The start of a new school year means another new crop of great back to school books for kids! This collection ranges from picture books to early chapter books and middle grade novels. They tell the stories of children starting school for the first time as well as those who have moved to a new school. Some are dealing with the normal first day of school jitters; some have an added layer of feeling “different” than the other kids. All of the children wonder if they will make new friends.
These back to school books are a wonderful way to help kids prepare for and process those exciting and nerve wracking first days!
Back to School Books for Kids
Disclosure: I received complimentary copies of some of the books below for review purposes; however, all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
Enjoy these new back to school books for kids!
School Is Cool! is another wonderful picture book from the authors of Hello! Lucky books (read my recent review of their book Go Get ‘Em, Tiger!). Just like all the books in this series, School Is Cool! is bright and colorful, with adorable animal characters. Its rhyming text fairly bounces off the page, contributing to the cheerful, upbeat feel of this joyful book. A great way to get kids excited about their first day.
Sounds Like School Spirit is the perfect book to get your kids pumped up about starting school! The rhyming text takes the form of a chant, so it would be great to read out loud, especially at circle time! I love that the students and teacher are so diverse, and that there is an emphasis on working together to have a great school year. Go team!`
Emily D. and the Fearful First Day is the third book from Sivan Hong, who has dedicated herself to writing books that include neurodiverse kids. As in Hong’s first two books, the main character, Emily D., is neurodiverse, and the book shows how she is successful at tackling a challenging situation, in this case a new school year. The story incorporates elements that often help neurodiverse kids, like fidget toys. I love that the author took such care to make sure that the book was appropriate for neurodiverse kiddos, like making simple illustrations for kids that are easily distracted, and choosing a font that is easier for kids with dyslexia. Hong was also careful to challenge our stereotypes about neurodiverse kids (usually thought of as white boys) by making the main character a Black girl. A great book for all kids to read!
If you are interested in this topic, be sure to watch my interview with author Sivan Hong on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, at 3 pm ET on the Instagram for Multicultural Children’s Book Day!
What Should Danny Do? School Day is part of the Power to Choose series, where children help the main character choose what to do in various situations. Depending on their choice, they follow the story in one direction or another to see the consequences of that action. So each book is really 8 stories in one! It is a brilliant didactic technique, as children get to see how different scenarios work out. (Read my recent review of What Should Darla Do?). This latest book, What Should Danny Do? School Day, focuses specifically on situations that children often encounter in school, such as being picked for the losing team at basketball, or how to help a classmate that’s sad. I love that the scenarios are so realistic to what kids will face at school. My kids read this book over and over to try all the different storylines. Wonderful book to teach children that they have the power to choose how they respond to the challenges they face.
As soon as I heard about Becoming Vanessa, I knew I had to have it. Vanessa Brantley-Newton is one of my favorite author-illustrators. She has illustrated such celebrated books as The King of Kindergarten (another great back to school book!) and The Youngest Marcher. She is also the author and illustrator of a number of wonderful books, such as Just Like Me and Grandma’s Purse. And now, we get to learn about her own childhood!
In Becoming Vanessa, we experience the excitement of young Vanessa as she heads off to her first day of school – only to discover she is not like the other children, who don’t wear flamboyant clothes or have unusual names. Vanessa decides that she no longer wants to be “special.” The next day she wears a more muted outfit, and she announces that she has changed her name. Then her mother tells her the story behind her name, which means “metamorphosis,” just like a butterfly. With her parents’ encouragement, Vanessa learns to take pride in her name and in herself. A beautiful story for children who feel like they don’t quite fit in, especially knowing that the book is inspired by a true story!
When the pandemic hit in 2020, children everywhere had to learn how to do school at home. For many, it meant adjusting from a classroom setting to remote learning in front of a computer. Back-to-School at Home! is a wonderful book that addresses this new reality, incorporating some of the common challenges as well as the surprising joys. And I love that this series was created by a mom who was frustrated because she didn’t see multicultural families like hers (with heritage from Togo & Japan) represented in picture books. A great book that children will easily relate to.
One of the biggest milestones of starting a new school year is making new friends. How to Spot a Best Friend follows a young girl confident that she will make a new best friend at school that year. She recounts to her mother all the ways you can recognize a best friend, such as someone who holds your hand during a scary story and who celebrates your successes. But most of all, to find a best friend you have to be a great friend, too!
1, 2, 3, Off to School! is about Pom, a child so excited to start school that she decides to get a sneak peek a year early! Pom visits the different animal schools of all the woodland creatures, from the mice and hedgehogs to the bears. At each school, Pom learns more about how schools work and what students do there. Now Pom is ready for kindergarten! This is an adorable book with detailed illustrations that children will love to spend time exploring.
I Wish You Knew is a poignant book that reminds us that children don’t come to school as clean slates. They bring with them all of the problems and trauma that they have experienced. Factors such as poverty and loss mean that many children are burdened with fear, anger, hunger, and sadness that make it difficult for them to learn. In I Wish You Knew, Estrella misses her father terribly after he is deported. When her teacher begins an “I Wish You Knew” sharing circle at school, Estrella feels her own burden lighten as she realizes that she is not alone. A must read for teachers and students alike.
Every child has experienced nervousness on the first day of school, especially when starting at a new school, but has anyone actually turned into a turtle because of it?? That’s exactly what happens to Tally in this first book of a wonderful new early chapter book series. In Tally Tuttle Turns into a Turtle, an already nervous Tally is overwhelmed when her new classmates make fun of her full name, Tallulah. She is just wishing she would shrink and disappear, when she turns into a turtle! Through her experiences as a turtle, Tally gains the confidence she needs to get to know the other students (when she’s a human again!) That is the magic of Mrs. Norrell’s classroom – in each book of the series, a different student will transform into an animal to learn important life lessons (and some science facts as well). A fun way to let children look at their problems from a different perspective.
Starting at a new school is never fun, but when you are a Muslim kid, there is an extra layer of fear and uncertainty. The award-winning middle grade novel Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet tackles this tough situation. Omar has all the usual worries about how tough the schoolwork will be or if the new kids will be mean. But then a school bully makes his life miserable, including telling him that Muslims were going to be kicked out of the country! Omar is such a lovable character, with his incredible imagination, and he is so relatable, whether you are Muslim or not. It is a great book for teaching us to see past our differences and get to know people beyond just the stereotypes. It’s also a great book for reluctant readers, as it mixes a lot of graphics into the text.
Ahmed Aziz’s Epic Year, another Own Voices book, takes on a similar situation, as Ahmed and his family move from Hawaii to Minnesota because of his father’s illness. On top of the stress of his father’s health, Ahmed has to deal with a bully and being one of the only minority kids in a very white school. Ahmed has always been an underachiever, so he is surprised to enjoy the assigned books from school, learning important lessons from literature about courage and being confident in yourself. A thoughtful read that also has a lot of humor.
As a homeschooler, I was drawn to Lily’s Promise instantly, as it tells of a girl starting at the local elementary school after years of being homeschooled. Still reeling from the death of her father, Lily struggles to keep her promise to him to speak her mind. When she and her new friends face bullying, Lily learns to overcome her anxiety in order to stand up for herself and others. The heaviness of the story is given a humorous counterpoint with an innovative element: commentary from Libro, the book itself, whose voice is snarky and funny. A beautifully told story of grief and courage.
What are your favorite back to school books for kids?