A good children’s book amuses, enchants, teaches, and engages. We love discovering new books and sharing them with you, and that’s why I also love bringing you these book lists. Today’s list celebrates the most glorious time of the year – back to school! Kidding aside, the transition to school can be a difficult time for kids (and parents for that matter). Big changes are challenging for any of us, and stories are one way of demystifying and easing the anxiety of these changes.
We’ve partnered with our friends at Raincoast Books again to bring you this reading list of children’s books aimed at helping kids look forward to school. Scroll all the way down to enter to win a selection of these for your own favourite student!
Click on the titles or cover pictures to see these books on Amazon.
School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson
This charming and heartwarming picture book turns the usual first day of school narrative upside down. Frederick Douglass Elementary is a brand new school whose only friend is the janitor. Told from the school’s point of view through its conversations with the janitor and via internal exposition, we discover that it’s the school that feels anxious about what to expect from the first day of school.
Unsurprisingly, the first day is a bit rocky. The school is embarrassed when its fire alarm accidentally goes off, and it’s shocked when it overhears some students saying they hate school. One small girl with freckles is so afraid that she has to be carried in by her mother, and the school muses, “I must be awful.” But by the end of the day, it discovers that school is actually a pretty good thing. (Suggested ages 4-8).
The Pout-Pout Fish and the Bully-Bully Shark by Deborah Diesen
We know that kids face all sorts of issues when they head off to school and, unfortunately, bullying is one of them. Pout-Pout Fish and his friends are playing in the park when they’re faced with a big, mean shark who tries to take over. Mr. Fish feels scared and helpless, but after several run-ins, he learns to use his voice to lead his friends in standing up to the bully.
The outcome is a bit simplistic, but the story does a good job of putting words to the feelings a child might have when faced with a bully. The charming pencil illustrations of the fishes’ underwater home offer lots of little details to explore. (Suggested ages 3-7.)
Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex
In the spirit of Sandra Boynton’s classic But Not the Hippopotamus, this rollicking good time story is full of frolicking fruit, quirky rhymes, puns, and one slightly dejected orange who’s left out of the fun because, as we all know, nothing rhymes with orange. When a book rhymes Friedrich Nietzche with “lychee” and “peachy”, you know you’ve got something different from your run-of-the-mill child’s primer.
Throughout the book, the orange offers his outsider’s commentary until the very end, when all the fruit come together and create a rhyme for orange so he can be included. The photos of fruit overlaid with ink-scribbled faces are surprisingly expressive, and the hairy pearwolf is sheer genius. This book was our favourite of the whole list. It’s so much fun to read out loud, and it’s just as good on the sixth reading as the first. (Suggested ages 4-8.)
Zombelina School Days by Kristyn Crow
Zombelina loves school, and she loves to dance. Unfortunately, she tends to fall apart (literally) at the worst times, like during show and tell when she’s showing her school friends her hip hop routine. She’s not the only one feeling self-conscious though. There’s a new kid in school, a ghost named Monty, and he’s got a bad case of stage fright. Zombelina wants to help, so she decides to throw a spooky back-to-school dance party to welcome Monty and bring all the kids, monster and human, together.
Despite the zombies, ghosts, werewolves, and mummies, this rhyming story is a warm and gentle ode to friendship. Never scary or gross, Molly Idle’s soft coloured pencil illustrations are appealing, even when Zombelina’s body parts fall off. (Suggested ages 4-8).
We all know that new situations are anxiety-provoking. Kyle is really nervous about having to buy lunch at the cafeteria for the first time. He copes by imagining his classmates and teachers as the insects he likes to read about. For example, his classmates line up like army ants, and he envisions the sixth graders as scary wasps.
An older friend teaches him the Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break if You Want to Survive the Cafeteria. Rules like, “Don’t hold up the line,” “Never aggravate the lunch lady,” and “Never, EVER talk to the big kids.” Despite Kyle’s best efforts, he ends up breaking all the rules, but he discovers that things are actually less scary than they seem. (Suggested ages 6-10.)
Say Zoop! by Herve Tullet
We are big fans of all of Herve Tullet’s interactive books. Press Here, Mix It Up!, Let’s Play!, and now Say Zoop! This latest volume encourages kids to play with sounds and nonsense syllables the way his other books played with shapes and colours.
The first page introduces the reader to a small blue dot who says, “Oh!” As we turn the pages, the blue dot changes in size, number, and position, leading the reader to mimic vocally what we imagine the dots are doing. Louder and quieter, changing rhythms, even expressing emotions.
Soon red dot (“Ah!”) and yellow dot (“Waahoo!”) join the party. The dots multiply, argue, roar like wild animals, sing like birds, and bounce all over the place. Even the youngest of kids will get into the sheer joy of making noise!
The book ends by bringing in a host of new colours in a fireworks display begging for the reader to make up their own sounds. Expect to read this one over and over again, and you won’t even mind!
Kisses for Kindergarten by Livingstone Crouse
Stella Isabella Harden doesn’t think that kindergarten is for her. She’d rather spend the day with her puppy, Buster, playing their own version of kindergarten. The pair play together, have a snack, and (try to) take a nap, but when it’s story time, Stella realizes that she needs kindergarten after all so she can learn to read to Buster.
Kids will love the big, colourful digital illustrations, and the inside of the dust jacket is printed with a bonus: Isabella’s Kindergarten Ready Checklist including items like a big kid backpack, crayons, erasers, glue sticks, make new friends, and a smile. (Suggested ages 4-8.)
Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrari
Moose the dog hates to say goodbye. All Moose wants to do is be with her best friend Zara, but dogs aren’t allowed in school. She’s persistent though, and she manages to escape the house and make her way back to Zara’s school over and over again to say hello. Each time, more and more people are required to get Moose to leave, until Zara has the brilliant idea to take Moose to therapy dog school. Once Moose earns her Therapy Dog School Certificate, she can finally join Zara and all her classmates at school.
It’s nice to see diverse characters in this story. Zara’s classmates and teachers come in all colours, and Zara herself is biracial and uses a wheelchair, but her disability is not the focus of the story. An Author’s Note at the end provides additional information about therapy dogs and how they can help foster a love of reading. (Suggested ages 4-8.)
A Place to Read by Leigh Hodgkinson
The perfect place to read can be hard to find. It should be, “Somewhere comfy, but not buzz-buzzy. And not all growly, itchy, fuzzy.” Each spread features bold, multimedia illustrations in muted tones, and the minimal text dances from page to page. The word “fuzzy” is fuzzy, the word “cold” shivers, and the word “tree” has branches. As the little boy sits in chair after chair looking for just the right place, each page adds an animal friend until he realizes “a book is best when you SHARE.” Perfect for lap reading. (Suggested ages 3-6.)
Win Back-to-School Books
One lucky This West Coast Mommy reader will win any two of the back-to-school books we just reviewed, courtesy of Raincoast Books!
Enter to win in the giveaway widget below. This giveaway is open to residents of Canada, 18+. All the winner’s entries will be verified.
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