These back to school books aren’t just lessons about how school works but also how to work with others at school. From being anxious about going back to school, to being excited to be off these books cover all kinds of emotions children have when it’s time to go back to school.
My primary goals as a preschool teacher are never the academic goals. Social-emotional growth is always the most important goal in my classroom. Learning to separate securely from a parent at preschool, learning how to develop friendships, share space and materials, or accept others who aren’t just like you are a few of countless social-emotional milestones I aim to support my students through and books on this booklist are some of my tools to do so. These back to school books coupled with circle time activities focused on emotions make great first week activities in any classroom.
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Morris Micklewhite and The Tangerine Dress By Christine Baldachinno. Morris is just who he is. Who he happens to be is a boy who loves to dress up in an orange dress. The adults in the story don’t pass judgment. They support Morris for who he is without labeling or shaming. It takes some time for all the kids to be accepting, but soon their similarities and mutual interests overcame the differences. In the end, everyone plays better together, and Morris doesn’t have to change who he is to be part of the group.
Rex Wrecks It by Ben Clanton is a must read for the first week of preschool. It is all about a little dinosaur who just can not stop himself from knocking down other people’s towers. It is a great story because it empathizes with the children on all sides of this situation. No one likes getting a tower knocked down, and man oh man is it hard to stop yourself from knocking down towers! It’s a great look at self-regulation as well as how to help others.
Maisy Goes to Preschool: A Maisy First Experiences Book by Lucy Cousins is not groundbreaking, it’s text is very formulaic, but that doesn’t matter to most young readers who are being introduced to preschool for the first time. My daughter loved this book as a toddler, and my son loved helping me read it to her when he was going into kindergarten. It was sweet to see my son tell his little sister all about what she will do at preschool between reading. The book covers all the basics, and one thing that really stood out was the page showing Maisy and other students in the potty. The reason I liked this was that for many children a big step at the same time as starting preschool is potty training.
First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg has a special spot in my heart. It’s a book about not wanting to go to a new school, the first day is always the hardest, and it’s easier to just stay in bed! The beauty of this book isn’t just the recognition of the anxiety about the first day, but in the end, the twist is that it’s the teacher who has the jitters, not a student. I love this book and the power it has to help anxious kids; I have read it more than once to a jittery child and see how it can help first hand.
Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes by James Dean is a special school book for our family. At my son’s kindergarten orientation, the teacher read this to her class and the prospective students, and it’s been a favorite ever since. The book follows Pete who is a cool cat with rocking shoes. He heads to school, and while he isn’t exactly sure of how things work he doesn’t worry, he just goes with the flow. There is no way you will be able to read this book without smiling; it’s so chill and relaxed and plain fun. Both my kids love it, and I love the repetitive questions about Pete and his reactions to new situations and answer each one every time we read it. Not many of these books are must buy, but I would add this to your shopping list it’s that good!
Pink Tiara Cookies For Three by Maria Dismondy is a story I think most of us can relate to. It’s about two best friends whose friendship is challenged when another little girl is welcomed by one friend and not by the other. I know as a young girl I dealt with this, and it was heartbreaking. Now as a mom I watch my son and his two closest friends deal with this often. The author does a beautiful job of recognizing the feelings of rejection, loneliness, and anger that children feel when this happens. The little girls in the story are probably a little more capable of expressing themselves than preschool-aged children, but that makes this book even more important. I used this book with both my children often when friendship struggles popped up, not only when they were left out, but when I had a hunch, they were the ones doing the leaving out. Oh and please don’t think it’s a girly book, it’s not my son loved it. His exact words were “This would be really good for teachers to read to classes.” I agree.
Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes This book is about a little mouse who is about as anxious as possible. She worries about everything, and it makes her family worried too. This is a fantastic book to read before starting anything new! I read it for the children’s time at my church right before school started last fall. It was a great opener for a talk about anxiety. We all have worries and even though we may not worry as often or as fiercely as Wemberly this book makes it seem okay and normal to feel those feelings. The way the author illustrates both through words and pictures the intensity of her feelings really creates compassion in the reader for this little mouse. And that ability to understand what another is feeling is something that I desperately want to instill in my children.
Lovely by Jess Hong is well, lovely! The book asks “What is lovely?” and the illustrations that follow answer that with a diverse group of opposites, all accepted as lovely. It celebrates being different and more importantly accepting different as lovely. The illustrations are the backbone of this book, and they do a fantastic job of including many of the fabulous differences in the world.
The Kraken’s Rules For Making Friends by Brittany R. Jacobs is a great book about making and keeping friends. Kraken scares all the sea creatures, and no one wants to be his friend, but when he asks a shark for help he great some great advice! A cute book not only about friendships but also about accepting who you are and others.
