Every once in a while, something will immediately take me back to school: the smell of industrial cleaners in a warm room (no air conditioners for us!), or frost on freshly cut grass (those early PE mornings!), or standing at the doorway of a room full of strangers (relive those lunch periods!). It’s an odd feeling, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not, but I’m always grateful to have the skill set of an adult to tackle the task ahead of me.
Recently, I had the occasion to read Little Mole Goes to School (thanks, Beaming Books!), a charming story of a, well, little mole, who is headed off to his first day at the Woodland School. Little Mole is worried: his eyesight isn’t great and sometimes he has a hard time hearing. He doesn’t know his alphabet, and he’s sure everyone else will be ahead of him in every subject. Of course, his worries are wrapped up within the 32 pages of the picture book, and I thought it was a sweet, encouraging read for anyone who might be worried about the new school year. But I wanted to call attention to the backmatter of this picture book, specifically.
Picture book backmatter is typically a page or two of nonfiction text that helps a child or the child’s caretaker understand the topic at hand a bit more. It can help a picture book age up from about a 3-year-old’s reading level to a 7-year-olds, as it brings in more complex subject matter. In Little Mole Goes to School, there is a page of woodland creature facts that allows a young reader to understand how important story beats were based on actual characteristics portrayed by the young animals in the story, as well as a page of tips about caring for a child with school anxiety, written by a licensed family therapist.
Below, I’ve listed eight back-to-school picture books about children heading off to school to help your little one conquer their back-to-school jitters. Some have backmatter, some don’t, but all will help your child make that big, sometimes scary, often wonderful, transition.
Back-to-School Picture Books
Little Mole Goes to School by Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Sally Garland
Poor Little Mole, he’s so nervous about his first day at school! His eyesight isn’t good and sometimes he’s hard of hearing, and what if everyone else knows the alphabet better than he does? But soon he’ll learn that his differences are what make him special, just like the other creatures in his class.
School’s First Day of School written Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Everyone always talks about children and teachers experiencing first-day anxiety, but what about the building itself? This charming picture book is told from the school’s point of view: will the children like him? Will they be nice? It’s a sweet story with a silly twist that will appeal to anyone worried about that first day.
I Got the School Spirit by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Sometimes, after you’ve addressed the fears, the best thing to do is a psyche yourself up for the scary thing. I Got the School Spirit is the perfect book for that. The main character, a little girl, is so excited for school to start: she’s got the school spirit, and she’s ready to share it with her classmates. It’s a rhythmic, dance-along picture book perfect for wiggling those jitters out.
Danbi Leads the School Parade written and illustrated by Anna Kim
The first day of school can be hard for anyone, but the difficulty is compounded when it’s your first day at school in a new country! Danbi is excited to start at her new school, but she doesn’t understand any of the rules of the games that the other children are playing. But then, with a little imagination, Danbi invents a new game that everyone can play together.
Chrysanthemum written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
This is is classic back-to-school book, and I had to include it. Chrysanthemum loves her name, and she’s excited to head off to school and learn the names of all her new classmates! But as she introduces herself, the other children start to giggle that she’s named after a flower. It’s a sweet book that teaches children to be kind and tolerant of differences.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López
Award-winning poet and author Jacqueline Woodson addresses the many ways that a child may feel different as they step into a classroom, but she encourages children to begin anyway. It’s a lovely, lyrical poem about the first day at school.
Going to School written and illustrated by Rose Blake
For some children, the unknown of a first day can be most unsettling. That’s why I included Going to School, a simple story that walks a child through a typical day at school. Blake’s illustrations are bright and cheerful and welcoming, just like your child’s new classroom.
King of Kindergarten written by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
And finally, one last confidence boost before we end. The King of Kindergarten is ready to have his best day ever: the first day of school. And like the best kings, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to be kind to his fellow students, make wrongs right, and spread sunshine through a beaming smile. It’s a sweet, poetic little story, and it makes a perfect read-aloud.
I hope you found a book in this of back-to-school picture books list that can help your little one, or just help to build some excitement for the big day. Want some STEM picture books to prepare your kid for science class? Check out these books about creepy crawlies. Want an overview of the best picture books of the year? Here’s a list of the greatest picture books 2022 has to offer. If you’re not sure why adults might get something out of picture books, here’s a great argument that says adults should be reading picture books.