigeon is irate that he has to go to school since he already knows EVERYTHING, not to mention that he’s not an early bird and school starts in the morning. Besides, what if he doesn’t like school? And so goes an endless list of concerns and worries, featuring one of the most beloved children’s book characters of the last decade. In true Pigeon fashion the humorous twist ending is the cherry on top.
By: Jonathan Bean
A young boy introduces you to his family (mother and sisters) and home, which also double as his teacher, classmates, and school. With frenzied pen-and-ink drawings and an assortment of energetic chaos woven throughout each illustration, this reassuring book is an accurate reflection of homeschool life (including a thoughtful author’s note).
By: Ryan T. Higgins
Penelope Rex, a young tyrannosaurus, is anxious to start her first day of school. Her mother buys her a new backpack. Her father packs her a hearty lunch. And off she goes. However, when she discovers that all her classmates are children, well, the temptation to eat them is too difficult to resist. A humorous tale beloved by adults and children alike. If you want to give a book that will be reread all year long, this is the one to give.
By: Amy Webb and illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard
Charley likes to draw and be quiet, which makes him feel different. At the park one day he sees another child, a young girl, with very visible limb differences. Emma tells Charley the things she doesn’t like hearing, but kindly informs him that questions are okay. As the two interact, readers are drawn into the warmth that occurs when genuine inclusion starts to happen. “Different isn’t weird, sad, bad, or strange. Different is different. And different is OK!”
Miranda Rosbach is a librarian turned children’s book reviewer and freelance writer. In her spare time she likes scouting new restaurants and colorful murals. She also loves reading middle grade novels and memoirs. She lives in St.Louis with her husband and two daughters. You can find her book reviews on her blog or on Instagram as @bookbloom.