The return to school is upon us and with it comes excitement (seeing old friends! making new friends!) and anxiety (especially following more than a year of pandemic disruptions). We’ve compiled a list of some back-to-school stories to help ease those first-day jitters.

Picture Books

1, 2, 3, Off to School!

Marianne Dubuc, trans. from the French by Yvette Ghione. Kids Can, $17.99 (24p) ISBN 978-1-5253-0656-3. Ages 3–7.

In this playful take on school readiness by author-illustrator Dubuc, a child visits their friends’ schools and discovers how many wonderful things kindergarteners do in a day.

Beach Toys vs. School Supplies

Mike Ciccotello. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-374-31404-0. Ages 3–6.

Shovel thinks Ruler is a know-it-all who can’t loosen up. Ruler thinks Shovel is all play and no work. One sunny seaside afternoon, their two gangs challenge one another to a sandcastle-building contest, and the competition gets heated.

Becoming Vanessa

Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Knopf, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-525-58212-0. Ages 3–6.

On Vanessa’s first day of school, her parents tell her it will be easy to make friends. Vanessa isn’t so sure. She wears her fanciest outfit so her new classmates will notice her right away. They notice, but the attention isn’t what she’d hoped for.

Best Buddies

Lynn Plourde, illus. by Arthur Lin. Capstone, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-68446-143-1. Ages 3–5.

A clever boy with Down syndrome and his loyal pet find the perfect way to feel close even when they can’t be together. This sweet story aims to ease concerns about the first day of school and other big changes for kids.

Bird Boy

Matthew Burgess, illus. by Shahrzad Maydani. Knopf, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-984893-77-2. Ages 4–8.

New kid Nico is nervous about going to school. Everyone knows what to do and where to go, but Nico feels a little lost. So, he does what he loves to do: watch insects, sit in the grass, and befriend the birds. Before he knows it, Nico is known as Bird Boy. Any reader who has ever felt left out will cheer for Nico as he shows he can be “both a bird and completely, delightfully himself.”

El Cucuy Is Scared, Too!

Donna Barba Higuera, illus. by Juliana Perdomo. Abrams, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4197-4445-7. Ages 4–8.

Ramón can’t sleep because he is anxious about his first day at a new school. El Cucuy is the monster who lives in Ramón’s cactus pot; he can’t sleep, either. It turns out that El Cucuy is scared, too!

Donut Worry

Christianne Jones, illus. by Jack Viant. Capstone Editions, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-68446-073-1. Ages 5–7.

School is about to start again, and Donut can’t stop all sorts of worries from filling her round donut head. She’s tired of her friends and family saying, “Don’t worry!” Can her new friend, Cookie, help her find ways to manage her anxiety?

First Day of School

Esther van den Berg. Clavis, $18.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-60537-633-2. Ages 4–9.

Robin isn’t looking forward to his first day of school, but he actually ends up having a lot of fun. The children do rope-skipping and craftwork, Robin builds a tower of blocks, and he uses the toilet by himself.

Henry at Home

Megan Maynor, illus. by Alea Marley. Clarion, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-328-91675-4. Ages 4–7.

Liza is Henry’s big sister, Henry is Liza’s little brother, and they have always done everything together. But that all changes when Liza starts school for the first time, heading off to kindergarten and leaving her little brother behind.

I Can Help

Reem Faruqi, illus. by Mikela Prevost. Eerdmans, $17.99 (44p) ISBN 978-0-8028-5504-6. Ages 4–8.

When Ms. Underwood asks if anyone wants to help Kyle, Zahra always volunteers. She loves spending time with Kyle—he’s creative and generous, and he makes the funniest jokes at lunch. But when Zahra’s other classmates begin teasing her for helping him, she starts making choices she regrets.

I Don’t Want to Go to School

Lula Bell, illus. by Brian Fitzgerald. Tiger Tales, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-68010-248-2. Ages 3–7.

It’s Mouse’s first day of school, and she is nervous. She can’t eat her cereal and wonders what her classmates will be like. It’s Dinosaur’s first day of school, too. He is so nervous that he can’t eat his toast and is afraid the teacher won’t like him. When Mouse and Dinosaur arrive at school, they’re both in for a happy surprise.

Isabel and Her Colores Go to School

Alexandra Alessandri, illus. by Courtney Dawson. Sleeping Bear, $16.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5341-1063-2. Ages 6–7.

English, with its blustery blues and whites, just feels wrong to Isabel. She prefers the warm oranges and pinks of Spanish. As she prepares for class at a new school, she knows she’s going to have to learn—and she would rather not. Her first day is uncomfortable, until she discovers there’s more than one way to communicate with friends.

Kalamata’s Kitchen

Sarah Thomas, illus. by Jo Kosmides Edwards. Random House, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-593-30791-5. Ages 4–8.

It’s the night before Kalamata’s first day at a new school, and despite earlier excitement, nervousness now overwhelms. But with the emotional support of her stuffed alligator Al Dente—and a little help from her mother—Kalamata might be able to revisit the bravery she experienced at an Indian spice market over the summer. As Mama opens the spice cabinet and begins cooking, Thomas follows Kalamata’s imaginative journey beneath the kitchen table with plenty of transportive sensory details.

Little Bat in Night School

Brian Lies. Clarion, $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-358-26984-7. Ages 4–7.

Little Bat, a nocturnal youth who wears swimming floaties, can’t wait for his first night of school: “When is sunset?” he pesters his mother. Upon finally arriving, though, he’s spurned by the first bats he meets. But when he retreats to a cubby, he discovers Ophelia, an opossum, who’s as comfortable hanging upside down as he is. As in his earlier series entries, Lies creates artwork with humor and inventiveness.

