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School Bells Are Ringing: Back-to-School Books
It’s that time of year again. The buzz of anticipation for the start of a new school year. Backpacks are being filled, lunches being made, expectations being set and so much more. I always look forward to this time of year because it’s an opportunity to reset routines. After a year of virtual and then hybrid learning, this year will be more important than ever to reset those school year routines.
For parents and educators alike, the search for the perfect “going back to school” will soon commence. With new expectations in place for the school environments, everyone will want to reassure kids about what to expect in new situations.
We’ve created a list of some great books for preschoolers, elementary students and a few middle-grade readers. These books create opportunities to spark discussions about making new friends, coping with feelings of anticipation, excitement and nervousness (for parents and kids), dealing with new situations, routines and schedules and some of the difficulties kids might face throughout the school year.
Princess Arabella Goes to School by Mylo Freeman
A delightful addition to the popular ‘Princess Arabella’ series. Princess Arabella and her friends embark upon their first day at Princess School. They find themselves taking some very unusual lessons – and when they are allowed to bring their pets to school, fun and games ensue! (Ages 3+)
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. (Ages 3-7)
King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Starting kindergarten is a big milestone–and the hero of this story is ready to make his mark! He’s dressed himself, eaten a pile of pancakes, and can’t wait to be part of a whole new kingdom of kids. The day will be jam-packed, but he’s up to the challenge, taking new experiences in stride with his infectious enthusiasm! And afterward, he can’t wait to tell his proud parents all about his achievements–and then wake up to start another day. (Ages 4-8)
Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki, Stéphanie Jorisch
Suki’s favorite possession is her blue cotton kimono. A gift from her obachan, it holds special memories of her grandmother’s visit last summer. And Suki is going to wear it on her first day back to school — no matter what anyone says. When it’s Suki’s turn to share with her classmates what she did during the summer, she tells them about the street festival she attended with her obachan and the circle dance that they took part in. In fact, she gets so carried away reminiscing that she’s soon humming the music and dancing away, much to the delight of her entire class! (Ages 4-8)
Becoming Vanessa by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
On Vanessa’s first day of school, her parents tell her it will be easy to make friends. Vanessa isn’t so sure. She wears her fanciest outfit so her new classmates will notice her right away. They notice, but the attention isn’t what she’d hoped for. As the day goes on, she feels more self-conscious. Her clothes are too bright, her feather boa has way too many feathers, and even her name is too hard to write.
The next day, she picks out a plain outfit and tells her mom that her name is too long. She just wants to blend in, with a simple name like the other girls–why couldn’t her parents have named her Megan or Bella? But when her mother tells her the meaning behind her name, it gives her the confidence she needs to introduce her classmates to the real Vanessa. (Ages 4-8)
I Got the School Spirit by Connie Schoefield-Morrison, Frank Morrison
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad, S.K. Ali, Hatem Aly
With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab–a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong. (Ages 4-8)
I Promise by Lebron James, Nina Mata
I Promise is a lively and inspiring picture book that reminds us that tomorrow’s success starts with the promises we make to ourselves and our community today. (Ages 4-8)
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, Rafael López
There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.
There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it. (Ages 5-8)
Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, Luisa Uribe
Frustrated by a day full of teachers and classmates mispronouncing her beautiful name, a little girl tells her mother she never wants to come back to school. In response, the girl’s mother teaches her about the musicality of African, Asian, Black-American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern names on their lyrical walk home through the city. Empowered by this newfound understanding, the young girl is ready to return the next day to share her knowledge with her class.. (Ages 5-10)
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look:
Alvin, an Asian American second grader, is afraid of everything—elevators, tunnels, girls, and, most of all, school. He’s so afraid of school that, while he’s there, he never, ever, says a word. But at home he’s a very loud superhero named Firecracker Man, a brother to Calvin and Anibelly, and a gentleman-in-training, so he can be just like his dad. (Ages 6-10)
Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez
Stella Diaz loves marine animals, especially her betta fish, Pancho. But Stella Diaz is not a betta fish. Betta fish like to be alone, while Stella loves spending time with her mom and brother and her best friend Jenny. Trouble is, Jenny is in another class this year, and Stella feels very lonely.
When a new boy arrives in Stella’s class, she really wants to be his friend, but sometimes Stella accidentally speaks Spanish instead of English and pronounces words wrong, which makes her turn roja. Plus, she has to speak in front of her whole class for a big presentation at school! But she better get over her fears soon, because Stella Díaz has something to say! (Ages 6-9)
Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes, R. Gregory Christie
Dyamonde Daniel may be new in town, but that doesn’t stop her from making a place for herself in a jiffy. With her can-do attitude and awesome brain power she takes the whole neighborhood by storm. The only thing puzzling her is the other new kid in her class. He’s grouchy – but Dyamonde’s determined to get to the bottom of his attitude and make a friend. (Ages 6-9)
Maya and the Robot by Eve L. Ewing
Maya’s nervous about fifth grade. She tries to keep calm by reminding herself she knows what to expect. But then she learns that this year won’t be anything like the last. For the first time since kindergarten, her best friends Jada and MJ are placed in a different class without her, and introverted Maya has trouble making new friends.
She tries to put on a brave face since they are in fifth grade now, but Maya is nervous! Just when too much seems to be changing, she finds a robot named Ralph in the back of Mr. Mac’s convenience store closet. Once she uses her science skills to get him up and running, a whole new world of connection opens up as Ralph becomes a member of her family and Maya begins to step into her power. (Ages 8-12)
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Seventh-grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.
As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds–and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself? (Ages 8-12)
Sophie Washington: The Snitch by Tonya Duncan Ellis
Should Sophie Stand Up to the School Bully or Become a Snitch?
There’s nothing worse than being a tattletale…
That’s what 10-year-old Sophie Washington thinks until she runs into Lanie Mitchell, a new girl at school. Lanie pushes Sophie and her friends around at their lockers, and even takes their lunch money in this entertaining, illustrated chapter book for middle-grade readers. If they tell, they are scared the other kids in their class will call them snitches and won’t be their friends. And when you’re in the fifth grade, nothing seems worse than that. Then a classmate gets seriously injured and Sophie needs to make a decision: fight back, or snitch. (Ages 8-12)
While we limited this list to 16, you can find a hundred titles in our “Let’s Go to School” collection on Bookshop.
What are your favorite books to start the school year? Drop a comment below.