8 Back-to-School Picture Books for Young Readers

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Every once in a while, something immediately brings me back to school: the smell of industrial cleaners in a warm room (no air conditioners for us!), or frost on freshly cut grass (those early PE mornings !), or standing in the doorway of a room full of strangers (relive those lunch times!). It’s a strange feeling, sometimes nice, sometimes not, but I’m always grateful to have the skills of an adult to tackle the task ahead of me.

Recently I had the opportunity to read The little mole goes to school (thanks, Beaming Books!), a charming story of a, well, little mole, heading for her first day at Woodland School. Little Mole is worried: his eyesight isn’t good and he sometimes has trouble hearing. He does not know his alphabet and he is sure that everyone else will be ahead of him in all subjects. Of course, her worries are summed up in the 32 pages of the picture book, and I thought it was sweet and encouraging reading for anyone who might be worried about the new school year. But I wanted to draw attention to the background of this picture book, in particular.

The backmatter of a picture book is usually a page or two of non-fiction text that helps a child or the child’s caretaker understand a little more about the subject matter. This can help a picture book move from a 3-year-old’s reading level to a 7-year-old’s reading level, because it’s tackling a more complex topic. In The little mole goes to schoolthere is a woodland creatures facts page that helps a young reader understand how the story beats were based on the actual characteristics depicted by the young animals in the story, as well as a page advice on dealing with an anxious child at school, written by a licensed family therapist.

Below, I’ve listed eight back-to-school picture books about kids heading off to school to help your little one beat their back-to-school jitters. Some have backmatter, some don’t, but all will help your child make this big, sometimes scary, often wonderful transition.

Back-to-school picture books

The little mole goes to school by Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Sally Garland

Poor little mole, he’s so nervous about his first day of school! His sight is not good and he is sometimes hard of hearing, what if everyone knows the alphabet better than him? But soon, he’ll learn that his differences are what make him special, just like the other creatures in his class.

school first day of school cover

School’s first day of school written Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Everyone always talks about anxious kids and teachers on the first day, but what about the building itself? This charming picture book is told from the perspective of the school: will the children like it? Will they be nice? It’s a sweet story with a silly twist that will appeal to anyone worried about that first day.

cover of I'm in School Spirit

I have school spirit by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Sometimes, once you’ve addressed the fears, the best thing to do is prepare the scary thing yourself. I have school spirit is the perfect book for that. The main character, a little girl, is so excited for school to start: she has school spirit and she is ready to share it with her classmates. It is a rhythmic and dancing picture book, perfect for getting rid of nervousness.

cover of Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim

Danbi leads the school parade written and illustrated by Anna Kim

The first day of school can be tough for anyone, but the difficulty is compounded when it’s your first day of school in a new country! Danbi is excited to start at her new school, but she doesn’t understand any of the rules of the games other children play. But then, with a little imagination, Danbi invents a new game that everyone can play together.

cover of Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes

It’s a classic back-to-school book, and I had to include it. Chrysanthemum loves her name, and she’s excited to go to school and learn the names of all her new classmates! But as she introduces herself, the other kids start laughing that she is named after a flower. It’s a sweet book that teaches children to be kind and tolerant of differences.

picture book cover The day you begin

The day you start by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López

Poet and award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson discusses the many ways a child may feel different when they walk into a classroom, but she encourages kids to start anyway. It’s a lovely lyrical poem about the first day of school.

cover of Going to School by Rose Blake

Go to school written and illustrated by Rose Blake

For some children, the unknown of a first day can be most unsettling. That’s why I included Go to school, a simple story that guides a child through a typical day at school. Blake’s illustrations are bright, cheerful and welcoming, just like your child’s new classroom.

Cover of The King of Kindergarten by Barnes

kindergarten king written by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

And finally, a last boost of confidence before finishing. The king of kindergarten is ready to have the best day of his life: the first day of school. And like the best kings, he will have plenty of opportunities to be kind to his comrades, right wrongs, and spread sunshine through a beaming smile. It’s a sweet, poetic little story, and it makes for the perfect read-aloud.

I hope you’ve found a book in this list of back-to-school picture books that can help your little one, or just help build excitement for the big day. Want STEM picture books to prepare your child for science class? Check out these books about scary critters. Want a look at the best picture books of the year? Here’s a list of the biggest picture books 2022 has to offer. If you’re not sure why adults might get anything out of picture books, here’s a great argument that adults should read picture books.


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