I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas, illustrated by Priscilla Burris. This is a favorite in my family because of the porky protagonist’s expressive face and the comforting words from his porcine parent: “I love you when I’m with you and I love you when we’re apart.” A piglet named Owen is reluctant to go to preschool. His mother helps him think about all the things that might happen while he’s separated from her—and with each scenario, she emphasizes that her love for him will still be there (“I love you when you make a new friend” … “I love you when you accidentally make a mess”). The overall message: A parent’s love has no boundaries.
My Preschool by Anne Rockwell. A boy tells us, “There are lots of places I go that are away from home. But my favorite is preschool.” He shows us his cubby, introduces us to his teachers, and describes activities like circle time and a visit from the music teacher. But it’s not all smooth sailing. There’s a little girl who “cries every time she says good-bye to her mother.” Our young narrator explains: “I think she isn’t really sad because she always stops crying as soon as we go to the water table to play.” A great choice if you have a tot who’s easily frightened by the misgiving and mishaps depicted in other books. Rockwell (also the author/illustrator of Welcome to Kindergarten) keeps her descriptions upbeat.
What to Expect at Preschool by Heidi Murkoff, illustrated by Laura Rader. Written by one of the authors of the What to Expect series for new parents, this little paperback answers every question your child might have about going to preschool. The text is written in simple, easy-to-understand language, but there’s a lot of it. So you may want to summarize the info and use the cute pictures to spark discussions about what to expect. In the afterword, Murkoff points out that she avoided making unrealistic promises, such as “it will always be fun” and “you’ll always love school.”
Countdown to Kindergarten by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Harry Bliss. It’s almost the first day of school and a young girl obsesses over the fact that she can’t tie her shoes. That’s because she’s been told—by a first-grader, no less—that you can’t ask anyone there for help. What’s a soon-to-be kindergartener to do? Through laugh-out-loud humor, kids will learn that they’re not alone in their fears and dilemmas.
Kindergarten Diary by Antoinette Portis. Written in a diary format with mixed-media illustrations, this delightful book captures the thoughts of a young girl who worries that she won’t like “Big School.” But it doesn’t take her long to realize that kindergarten is a whole lot of fun. Soon, each entry highlights an exciting activity or achievement. By the end of the month, our protagonist happily signs off: “Too busy to write any more!”
For Early Graders
Bailey by Harry Bliss. Contrary to what the bestseller lists may have you believe (think Skippyjon Jones, Class Action and Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes), cats aren’t the only animals having fun in school. Dogs, too, think school is cool! Readers will love following Bailey along as he goes about his day. That’s because he’s a dog who just happens to go to a regular kids’ school. Bailey is an eager student who tries his best—but sometimes his canine instincts (like literally eating his homework and digging through the cafeteria trash) get him into trouble. It’s all howling good fun, and a great way to get kids excited about going back to school.
Follow the Line to School by Laura Ljungkvist. A black line leads readers through a tour of an elementary school—through the front door, science corner, art room, cafeteria, playground, and more. Along the way, the text engages kids with questions like “Which of the foods shown here would you pack in your own lunch box?” The cheery questions and bright mixed-media artwork send the message that school is a fun place to explore. If you like this, check out the author’s other Follow the Line books.
The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery. This time, the gingerbread man isn’t running away. Instead, he’s trying to find the kids who made him in class and left him for recess. (“I’ll run and I’ll run, as fast as I can. I can catch them! I’m their gingerbread man!”) His quest takes him on a tour of the school and he meets helpful adults like the gym teacher, school nurse, and art teacher. A bonus poster includes suggestions for related classroom activities.
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak. Chester Raccoon doesn’t want to go to school, but he’s comforted when his mother lets him in on the secret of the Kissing Hand. Mrs. Raccoon tenderly takes Chester’s hand and kisses his palm. Then she tells him: “Whenever you feel lonely and need a little loving from home, just press your hand to your cheek and think, ‘Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you.’ And that very kiss will jump to your face and fill you with toasty warm thoughts.” This is a sweet, reassuring story for both anxious pint-size pupils and their just-as-anxious parents.
Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes. Wemberly is a little girl mouse with an overactive imagination, who worries about everything (even shrinking in the bathtub!). But her biggest worry is about the start of school. With his trademark humor and witty illustrations, Henkes helps young worriers realize they’re not alone and that school will turn out just fine.
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Did your favorite book make it to my list? What are some other great back-to-school books for little kids?