Back to School Books

Ah, back-to-school, the smell of a new pack of crayons, sharpened yellow pencils with pink erasers, and the excitement of the fresh and new. September means a clean slate for some and a reunion of friends for others.

For children's librarians "Back to School" means constant requests for the perfect "going to school" book, and "We want books about:"

  • Separation
  • Making friends
  • Dealing with new situations
  • Helping our family with the feelings of anticipation, excitement and dread?

Our "Back to School" list includes: two books for preschoolers with the theme of separation anxiety (the children's and the parents'). For first and second graders, two very different alphabet books and an absurd tale. For those middle aged kids, third through sixth grade, a classic, an early chapter book, and a "starting at a new school" story.


Appelt, K., & Brace, J. D. (2000). Oh my baby, little one. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.
Ages 3-5
This is one of the sweetest books on separation anxiety. The mama bird says to her preschooler, who is off to school, "Oh, my baby, little one, / the hardest thing I do / is hold you tight, then let you go, / and walk away from you." Mama then describes how during the day her love is always there. While he tends to the work of school, painting, playing, and napping we also observe the mother going through her daily tasks at her job. Dyer's exquisite watercolor paintings of the different animals dressed as people are enchanting.

Zalben, J. B. (2001). Don't go! New York, NY: Clarion Books.
Ages 3-5
Again addressing the issue of that first school separation, Zalben in a matter-of-fact tone and expressive detailed watercolor paintings prepares children and their parents from drop-off to pick- up. Daniel, a young elephant, is starting school. His mom packs a lunch, a change of clothes, and Daniel's stuffed dog, Dog. The new, unknown experiences of goodbyes, cubbies labeled with names, and nametags soon become familiar. Mom stays to help put away his coat and stays standing by the door to listen to a song and a story. When the children go to play at the water table, Daniel is ready to wave goodbye. Includes a checklist for the first day, hints for getting ready, and a recipe for pumpkin cookies.


Slate, J. (1996). Miss Bindergarten gets ready for kindergarten. New York, NY: Dutton Children's Books.
Ages 4-6
This kindergarten teacher accomplishes the impossible. With the help of her pet cockatiel she prepares her classroom in just one day as her twenty-six pupils prepare to arrive. The story unfolds as an alphabet book written in rhyme, "Danny Hess rushes to dress. / Emily Moko cools her coco / Fran Lister kisses her sister. And Miss Bindergerten gets ready for kindergarten." Slate matches each animal character with a letter of the alphabet, and readers can flip to the back to discover that Adam is an alligator, Brenda is a beaver, and Christopher is a cat. Miss Bindergarten, a Border Collie, has all the attributes of the breed, an intensive worker who is intelligent, alert, and responsive. The humorous double-page illustrations are rich with the details of home and classroom. Children will want to pore over this one again and again. Great to share one-on-one or with a group. Illustrated by Ashley Wolff Dutton.


Henkes, K. (1991). Chrysanthemum. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.
Ages 5-8
Chrysanthemum was perfect, her life was perfect, her family was perfect, and her name was perfect. This is what she thought until she started school. When Mrs. Chud took roll call everyone giggled hearing her name. "I am named for my grandmother" said Victoria, "You are named for a flower."Chrysanthemum wilted." Now she hated her name. Henkes has an ear for the language of children and an empathetic ability to describe and provide solutions to the overwhelming issues of early childhood. His sweet illustrations of charming mice lighten the drama and provide comic relief. Look for his other award winning picture books Owen, a 1994 Caldecott Honor Book; Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse; and Julius, the Baby of the World.

Sierra, J. (2000). There's a zoo in room 22. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.
Ages 5-8
Judy Sierra, winner of Bank Street's Irma S. and James. H. Black Award for Excellence in Children's Literature for Tasty Baby Belly Buttons, hits a bull's-eye again with this collection of twenty-six poems: an ode to the classroom pet. This rhyming romp though the ABC's is perfectly paired with Salzberg's outrageous, cartoonish illustrations.
"Please don't ask to feel Our electric eel, Because, if you bug him, We cannot unplug him." Illustrated by Barney Saltzberg.

Creech, S. (2001). A fine, fine school. New York, NY: Joanna Cotler Books/HarperCollins.
Ages 5-8
Mr. Keene was a principal who loved his school. He would wander around peeking into classrooms and pondering aloud, "Aren't these fine children? Aren't these fine teachers? Isn't this a fine, fine school?" In fact according to Mr. Keene the only way to improve this fine, fine school would be to have school every day. School on Saturday then school on Sunday, then on holidays, even on Christmas and Chanukah. The humorous illustrations portray our heroine, Tillie, wearily trudging endlessly to school under her over-stuffed backpack, covered with yellow post-it notes stating, "Massive test on your birthday" and "gym test today." Tillie's brother, who doesn't go to school yet, isn't learning the things only Tillie can teach, like skipping, and her dog, Beans hasn't learned how to sit. Something must be done, and Tillie is just the kid to stand up to Mr. Keene. Illustrated by Harry Bliss.


Taulbert, C. L. (2001). Little Cliff's first day of school. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers.
Ages 6-8
Set in the 1950's, this is an African American writer's memoir of the first day of school. Little Cliff does not want to go. He makes up all kinds of excuses and silly delaying tactics. His grandparents insist that he will be going and that he will "work, work, work" and be "quiet, quiet, quiet." Children will identify with first-day anxiety and recognize Little Cliff's relief when he arrives at Miss Maxey's school and greets all of his friends. Lewis's rich watercolor paintings are filled with the details of the rural past. Illustrated by Earl B. Lewis.

