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Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

By Chrysta Naron

The time is fast approaching: The sound of new zippers rings out and the smell of sharpened pencils fills the air. It’s back to school! Whether it’s your child’s first year in school, it’s their first year back post-pandemic, or they’re an old pro, a new school year can be daunting. But don’t worry! There’s something that can help ease their worries and spark some enthusiasm for their upcoming year—books.

These picture books are special because they cover a wide range of first-day-of-school experiences. In their pages, we meet children just starting out, moving from a new country, expressing their creativity, and celebrating their names (not to mention an adorable cat and one very stressed-out pigeon). Whatever the situation, these picture books about starting school are sure to help guide your child into a less-stressed and happier beginning to the school year.

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes book cover

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes

This book is perfection (in my very humble opinion). Told from the point of view of a little boy on his first day of kindergarten, this book shows school as an exciting adventure. Children will look forward to making new friends, learning new things, and ruling their classroom kingdom after reading this best-selling book.

Mary Had a Little Glam book cover

Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer

This brand new spin on an old nursery rhyme shows us Mary, and, boy, is Mary fabulous. She has style and personality. She helps her classmates (and teachers) go from drab to glamorous! Mary also learns that there is an outfit for every occasion, and sometimes less is more. The illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton do Mary’s glam justice. It’s back to school with Black Girl Magic. 

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of Unhei. She’s just moved to the United States from Korea and she’s nervous no one will be able to pronounce her name. The class creates a “name jar” to help her pick a new “American” name. But through the course of the story, Unhei learns to love her name and everything it means to her. This is a wonderful book for any child who may have moved or immigrated to a new country. And it is a helpful way for other children to welcome newcomers into their classroom with love, understanding, and openness. 

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! by Mo Willems book cover

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! by Mo Willems

That crazy pigeon is back at it! In another delightful book from the eponymous series, Pigeon is trying desperately to avoid going to school, voicing concerns and fears that many children have when starting school. This book does a great job of talking about them and showing that school really is a fun place to be. And like all Mo Willems books, it gets kids giggling.

Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous by Keith Calabrese and Juana Medina book cover

Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous by Keith Calabrese and Juana Medina

Lena is getting ready for her first day of kindergarten, but there’s a problem. Her shoes are too nervous to go! Lena and her dad must help Lena’s shoes overcome their nervousness in order to get to school on time. With the help of a very friendly headband, Lena (and her shoes) are soon on their way to starting school. This story offers a playful way for children to address their feelings about starting school and parents to support those feelings.

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali book cover

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali

The Proudest Blue is a book by Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad. It’s the first day of school and Faizah can’t wait! She loves school and she loves her big sister Asiya. Plus, the first day of school will also be the first day of hijab for Asiya. Faizah is in awe of her sister and the beautiful blue hijab she wears throughout the day. Though Asiya is occasionally taunted, she stays proud of her hijab and Islamic faith. Faizah is proud of her big sister and can’t wait to one day wear a matching blue hijab. This beautiful book helps children know that their faith and culture is something to be cherished, no matter what others may think.

Our Class is a Family by Shannon Olsen book cover

Our Class is a Family by Shannon Olsen

This sweet book is told in rhyme. It explores how a classroom is really like a family, celebrating differences, supporting one another, making mistakes, growing, playing, and caring for each other. Simple and effective, this book will help your child make the transition from their family at home to their family at school.

Yoko by Rosemary Wells book cover

Yoko by Rosemary Wells

This is the first in a lovely collection of books—the others include Yoko Writes Her Name, Yoko Learns to Read, and Yoko’s Show and Tell—about Yoko, the cutest cat you could ever hope to meet! Yoko is Japanese and each of these books explores how this informs her daily life at school. Through teaching her classmates to write and count in Japanese, helping her mother learn to read in English as she learns herself, and sharing sushi with her new best friend, Yoko learns that her family and culture are a brilliant part of her life and education. It’s a great treat for any child who can identify with having different languages and customs at home than their friends. And it is equally a treat for children to learn how to celebrate and share in their classmates’ different backgrounds.

Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow book cover

Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

This book is so beautiful that I want to give a copy to every person I know. When a young black girl comes back from school, she is depressed that her teacher can’t pronounce her name. Her mother walks her through the neighborhood and shows her that her name is a song, that every name is a song. I think this book is so important for children, especially children of color, who are often told that their names are “too hard to say” or that their names are “weird.” No name is weird. No name is too hard. All names are a song.

Does your family have favorite picture books about starting school? What back-to-school traditions does your family have? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!

Chrysta Naron (she/her) is an early childhood educator and curriculum specialist in Austin, Texas (originally Comanche land), who believes everything is better with glitter! Read more from her at playfulprek.com.