Little Ghoul Goes to School

Jef Czekaj. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-244111-9. Ages 4–8.

Little Ghoul is nervous about her first day of school. Her mother assures her that it will be great: the teachers will be scary and her classmates will be creepy. But what if Little Ghoul’s greatest fears come true—and everyone is nice?

My School Stinks!

Becky Scharnhorst, illus. by Julia Patton. Philomel, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-593-11652-4. Ages 4–8.

This humorous back-to-school story is told through journal entries about a boy who finds himself at a new school where the other students are real animals.

My School Unicorn

Willow Evans, illus. by Tom Knight. Silver Dolphin, $12.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-64517-730-2. Ages 3–5.

It’s almost time for Evie to go to school, and thinking about it makes her feel nervous. Preschool was fun, but big school sounds scary. When Evie is getting ready, she makes a magical discovery the pocket of her dress—a tiny school unicorn.

Never, Not Ever!

Beatrice Alemagna, trans. from the French by Jill Davis. HarperCollins, $17.99 (48p) ISBN 978-0-06-307649-5. Ages 4–8.

Anxious about starting school, Pascaline accidentally shrinks her parents and decides to bring them along to her first day—where instead of being a comfort, they’re a big bother. The book received a starred review from PW.

The New Kid Has Fleas

Ame Dyckman, illus. by Eda Kaban. Roaring Brook, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-250-24524-3. Ages 3–6.

There’s a new kid in class, and they’re different: word on the playground is that they have fleas. But, one of their classmates wonders, what if they got to know the new kid? What if they visited their home (wolves’ den) and met their parents (wolves)? Maybe then the new kid wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Next Stop: Kindergarten! A Preschool Graduation Affirmation

Brooke Jorden, illus. by Julia Back. Familius, $8.99 (16p) ISBN 978-1-64170-458-8. Ages 3–5.

Going to kindergarten is a big step, and it can be scary to try something new. This book aims to remind kids just how much they know and how prepared they really are.

Norman’s First Day at Dino Day Care

Sean Julian. NorthSouth, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7358-4414-8. Ages 4–8.

It’s Norman’s first day at Dino Day Care. First, Norman does what he does best: he makes himself invisible. But eventually he manages to find his courage—with a little help from a new friend and just a hint of magic.

Parks and Recreation: Leslie for Class President!

Robb Pearlman, illus. by Melanie Demmer. Little, Brown, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-316-42865-1. Ages 4–8.

In this picture book based on the popular TV series, Leslie Knope is running for class president. She campaigns all around Pawnee Elementary with her friends, Ann and Ben. But in order to win over voters, Leslie starts to make promises she’s not sure she can keep.

Principal Tate Is Running Late!

Henry Cole. HarperCollins/Tegen, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-302574-5. Ages 4–8.

Cole paints a portrait of an elementary school in distress when Principal Tate, the white hen in charge, runs late one morning. With visitors ranging from a state dietitian to disgruntled animalian parents lining up for appointments, the school seems like it might erupt into chaos, until the staff steps up to the plate. This amusing picture book gamely lauds school staff and the hurdles they must regularly overcome.

School Is Cool!

Sabrina Moyle, illus. by Eunice Moyle. Abrams, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4197-5110-3. Ages 3–5.

In the latest picture book from Hello!Lucky, a cheerful narrator guides a class of nervous critters through their first day of school with humor and encouragement.

The Shape of Home

Rashin Kheiriyeh. Levine Querido, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-64614-098-5. Ages 4–7.

It’s Rashin’s first day of school in America and everything is a different shape than what she’s used to. The new teacher asks each child to imagine the shape of home on a map. Rashin knows right away what she’ll say: Iran looks like a cat! What will the other kids say?

Sounds Like School Spirit

Meg Fleming, illus. by Lucy Ruth Cummins. Dial, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-593-10832-1. Ages 4–8.

In this rousing picture book, an unnamed collective “we” begins a call and response, asking the reader to join in: “We say BOOK, you say BAG.” Emphasizing common school elements that children might encounter, Fleming’s chant is interspersed with energetic rhymes that encourage kids to share, take turns, and include others as the class proceeds through a day of learning, interspersed with lunch, recess, a rally, and mural painting.

Time for School, Little Blue Truck

Alice Schertle, illus. by Jill McElmurry. HMH, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-358-41224-3. Ages 4–7.

Little Blue Truck and his friend Toad are excited to meet the school bus on the road. They see all the animals lined up in the bus’s many windows, and Blue wishes he could be a school bus too. When somebody misses the bus, it’s up to Blue to get his friend to school on time.

Turkey Goes to School

Wendi Silvano, illus. by Lee Harper. Amazon/Two Lions, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5420-2364-1. Ages 4–7.

In the fifth instalment in the Turkey Trouble series, school is starting soon and Turkey can’t wait. But when the school bus rolls up, it turns out that animals aren’t allowed to attend school. Turkey must find a way to show the students and the principal that turkeys—and their friends—do belong in school.

What Does Little Crocodile Say?

Eva Montanari. Tundra, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7352-6813-5. Ages 2–5.

In this book of sounds, a little crocodile experiences the highs and lows of preschool, ultimately enjoying their day… after a small meltdown, of course.

When a Dragon Goes to School

Caryl Hart, illus. by Rosalind Beardshaw. Magination, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4338-3698-5. Ages 3–6.

In this companion to When a Dragon Comes to Stay, a dragon heads to class to explore manners. While behaving well at school isn’t always easy, this dragon makes it fun.