Keisha Ann Can! By Daniel Kirk is a cute story about going off to kindergarten, but it works well for preschool, too! What I like about this book is that the text has a repetitive element to it, which makes it fun to read aloud, but it also helps support children learning to read with ample opportunities to read the same words. This book could be a useful tool for children nervous about going to school for the first time.
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev deserves a post all of its own; it’s that good and that important. This book is about a little boy and his elephant who are banned from the local pet club because well, elephants are not allowed. They don’t share a reason why elephants are not allowed, just that they aren’t. This lets parents and teacher reiterate the fact that sometimes people are excluded for no reason. It’s not about them. It’s about the people excluding them. In the book, after being banned, they find others who have been made to feel unwelcome, different, and lesser and start their own pet club. One that welcomes everyone and their pets no matter what.
The Kissing Hand by Audry Penn is an absolute favorite. Chester is a raccoon who like most of us doesn’t like change. In his case, it’s starting school. He wants to stay home with his mama and play with the friends he already has instead of going to school away from her and his friends. So his mama explains to him the magic of the kissing hand. The real magic is the message that we have to do things that scare us sometimes but that the love of our family is always with us to help us through. Go get this book.
My Preschool by Anne Rockwell is another spot on book by an author we love. Simple and to the point but somehow the author manages to hit all the most important parts of preschool like separation anxiety, conflict resolution and taking turns. I loved that the author included a child making a painting and saying that his mom would love it. I love seeing that sort of pride in creating. My son related well to this book and was quite vocal about the little boy who knocked down another student’s blocks, which gave me a chance to talk about behavior like that.
The Thing Lou Couldn’t Do by Ashley Spires is a realistic look at how it feels to be too afraid to try something our friends think is not a big deal. Lou can’t climb the tree, but her friends are like tree climbing ninjas and have no fear and way better tree climbing skills than Lou. So like most of us, she makes excuses; but not forever. By the end of the book, that seed of resilience takes root, and she tries over and over. But she hasn’t succeeded yet, and I love that the book ends before she does.
I Love School! by Philemon Sturges is a great simple book. I am a fan of this author and his basic books that kids love. He manages to cover all the things that happen at school from the start to the end of the day in an easy rhyming text. What makes this book stand out for me is that the boys and girls were both playing with dolls, something that you see in classrooms every day but rarely in books, it was a nice touch.
Mouse’s First Day of School by Lauren Thompson. This is a fun little book about a mouse that gets a trip in a backpack to school and then explores all the wonderful things in a preschool classroom. It is very generic which makes it a great bet for the first day when things need to be calm, quick, and simple. It’s short and PERFECT for a first day read.
Owl Babies by Martin Waddell is perfectly written for toddlers who are eager to “Do it myself!” but still need a loving parent safely within view. Three baby owls wake to find their mom away and as time passes the three all get more anxious in their own ways. My daughter loves this book and completely related to poor little Bill who repeats “I want my mommy!” over and over. At night she is very much like little Bill, but during the day she is braver like the other two owls Sarah and Percy. No matter what level of separation anxiety your child may have at times they will relate to one or all of the little owls. Of course, the story ends with mama coming back and reassuring her little owl babies that she always will.
My Somebody Special by Sarah Weeks is a sweet and simple book about that feeling when everyone else has been picked up from school or daycare except you. The illustrations accurately depict a preschool, and I relate very well too and know many children will as well. Of course, the last parent comes running in, and all is well, and a good reminder to children that sometimes parents are late but they will be there as soon as they can.
Jake Starts Schoolby Micheal Wright is such a great book that has just the right amount of sarcasm for the adults reading it and a great message and humor for the kids too. Jake is a little scared about his first day at school, so he decides to hold on to his parents and not let go. The day wears on, and his parents’ patience is wearing thin as they do everything stuck together including recess; but a great teacher finally gets Jake to connect with a book and become her helper and finally, he lets go of his poor aching parents. I really enjoy this author/illustrator because I relate so well to his characters, Jake who is anxious and his parents that love him and will support him but aren’t necessarily thrilled to be sitting at his desk in his kindergarten class. I thought it was touching and my son thought it was funny so it was a win-win for us.
Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten by Hyewon Yum is a really touching book about child and parent being ready for kindergarten. The book is very effective in its simplicity, and there are many spots where you can stop to talk about emotions and how your students felt on their first day too. This is a great book for school and home and reflects the emotions that happen during new experiences and how confidence is built when we overcome our fears.
Looking for back to school resources? Check out our back to school circle time lesson plans here!