Cleary, B. (1968). Ramona the pest. New York, NY: W. Morrow.
Ages 6-10
Grown-ups will remember the experiences of this outrageous kindergartener's first days in school. Like when Ramona is told to "wait for the present" and is sure there will be a present for her soon. It is a rule-of- thumb that children want to read about characters the same age or older than themselves. Ramona is the exception to that rule. The first of eight Ramona books, this classic novel of five-year-old Ramona Quimby's unique point of view is a delightful read-aloud for children who are looking back on their own experience starting school.


Carbone, E. (1998). Starting school with an enemy. New York, NY: Knopf.
Ages 8-12
Fifth grader Sarah's family has moved her kicking and screaming from their home in Maine to Maryland. Not only does she have to go to school and be the "new" kid but she has already made an enemy of a sixth grade bully. He pushes her, teases her, and embarrasses her in front of all the other kids. Retaliating just makes the situation worse. Sarah's obsession to get even almost costs her the friendship of the one girl she is getting to know. This insightful, humorous school story will appeal to the fans of Louis Sacher and Jerry Spinelli.

Gauthier, G. (1998). A year with butch and spike. New York, NY: Putnam.
Ages 8-12
Jasper Gordon is the perfect student and he anticipates that this year will be no different. Teachers love him, he always gets great grades, and he is pulled out with the other really smart kids for "enrichment." Then he meets his sixth grade teacher, Mrs. McNulty. She seats him between "the Cootches' cousins Butch and Spike Couture, the kids with the worst reputations in school. Although Jasper has an almost scientific interest in them as subjects of observation, he is horrified to be sitting next to them. Butch and Spike are bad kids without malice in the tradition of the Herdmans from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. An exaggerated look at friendship and fairness, this book will have everyone rooting for the Cootches in the end.

More Back to School Books

Johnston, T. (2007). Off to kindergarten. New York, NY: Cartwheel Books.
A young boy lists all the things he will have to take with him on his first day in kindergarten.
Call# JPJ

Kleven, E. (2007). The apple doll. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux.
Lizzy is scared to start school, so she makes a doll out of an apple from her favorite tree to take with her on the first day and keep her company.
Call# JPK

Neubecker, R. (2007). Wow! School. New York, NY: Hyperion Books.
Izzy finds many things to be excited about on the first day of school
Call# JPN

Borden, L. (2008). Off to first grade. New York, NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Each member of a first grade class, as well as their teacher, principal, and a bus driver, expresses
excitement, worry, or hope as the first day of school begins.
Call# JPB

Milord, S. (2008). Happy school year. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.
Children gather for a first day of school celebration that calms their worries about the day.
Call# JPM

Edwards, P. D. (2009). Dinosaur starts school. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman.
Dinosaur worries about the first day of school, but with the help of a reassuring classmate he finds that school can be fun.
Call# JPE

Grogan, J. (2009). Marley goes to school. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Marley the rambunctious dog sniffs his way to Cassie's school and spreads chaos as he searches for her.
Call# JPG

Parish, H. (2009). Amelia Bedelia's first day of school. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books.
A literal-minded first-grader's first day of school is filled with confusing adventures, much to her delight.
Call# JPP

Greene, S. (2010). Princess Posey and the first grade parade. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Young Readers Group.
Posey's fear of starting first grade is alleviated when her teacher invites the students to wear their most comfortable clothes to school on the first day.
Call# JPC, also CD JFG (sound recording)

McCarty, P. (2010). Henry in love. New York, NY: Balzer & Bray.
On the first day of school, Henry the cat vies for the attention of the most amazing girl in class, Chloe Rabbit.
Call# JPM

Schaefer, L. M. (2010). Frankie Stein starts school. New York, NY: Marshall Cavendish.
Frankie begins his first day at Miss Wart's Academy for Ghouls and Goblins excited and eager to learn, but when the other students tease him for being different, he demonstrates what he already knows about being scary.
Call# JPS

Pennypacker, S. (2010). The amazing world of Stuart. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Stuart makes a magical cape out of some old ties and has a series of adventures, and then he wears the cape to his first day of third grade at his new school, in the hope that it will help him.
Call# JPB

Sarah, Duchess of York. (2010). Emily's first day of school. New York, NY: Sterling.
Emily is nervous before her first day of school, but she has such a good time that she cannot wait until the second day.
Call# JPS

Winters, K. (2010). This school year will be the best! New York, NY: Dutton Children's Books.
When a teacher asks her students on the first day of school what they wish for in the coming year, the answers range from having a good school picture to receiving a perfect report card.
Call# JPW

Moss, M. (2011). Daphne's diary of daily disasters: the name game! New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
In her diary, Daphne Davis doodles, draws, and documents a series of disasters on her first two days of fourth grade.
Call# JFM

Rockwell, A. F. (2011). First day of school. New York, NY: Harper.
Mrs. Madoff's students compare notes about getting ready for their first day of school after vacation.
Call# JPR

Stine, R. L. (2011). It's the first day of school-- forever! New York, NY: Feiwel and Friends.
Everything goes wrong for eleven-year-old Artie on his first day at Ardmore Middle School, from the moment his alarm goes off until the next morning, when everything is repeated exactly the same way.
Call# JFS