First Day of School Books

Four months ago I made the first steps toward leaving my full-time job to stay home with my kids (and work part-time). After five years of splitting myself between parenting and working full-time, we started planning for what our lives would look like with me at home.

I envisioned play dates, road trips, museum fun, and more. The plan was for Millie to head off to Kindergarten all day, for Lena to attend preschool in the morning two days a week, and for me to claim that time alone for working, writing, and reading. Like everyone else’s plans, those plans all changed in March.

We’re adjusting. Millie will be attending school remotely full-time and Lena will wait a year to begin preschool. We have been unbelievably lucky and have been able to worry about making modest adjustments, rather than dealing with the kinds of pain others in our community have endured and are still enduring. With the kids, we have worked to balance a sense of normalcy with being open and honest about what is happening in the world outside of our backyard. It isn’t easy.

I’m a big believer in being very honest with kids. I try to address issues when they naturally arise. If my kid overhears a conversation and asks a question, I answer honestly and age-appropriately. (Sometimes I mess up the age-appropriately part. I’ve had to put out some fires…) If I want to specifically address a subject, we read a book about it.

So how do I plan on talking to my kids about school being different? We will read about what school is like, and then talk about how it will change this year.

So that’s how we got here. Below are some books that I would normally suggest for parents sending their kids to school. This year I’m still suggesting them, but I’ve also included some good resources for talking to kids about how things have changed. Good luck in however your life has changed this year!

Tip: I know that this list is coming to you a little close to the beginning of the school year, so if you are wanting to read some of these books with your kids right now and can’t get to your library or order them online, many of these books are available on YouTube.

The Pigeon Has to Go to School by Mo Willems

Is your kid hesitant to go to school? Frustrated that they have to go back? Scared? Or does your kid just love the Pigeon? This book is the fun you expect from Mo Willems and it is a perfect book for starting a conversation about what school will look like. The Pigeon is afraid of the unknown, and that may be the case your little one, too.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

We love this book! We’ve talked a lot about Black Lives Matter, difference, and community this year in our house, and this book is a great way to give a visual to that discussion. I don’t know if its the sunny, inviting illustrations or the well-paced rhyme scheme or both, but it just feels like a special book. I’m especially taken with the refrain of “All are Welcome Here”, because it feels like something you can easily repeat to your kids about your own home or community.

Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt and Illustrated by Shane Prigmore

If your kids are anything like mine, making up imaginary games is the best way to get them to do what you want. We make clean up into a recovery mission, naptime into a challenge, and errands into scavenger hunts. Planet Kindergarten uses a similar concept. It would be fun to recreate this book and talk through all of the things that you and your child will do to get ready for school — it may be similar (with adding in a mask for supplies!) or it may be a home mission.

Lena’s Shoes are Nervous by Keith Calabrese and Illustrated by Juana Medina

I’m going to be honest, I bought this book before reading it, because the protagonist is named Lena (like my youngest). But it quickly became one of our favorite books. This book is a perfect way to talk to your kids about what makes them nervous, and talk through ways to cope with and overcome nerves. Lena’s dad models really positive parenting, allowing Lena to take the lead and address her problems on her terms.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

This has been a stressful four months, and we all deserve to laugh. Kids are no exception. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates is guaranteed will deliver. Penelope Rex makes one little mistake (eating her classmates) and it causes all of her fears about school to feel real. This sweet little book shows Penelope’s pathway from outcast to friend. Bonus: this book is a great way to talk to your littles about impulse control.

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes and Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

While many of the books written about school address the anxieties kids face, The King of Kindergarten goes the opposite route. It is a positive, upbeat book featuring a kid who was prepared to be excited, not fearful about school. It is a good reminder about modeling — how our language as parents can really change the way a child sees their world. We love reading this book together and talking about what we are excited about this upcoming school year.

Mae’s First Day of School by Kate Berube

Mae is NOT GOING TO SCHOOL! She is scared and her fears increase as she gets closer to school. But after meeting some new friends, she realizes that she’s not the only one who has first day jitters. I love that the teacher is also nervous about her first day, because I think that is definitely true this year for most teachers. There are a lot of unknowns, and things will be different for everyone.

On The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Illustrated by Rafael López

Jacqueline Woodson has a gift. I’ve never read something she’s written and not cried. And The Day You Begin is no exception. This beautiful book is a great way to talk about what makes us different than those around us, and how to accept those differences in ourselves and our friends.

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Wemberly worries about everything — especially going to school. But once she is there, she has too much fun to be worried. As a worrier, it was a little comforting when I realized that worrying and anxiety are not unique to me. Introducing Wemberly and all of her worries would be a great way to kickstart a conversation about how normal it is to worry, while introducing some coping mechanisms.

Big Boys Cry by Jonty Howley

How can you not love this book? What an empowering message: telling boys that they are welcome to display their emotions. It is a great book to pick up for back to school, but I think that it reaches farther than that. Undoing toxic cultural elements starts with raising kids that they have inherent value, and they should be comfortable expressing themselves in ways that feel right to them. I also appreciate that it shows that parents are also afraid to send their kids to school, and that talking about it is normal.

Looking for more recommendations? Check out my recommendation list here. (Anything you buy through Bookshop helps support the Librarian Paused bookstore dream. Thanks!)

Covid-19 and School Resources for Parents and Kids

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology Resources for Helping Kids and Parents Cope Amidst COVID-19

This guide includes how to talk with kids about Covid-19, the death of a family member, activities, and resources for parents with disabilities.

PBS’s How to Talk to Kids about Coronavirus

This is a great simple resource that includes videos and games from Daniel Tiger, Super Why!, Sesame Street, and Curious George. My kids listen to Daniel Tiger a lot better than they listen to me, so this is an ideal resource for my family.

The CDC’s Talking with children about Coronavirus Disease 2019

I appreciate that the CDC includes tips about not just what to say, but how to say it when you talk about Covid-19 with your kids. I think it is easy to forget to keep your emotions in check. The CDC also includes a back to school checklist, for children who will be returning to the classroom.

Zero to Three’s Tips for Families: Coronavirus

While it is hard enough to talk to preschool and elementary aged kids, talking to toddlers about why they have to wear a mask, why they can’t see grandma and grandpa, or why mom or dad is working from home has to be a huge challenge! Zero to Three offers some tips and resources for parents of younger children. I really appreciate their parent self-care section, too.

But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids – Coronavirus For Kids, And The Science Of Soap

My friend, Kim (Newly Woodwards), recommended this podcast, and it has quickly been a favorite for car rides (not that we have many of those anymore) and during our quiet time. Millie learned so much from this episode and it gave us a chance to talk about Coronavirus together in real time.

National Association of School Psychologists – Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting From COVID-19

This helpful guide gives parents some very concrete tips on how to help kids deal with the changes to their lives now that it feels like everything is disrupted. I love the explanations about how to explain things in an age-appropriate manner, and feel like the reminders about modeling behavior are very helpful.

Moline Public Library’s Back to School Books Your Kids Will Love

My city’s public library has wonderful, dedicated children’s department staff! As I was writing this post, they published their own list of back to school books that I recommend checking out. They even include some chapter books for older kids!