Ah, another summer over and the air hums with the excited trepidation of starting a new school year. It’s a feeling that’s hard to shake, even as an adult. And whether you’ve finished or haven’t given a second thought to back-to-school shopping, it’s helpful to have a few books in your back pocket to gently address the recurring worries most children face when starting a new school year.
Even if your child doesn’t attend a traditional school, these 10 books are a wonderful resource for preschoolers through early elementary and touch on universal themes such as friendship, fear, bravery, and kindness. Hopefully, you’ll find a new favorite amongst this list.
Be A Friend by Salina Yoon
Dennis isn’t like other children. Instead of words he uses his body to communicate. But even mimes get lonely sometimes. One day Dennis kicks an imaginary ball and a girl named Joy catches it; without speaking a word the two become friends. We especially love Emily Arrow’s companion song to this picture book.
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
This is one of those under-the-radar books that is so special we couldn’t leave it off this list. When something terrible happens to Taylor all his animal friends rush in to fix it. And while the unsolicited solutions might very well result in a repair, that’s not at all what this young protagonist needs. Poignant and reassuring, this gentle read reminds us that sometimes listening is the best solution of all.
Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill
When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her dress all the kids laugh. All but one. Follow a precocious young girl as she ponders how she could have helped Tanisha in that situation and what exactly it means to be kind. With thoughtful text and welcoming images, this is one of those rare books I feel deserves a spot in every home library.
On the walk home from school a classmate sees Vanessa being bullied by another student. She returns to her group of friends and tells them what happened. The group parts ways for the day and she continues to ruminate about what she witnessed all evening. At breakfast the next morning she has an idea. Told without words, this compelling story comes with a section at the back of the book to help children know what to do when they see someone being bullied.
Most People by Michael Lennah and illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris
“Most people love to smile. Most people love to laugh. Most people are good people.” With such optimistic opening sentences, this book follows two families as they interact with neighbors and strangers throughout their day. While it acknowledges that “some people do bad things,” the message of hope is showcased throughout its pages with a diverse array of characters providing daily acts of kindness and empathy to and for others. With a thoughtful author’s note, we can’t recommend this book enough.
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts and illustrated by Christian Robinson
“Hardly anyone noticed young Sally McCabe. She was the smallest girl in the smallest grade.” But Sally is a keen observer and she notices when others are treated rudely. One day, in a bold move, she decides to take a stand. Told in rhyme with a rich vocabulary, young children easily notice the difference in tone and facial expressions of the characters as the story unfolds. A wonderful read-aloud selection.
You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Danielle Daniel
Not specifically a back-to-school book, this vibrant title showcases a myriad of simple ways to cultivate kindness. “You hold me up when you play with me, when you laugh with me, when you sing with me, when you listen to me.” Learning compassionate life skills is crucial at any age and made even more appealing with the heartfelt images in this one.
We’re All Wonders by R. J. Palacio
Auggie has a facial feature that makes him different than the other kids. He uses a space helmet to hide behind and takes comfort in his dog Daisy. Sometimes his imagination takes him to a planet where everyone looks different too. A follow-up to the acclaimed middle-grade novel from 2012 (and subsequent film adaptation), this picture book is as salient for young children as was the original.
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
A vibrant book showcasing dozens of diverse students; with a range of cultural, ethnic, and racial identities portrayed, this book invites readers to embrace differences as strengths. Told in rhyme, with a dust jacket that doubles as a fold-out poster, the oft repeated phrase “All are welcome here,” is a beautiful reminder to students of all ages. We plan on giving this book to my daughter’s preschool class on the first day of school.
Mae’s First Day of School by Kate Berube
It’s Mae’s first day of school, but she isn’t going. Once on school property she scurries up a tree and ponders the idea of simply living there forever. Soon another little girl, Rosie, climbs up to the leafy perch and together they share a cookie while discussing why exactly neither of them are going to school. When a grown-up joins them, the young girls realize that maybe they aren’t the only ones feeling fearful about starting school. An especially sweet read for a new school year.
Featured photo by Scarlett Crews.
About the Author
Miranda Rosbach is our resident book expert, as a librarian turned children’s book reviewer and stay-at-home-mama. In her spare time, she likes scouting new restaurants and colorful murals. She lives in St. Louis with her husband and two daughters. You can visit her Instagram page, @bookbloom, to learn more.