When thinking about how I would create a list of back to school books, I knew I wanted to make a list that spoke to the experiences of as many children as possible. Hence this list of diverse back to school books was born. Of course, these books need not be exclusively read on the first day, or even the first week of school, but whether you are a teacher or a caregiver, I think you will find these titles especially useful during that special time when students are easing their way out of summer and into the classroom.
Not all of the action in these picture books about school take place literally on the first day of school, some of them have a general school setting. But school is shown as a safe and inviting place where children can learn about their strengths, both academically and emotionally. Happy reading! (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold is a timely book that reassures students that school is a safe and welcoming environment for children of all backgrounds, colors, religions and identities. The rhyming text and colorful illustrations are wonderfully cheerful and the positive message will strike a chord with everyone. A welcome addition to any school library!
I'm New Here and Someone New by Anne Sibley O'Brien. Every child knows what it is like to walk into a room and not know anyone. Compound that with not being able to speak the language, or not being familiar with the culture and it can lead to some anxiety indeed. Three children—from Guatemala, Korea, and Somalia—tell their stories of what it is like to be the new kid from a distant land. I'm so delighted that now there is a second book that tells the stories from the "old" students' points of view!
School's First Day of School by Adam Rex. We all know some children feel nervous about starting school, but what if the school building was the anxious one? Told fromFrederick Douglass Elementary's point of view, this is a clever first day of school book. The school, made spic and span by the janitor, reacts to the students' comments and enjoys the classroom lessons, as well as following the journeys of some of the students on their first day of school, too. As always, Christian Robinson's flat collage illustrations are marvelous.
School People ed.,by Lee Bennett Hopkins. I love poetry and so will the children to whom you are going to read these poems aloud during the first week at school. (Wink wink nudge nudge) Fifteen poems celebrate all the people who work in the school building, from the crossing guard to the lunch lady. The illustrations depict a dynamic, diverse body of individuals. This collection of school poems is a fun way to introduce new students (think kindergarten) to life at school by showing the helpful, friendly adults who work there.
Rain School by James Rumford. I absolutely adore this back to school picture book! In Chad, Africa, the big kids lead the way to school for younger siblings. They arrive to find the teacher waiting for them with a trowel to start building the school. There are no classrooms, yet! They all set about to help with the building, even though at the end of the school session the rainy season will take away their mud-build school until the next school year. The narration follow a young boy, Thomas, who loves learning.
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. Unhei has just moved to America from Korea. She loves her name but when the other kids can’t pronounce it, she worries about fitting in. She decides she should choose a new American name. Her classmates fill up a jar with potential new names but with the support of others, Unhei decides she wants to keep her Korean name. This book is so important, especially in classrooms in which children may have names that are difficult for English speakers to say. Names are a big part of a person’s identity and we serve children well by valuing them.
Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer. Stella doesn’t feel different than the other kids, but she realizes her parents are different from a lot of the other families she knows. Her school class is planning a Mother’s Day celebration, so Stella comes up with a way to include her two dads. The lovely way the book communicates that schools can accept families of all kinds sends a positive message that families may look different, but the love is the same.
Back to Front and Upside Down by Claire Alexander. This is an excellent book to teach children that every student in a classroom has unique challenges and skills. The class is making cards for their principal but Stan has trouble forming letters and his handwriting is all mushy and unreadable. He feels discouraged but doesn’t know how to ask for help. Many parents have children who struggle greatly with handwriting and this sweet book emphasizes the importance of getting help for one’s struggles and giving oneself permission to take the time necessary to learn and accomplish one’s tasks.
Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter. Many Western children take school for granted, and often (like mine) complain about having to go every day, their homework and sigh about how they would rather play all day. Instead of lecturing them about the importance of education, I prefer to read them books that encourage them to understand what a privilege school is and how we should fight for everyone's right to safely go to school. This is a powerful story of how the Taliban forbid girls to go to school, yet Nasreen's grandmother took great risks to sent Nasreen to a secret school. It is narrated by the grandmother, which is an unusual choice by Winter, but an effective one in allowing kids to have a bit of distance from the emotional roller coaster of the story. There is mention of violence, so preview the book to ensure it is appropriate for your child.
Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Patrice Barton. Zara has a dog named Moose. Moose loves Zara so much he wants to go with her everywhere and follows her to school. Moose is not a service dog, but others see his potential as a good companion and Moose goes through the training to become a therapy dog, who can be welcomed at places like schools. Although Zara is in a wheelchair, the story isn't about her physical challenges, it is about the joy of friendship with a furry friend.
First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez. Chico's family moves up and down California, working in agriculture. He is not really looking forward to going back to school because he sees it as a place where he is bullied, and also he'd rather learn car racing (!). But this time, things are different. He finds his place and learns he likes math, something he learned through his agricultural work; he even figures out how to deal with the bullies. Truth be told, I thought the writing was slightly didactic, but I do think it has a useful place and encourage you to read it yourself to decide if you like it or not.
It's Back To School We Go!: First Day Stories from Around The World by Ellen Jackson. This is a non-fiction book which looks a various children going to school. Each child narrates his or her experience and accompanying each story are a few facts about school and other customs in the relevant country. Children will enjoy learning about traditions in other cultures, as well as seeing their own feelings about school reflected in the individual stories.
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