As a new academic year approaches, we’ve compiled a list of some back-to-school stories—including picture book comedies and heartwarming tales—to help ease those first-day jitters.

Back to School, Backpack!

Simon Rich, illus. by Tom Toro. Little, Brown, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-316-62834-1. Ages 4–8.

The start of a new school year is just as nerve-wracking for backpacks as it is for kids, at least in the experience of the quivering anthropomorphic knapsack narrating this story by the creators of I’m Terrified of Bath Time. From the dark depths of the closet where it spends the summer relaxing, a teal backpack immediately engages readers: “The first day of school always makes me nervous.” Luckily, a chance entanglement results in the narrator overcoming its biggest fear of all: feeling “like I don’t fit in.”

The Brilliant Ms. Bangle

Cara Devins, illus. by K-Fai Steele. Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-250-24770-4. Ages 3–5.

When they learn that their beloved school librarian has moved away over the summer, the kids at Belford Elementary determine to stonewall the new staffer. “They would refuse, refuse, REFUSE to read with her.” Even when Ms. Bangle rolls in cracking jokes and selects a “truly terrific”-looking book, the group sticks with their plan. The new librarian’s clever response proves “brilliant.” The picture book received a starred review from PW.

First Night of Howlergarten

Benson Shum. Penguin Workshop, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-593-52127-4. Ages 4–6.

Even werewolves get first-day-, er, night-of-school jitters. In this case, young Sophie has big doubts about beginning howlergarten, where, under a full moon, “students will transform into their true were-selves for the first time.” But before the full moon rises, she discovers that feeling like she’s in a pack is the greatest boost of all, and something she can share.

Get Ready for School

Janet Nolan, illus. by Maria Neradova. Albert Whitman, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-8075-2833-4. Ages 4–8.

Nolan spotlights the labor that makes a school run in this nuts-and-bolts narrative, which encourages appreciation for tasks that occur before the bell rings. Neradova’s sunny scenes cast varied animals as school staff. Simple prose encompasses bus drivers; cafeteria workers; crossing guards; physical, speech, and occupational therapists; teachers; and others as they complete their morning tasks. It’s a bright-eyed portrait of the individuals who make school happen for students.

Giant-Sized Butterflies on My First Day of School

Justin Roberts, illus. by Paola Escobar. Putnam, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-525-51643-9. Ages 3–7.

That fluttery feeling in the stomach when one’s about to try something new? Roberts offers a warmhearted reframe of that sensation in this look at a child’s apprehension about starting school. In a reassuring pep talk, a mom advises her child not to hold the butterflies inside: “Just let them fly./ ’Cause they were born to be your guide.”

How to Be Confident in Kindergarten: A Book for Your Backpack

David J. Steinberg, illus. by Ruth Hammond. Grosset & Dunlap, $8.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-593-38715-3; $5.99 paper ISBN 978-0-593-65979-3. Ages 3–5.

Cheerleading rhymes reinforce the importance of self-confidence in this upbeat kinder-companion. Facing each stanza are digital renderings that feature a diverse group of kids and caregivers as they engage in activities such as stacking blocks, practicing handwriting, and making crafts. Steinberg and Hammond spotlight the importance of persistence in transforming uncertainty into assurance.

Mr. S

Monica Arnaldo. HarperCollins/Tegen, $19.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-06-300395-8. Ages 4–8.

Confusion, mystery, and laughs are on the menu in Arnaldo’s goofy back-to-school tale. A dozen fresh-faced kindergartners of varying abilities and skin tones arrive in classroom 2B, where they find, instead of a human teacher, “an impressive-looking sandwich” as well as “Mr. S” scrawled on the chalkboard. Hesitantly, the group accepts their position as students of “Mr. Sandwich.” Readers will find plenty to chuckle over in Mr. S’s floppy lunch-meat tongue, the kids’ interactions, and the background commotion. The book received a starred review from PW.

On the Night Before Kindergarten

Rosemary Wells. S&S/Wiseman, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-66592-489-4. Ages 4–8.

A kitten’s anxieties about what might befall him on the first day of kindergarten prove pleasantly unfounded in Wells’s reassuring starting-school tale. On the night before the big day, young gray kitty Milo wakes up in a panic over the stressful events of “three unforgettable dreams.” His parents assure him that “happy new adventures” lie ahead, but after taking Milo to school the next morning, it’s Mama and Daddy who, contemplating the bad dreams Milo shared, stew about him throughout the day. Wells gives the concerns of parents and offspring a fresh twist.

Ready for Kindergarten

Bethany V. Freitas, illus. by Maja Andersen. Clarion, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-332197-7. Ages 4–8.

“You are ready for kindergarten,” proclaims the titular refrain driving Freitas’s supportive instruction on school readiness, which simultaneously models activities for caregivers and propels chirpy prose along. Direct narration seeks to motivate via concept-driven examples of developmental milestones seen as prepping kids for school: “Count the shoes on your feet./ Count the stairs going down.// You have fun with numbers./ You are ready for kindergarten,” one spread suggests, while others emphasize knowledge of body parts, concepts, and an interest in “making/ beautiful messes” via arts and crafts.

The Teachers I Loved Best

Taylor Mali, illus. by Erica Root. Doubleday, $18.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-593-56523-0. Ages 3–7.

Mali crafts a love poem whose speaker fondly recalls the actions of encouraging, inspiring, and supportive educators. Among those given a shout-out are a science teacher who had students dramatize “the intricate way/ that the planets and their moons revolve around the sun” and an art instructor, “dressed in white paint-splattered smocks,” who “looked like a doctor—with a dash of Valentine.” Above all, Mali stresses that leading with heart is key, in this affectionate celebration of those reaching the profession’s ideals.

Thank You, Teacher!

Cate Berry, illus. by Sara Varon. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-06-249157-2. Ages 4–8.

In this snappy volume, an adoring classroom of lively students bids a gratitude-filled farewell to their intrepid leader. As the teary-eyed teacher sits in the classroom’s circle-time chair, their students prepare to literally sing their praises, offering a rhyming remembrance of time spent together. Varon’s candid mixed-media images form a yearbook-like montage, spotlighting the teacher alongside smiling classmates of varying skin tones.

Welcome to Preschool

Maria Carluccio. Chronicle, $16.99 (12p) ISBN 978-1-79721-084-1. Ages 2–4.

Prospective preschoolers can jump right into the bright and busy classroom action of this interactive novelty board book, which features a moveable character on each spread that readers can slide along slots cut into the pages. Jaunty rhymes encourage readers to help the protagonists take part in familiar activities in a sunny space brimming with a rainbow of books, toys, and art supplies. It’s a kid-friendly invitation for readers to explore taking their earliest steps toward school.

The Worry Balloon

Mónica Mancillas, illus. by Betty C. Tang. Roaring Brook, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-250-85293-9. Ages 4–8.

Relying on weather metaphors, Mancillas coaches readers on how to handle worry with this method-centered picture book about a child who takes on an anxiety-filled first day of school through mindfulness practices. Leading up to the yet-uncharted experience, worries overwhelm Isla. But each time stormy thoughts intrude, Mami proposes coping mechanisms and positive visualizations, such as placing concerns in the eponymous worry balloon and letting it float away.