For me, there is no better way to process something than to read a book. Maybe it’s because I grew up as the youngest child of an early childhood reading specialist. Or maybe the place where I had the most freedom was within our local public library. Either way, this resulted in someone continually searching for the right book for the current situation – especially now that I’m a mother of two young children.
Their arrival in the public school system this fall inevitably meant that we spent the last weeks of our summer reading some of the titles below, which I believe helped my boys think about various aspects of going to a school building, meeting lots of new people, engaging in new activities, and most importantly, what it would be like to be away from home and family for a little while.
Here are some of the titles I keep in our house as we all adjust to this new phase of life.
Alice Schertle’s “Time for School, Little Blue Truck” features our favorite pickup truck boyfriend as he dreams of being a school bus. If you like the other titles of Little Blue Truck (“Leads the Way”; “Christmas”; “Halloween”; “Valentine”; “Springtime”; “Good Night”, etc.), rest assured that this volume remains faithful to the qualities that we adore the rest of the series. This one has a bit of everything: helping a friend in need, being creative, believing in yourself, and moving forward when the going gets tough.
A pick of another character we’ve fallen in love with before is Alyssa Satin Capucilli’s “Biscuit Goes to School.” It follows the adorable pup who can’t be left behind as he explores the gym, library, cafeteria, and classroom, even though dogs aren’t allowed at school. The lines are simple enough to make this a great book for first readers.
“Pirates don’t go to school!” by Alan McDonald gave us a lot of laughs, because what else would you expect from little boys when you say “Wipe the shitty deck!” Little Jake the Pirate begs his family to let him go to school, but finds resistance as neither of them went to school themselves. “It’s hard and horrible!” they are crying. “Teachers are as mean as sea monsters!” The way they explore some common child fears is brilliant: they make it stupid by putting it in the mouths of trusted adults, then allow the child to dispel those same things, making them the knowledgeable hero.
Henry’s favorite, Chris Gall’s “Dinotrux Go to School” does something similar. The dinotrux talk among themselves about their worries: will there be enough food for lunch? Is there a bathroom there? Will my teacher be a smelly caveman? They promise to watch over each other and are pleasantly surprised when they meet their teacher.
Last year you couldn’t pay my boys to watch Joseph Slate’s classic “Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten,” but by the end of the summer he was quickly rising through the ranks as a that favorite. Something about watching 26 animal characters in all their different states getting ready for school was compelling this time around, and it was nice to get a little taste of what their classrooms might look like too. As a mom, I love the subtle way this book takes us through the alphabet, with each character’s name starting with a different letter.
Norman Bridwell’s “Clifford Goes to Kindergarten” employs another lovable dog to get to the root of children’s fears about the first day of school. At first, Clifford is content to attend Emily Elizabeth’s open house event, peeking around her classroom and the nurses’ office, but when her teacher sends a letter saying she can contribute something at school to feel comfortable, she chooses her huge red puppy. Clifford helps all the kids in his class as he tries to sing, answer questions, paint, play and nap.
There are plenty of Pete the Cat books that involve school, but since my boys love “I Love My White Shoes” so much, we were thrilled to find James Dean’s “Pete the Cat Rocking in My School Shoes.” The prose gives clues to introduce each area you would find in a typical school property: the library, the dining hall, the playground and, of course, the activities that take place there. Elliott loves the predictability of it all, so he knows the answer to call “Does Pete care?” (God, no.) If your kids love Pete the Cat too, don’t miss any of his shoe songs on YouTube, or you might even check out “Pete the Cat’s Got Class,” in which he finds a fun way to help his buddy practices math.
Family members recently gifted us “First Day Critter Jitters” by Jory John to add to our collection, and I can’t think of a more perfect book to read as soon as school begins. Not only do each of the animal characters have their own fear, but they realize their armadillo teacher is also nervous. The classmates take turns worrying about their day, but end up forgetting everything when they band together to help their teacher remember their names, keep track of the chalk, and feel safe enough. safe and comfortable to spend the first day.
“How can I be nice?” by Katie Daynes is a flip book full of questions and answers, which is exactly what a day with my boys looks like. This book helps us think about what kindness is, how to be friendly to others, ourselves, nature and the planet; and how kindness really makes a difference.
One of the most beautiful and elegant children’s books in our collection is “The Day I Became a Bird” by Ingrid Chabbert Guridi. On a little boy’s first day at school, he falls in love – for the first time, I might add – with the girl sitting across from him. The boy thinks about how to get her attention, and since birds are what she likes the most, he decides to make and wear a bird costume to school. The new outfit causes a stir at school and makes everything more complicated, but in the end the girl notices and they see each other for who they are. The sketches throughout the tale are understated and sweet. And I love the underlying message that it’s okay to stand out or be different.
‘The Lion and the Mouse’ by children’s book illustrator Jerry Pinkney is a wonderful Caldecott Medal-winning take on Aesop’s fable. As a picture book, it is compelling for my two boys since they can each explore the pages without my help. When we go through it together, I like to ask them what happens from one scene to the next, which gives them the opportunity to tell the story as they see it. Its values relaying life lessons that are otherwise difficult to convey are clear, using this unlikely animal alliance to show that even the mighty sometimes need help and that little guys can make a difference.