The first day of school has long been a common topic of children’s books. A lot has changed in schools in 70 years, but the jitters, friendships, excitement, and concerns about new classes, new schools, or being a student for the very first time are largely the same.
In between soaking up the last days of summer and shopping for fresh folders and markers, check out these compelling back-to-school picture book titles from the last seven decades.
Chibi is scared and shy on the first day of school, and the other children think he’s strange. As the years pass, he remains an outcast among his classmates. In his sixth year of school, a teacher recognizes his uniqueness and strengths, and Chibi finds the courage to imitate the voices of crows at the school talent show.
His classmates are impressed at his skill, especially when they realize Chibi learned to do this on his extremely long daily walks to and from school. The other students affectionately give him the nickname Crow Boy, portraying a message of acceptance. The smudgy illustrations depict emotive characters and the striking Japanese countryside.
For further reading about acceptance and being different, check out “Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon” by Patty Lovell and “Yoko” by Rosemary Wells.
Pa is walking Jim to school. Although it’s Jim’s very first day, he has just one question for Pa: “Will I have a friend?” Pa assures Jim he will make friends at school. But as he plays with clay, eats a snack, listens to a story, and lies down on his mat to rest in the happy chaos of his new classroom, Jim keeps wondering who will be his friend.
After rest time, Paul shows Jim his toy car, and a friendship is born – a comforting message for any child concerned about making new friends. Lillian Hoban’s illustrations are charming and warmly hued, capturing Jim’s hesitation and fears as well as his quiet excitement.
For further reading about making friends at school, check out “The Invisible Boy” by Trudy Ludwig and “The Name Jar” by Yangsook Choi.
Though not about the first day of school, this book is a kid-pleasing back-to-school classic. Miss Nelson’s class simply will not behave. They begin to regret their spitballs and paper airplanes, however, when Miss Nelson is mysteriously absent for several days, and the mean substitute teacher, Miss Viola Swamp, attempts to set them straight.
The students are so happy when their beloved Miss Nelson finally returns that they behave better than ever. The kids in Room 207 never find out what happened to Miss Nelson, but readers might get a clue. Humorous ink and wash illustrations add to the book’s appeal.
For further reading about memorable teachers, check out “The Day the Teacher Went Bananas” by James Howe and “Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten” by Joseph Slate.
Timothy can’t manage to wear the right thing to school. Not the first day, not the second day, and not even on the third day.
Unfortunately, Claude, who sits next to him, always has to point it out and tease him about it. What’s worse is that Claude never falls down, makes a mistake, or gets stuck eating alone in the lunchroom. Claude seems to have all the friends while Timothy has none.
But then Timothy finds that he and his classmate Violet share a similar struggle. The relatable characters, a mix of pets and woodland creatures, are portrayed with watercolor, pen, and ink, gouache, pastels, and rubber stamps in charming home and school scenes.
For further reading about being teased at school, check out “Hooway for Wodney Wat” by Helen Lester and “Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes.
Chester Raccoon does not want to go to school. Mrs. Raccoon tells him about all the playing, reading, and swinging he will do at school. But it’s the wonderful secret she shares with Chester that helps wipe some of his fears away.
Mrs. Raccoon places a kiss on her son’s palm and teaches him to press it to his face whenever he needs to feel love from home. Chester’s Kissing Hand instills him with the bravery he needs to head to school, but not before leaving his mother with a Kissing Hand of her own.
The book is reassuring in tone, and appealing woodland scenes that darken from day to night as the story progresses depict a loving mother-son relationship.
For further reading about separation, check out “In My Heart” by Molly Bang and “Owl Babies” by Martin Waddell.
It’s Izzy’s first day of school, and she couldn’t be more excited! Everything she sees inspires a “Wow!”, from “Wow! Classroom!” to “Wow! Numbers!” to “Wow! Friends!” The text is brief but powerful, and even children too young to read will easily be able to chime in on the repetitive phrases.
Each spread contains bright and bold illustrations jam-packed with chaotic detail that show various aspects of the early childhood classroom. The different perspectives and orientations in the illustrations add to the energetic feel.
For further reading about first day excitement, check out “Pete the Cat Rocking in my School Shoes” by Eric Litwin and “Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten!” by Hyewon Yum.
School has just been built. He’s worried about his first day, especially when Janitor tells him he will soon be filled with children. Some of the children are bored, and one frightened, freckled girl has to be carried inside by her mom. School’s heart sinks. He must be an awful place.
But when the girl with freckles makes a glittery picture of School, he is proud and hopes the kids will come back the next day. By the end of his first day, School feels like a pretty lucky building. Kids will love the quirky perspective of the story. The familiar school day scenes are engaging with their cheerful acrylic and collage elements.
For further reading about being nervous about school, check out “Wemberly Worried” by Kevin Henkes and “Chu’s First Day of School” by Neil Gaiman.