Well, it’s that time of year again! Back to school, with backpacks full of new school supplies, new teachers to meet, lunches to pack. As we settle into our routines both new and old, here are some picture books to help your little kids ease into the school year and get them excited about learning.
This picture book is a fun twist on the “nervous about school starting” story: Frederick Douglass Elementary is a brand-new school, just built over the summer. He’s been hanging out with his friend Janitor over the summer, but he’s a little nervous about having a bunch of teachers and children filling up his hallways, playing in the gym. And then the kids show up, and the school begins to learn a little more about who he is and why he’s there. The illustrations are colorful and childlike, and help to show the range of emotions that kids have coming into the new school year.
This title in the “Count the Days” series takes the start of kindergarten and sets it to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” “On the first day of kindergarten, here’s what I saw at school: one cubby of my very own.” As the days progress, you’ll see students counting, artists painting, nice friends, chunky crayons, and more. This small paperback picture book also includes a sheet of stickers at the end featuring various kids and items pictured throughout the book.
It’s time for these five little tools to go to school! This book is sort of a combination of back-to-school and how-tools-work, as each of the tools introduces itself and then they go to school to learn how to build things—with the important lesson being cooperation, of course. The story is in rhyming verse, and kids who love building things and using tools may enjoy the idea of their tools learning how they work at school, too.
Amanda Panda is excited for kindergarten, which she learned all about from her big brother Lewis. She’s going to write her name really big on the chalkboard, build the tallest block tower, and run faster than anyone (as long as it’s downhill). But then another new kindergartener named Bitsy comes along, and all of Amanda’s plans are thrown into disarray. It’s the “end of the world,” and it makes Amanda want to quit kindergarten altogether.
Well, maybe things aren’t so bad. Amanda learns some lessons about friendship and getting along–and maybe her perception of reality and expectations aren’t always totally reliable.
Halloween isn’t the only season for monsters, as the next two titles demonstrate. Some creepy creatures have to go to school, too! Zombelina brings her dance moves to the classroom, performing for show and tell as her various body parts come unattached (with plenty of zombie-themed puns, of course). A ghostly new student, Morty, joins the class, and has a little bit of stage fright, but Zombelina and her friend Lizzie are there to help.
I always love Molly Idle’s dynamic illustrations, and she manages to make this zombie really cute instead of gruesome. It’s a fun book about overcoming your fears and being a friend, both good lessons for the start of the school year.
Bonaparte is a skeleton, and he’s worried about what his classmates will think of him because various bones keep falling off–a hand here, a leg here, even his skull sometimes. His friends try to help him out in their own ways: Franky Stein tries screws and glue; Mummicula tries wrapping him in bandages. But nothing seems to work, until the perfect solution comes to them. There are plenty of bone-related puns in this book, and the monsters here are also all really adorable. Admittedly, this one may not be as practical in a “getting ready for school” sense, unless your kid is a skeleton who keeps losing bones.
Arnold is about to start kindergarten, and he has plans: escape plans. Because the teacher just may turn out to be Zorgo the Evil Genius, who feeds kids to his hungry T. Rex. So Arnold decides that Super Saurus should go to school instead, with some special gear packed away in his backpack. The illustrations are fun, alternating in some places between what’s really going on and what Arnold sees in his very active imagination, but eventually Mr. Z wins Arnold over.
First Grade Dropout and Second Grade Holdout by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
The unnamed narrator of these picture books is having some trouble with school. In the first book, he’s ready to drop out of first grade, because he did something really embarrassing in class and everyone laughed at him. So he’s making plans for what he’ll do instead of going to school, even though he’ll miss his friend Tyler and playing soccer and some of the other things he gets to do at school.
In the second book (new this summer), he’s decided that he’s going to stay in first grade. It turned out pretty well after all, but second grade? He and Tyler will be in separate classes, plus Tyler’s older sisters have been telling him some horror stories about his new teacher. Yep. Better stay in first grade, where he’ll get to read the same easy books again, have a teacher he’s already used to, and play on the little kids’ playground…
Both of the books follow the same structure, with the boy getting really worked up over an issue, but eventually figuring out a solution. If your kids are nervous about school, these stories might be a fun way to get them laughing at the narrator, and then maybe a little at themselves.
This new 3-book series is actually from a tabletop games publisher, Genius Games, which has published games based on DNA, viruses, and cell biology. These first three titles are focused on women in science: biology, chemistry, and physics. Each is presented as a conversation with a little girl who is curious about the world, giving a high-level overview of these three branches of science and several examples of women from around the world who have contributed to that field.
I like the way that it shows a young girl asking questions about the world and how it works, and then learning about some remarkable women (many of whom I hadn’t heard about before myself) and their work. Each book also includes a glossary, a bibliography for further reading, and pronunciation guides for the women’s names.
And now for some ABC books!
There are, of course, a bajillion ABC books out there (and it’s still hard to top the classic Dr. Seuss’ ABC for sheer earworminess). But, hey, your kids need to know the alphabet, and they like seeing different variations of this pattern they’re growing to understand. And for you: well, the more different ABC books you have, the less you’ll get stuck reading the same one over and over again.
A little cave girl and her triceratops set out on an adventure, traveling to lots of different places and meeting other creatures along the way. Each page has a little phrase with plenty of the letter in question: “Inside an igloo, on an island of ice” and “Observing the obsidian objects.” The illustrations are all done in a pink-and-blue color palette (like the cover), which makes me feel like they should be in 3D (but they aren’t). It’s a fun ABC book in which the pictures and captions invoke a larger story that you and your kids can fill in.
Okay, I’ll confess: I’m not a huge fan of James Patterson generally, so I haven’t really sought out his various entries into the world of children’s books. But this one is an ABC book unlike most others, filled with big, fun words. Instead of “B is for Book,” you get “bibliomania.” P is for “pulchritudinous.” A lot of the words are fun to say, and although they’re big words, they’re explained simply. It’s a great way to show how fun language can be.
This follow-up to Penguins Love Colors is a bit longer—after all, there were only 6 colors in that book and 26 letters in this one. The six little penguins are learning their ABCs, and Mama Penguin has hidden all the letters in the snow, with little hints placed above each one. As the penguins dig up the letters, they name off the objects as well, and occasionally insert some commentary here and there. Near the end, there’s a recap so you can get the entire alphabet in order, too. My 4-year-old really liked the colors book, so she was excited to see the little penguins return in this book.
For the fashion-forward toddlers, D Is for Dress-Up takes a trip through the alphabet as seen through clothes: E is for ensemble, L is for leotards, V is for vintage. There isn’t a story in this one—just illustrations, letters, and individual words—but the pictures are lovely, with a lot of patterns and textures used in a collage style.
An alligator, a bear, and a chicken start off this book, chasing a little red cat, who winds up running, swinging, and falling his way through the alphabet. Patrick McDonnell (best known for his comic strip Mutts) has a series of delightful illustrations, each one marked with just the letter. It’s a wordless book, and it’s up to you to figure out what each letter stands for, based on the illustration. (Never fear: the answers are in the back of the book!)
This book is an alphabestiary—each letter represents a different creature, from alien to zombie, with a little paragraph explaining a little bit about it. While you do get a lot of familiar monsters like trolls and ogres and kraken, you also get some less-common finds like Ushi-oni, a bull-headed spider monster, or Far Darrig, a rascally fairy from Irish folklore.
Disclosure: I received review copies of these books.