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Don’t Miss the Bus! 10 Picture Books for Back To School

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Ashlie Swicker


Ashlie (she/her) is an educator, librarian, and writer. She is committed to diversifying the reading lives of her students and supporting fat acceptance as it intersects with other women’s issues. She's also perpetually striving to learn more about how she can use her many privileges to support marginalized groups. Interests include learning how to roller skate with her local roller derby team, buying more books than she'll ever read, hiking with her husband and sons, and making lists to avoid real work. You can find her on Instagram (@ashlieelizabeth), Twitter (@mygirlsimple) or at her website,

It’s time for back to school, and while this inspires a range of emotions across the human experience (I’ll never forget the hilarious “most wonderful time of the year” school supplies commercial from my school days), in my house, we are addressing the anxiety around my son’s first day of kindergarten. As a long time elementary teacher, I instantly thought of several picture books that would introduce him to the school day and let us talk about his various worries. A trip to the library and few snuggled up reading afternoons might not have erased his fears, but he has an idea of what to expect, I have an idea of what is on his mind, and I got to reread some great stories.

The books below are all about school, whether the first day or an event common to the school year. I’d say they are just-right picks for students from preschool to third grade, but don’t underestimate the power of a good read aloud for all ages! Use these books to soothe the worries of kids just starting school (or the parents who are biting their fingernails at the bus stop). Here’s wishing you an amazing year!

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson

No one ever wonders how the first day of school effects…the school itself. This book gently probes the worries of Frederick Douglass Elementary School as students pour inside for the very first time. A supportive and tender janitor helps the school adjust in this sweet story, complimented by the always-soothing illustrations of Christian Robinson.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

This book follows a young Korean girl on her first day in an American school as she decides whether or not to choose a new, easier-to-pronounce name. A wonderful discussion about the push-and-pull between wanting to fit in and wanting to be true to yourself, this is a valuable story with lovely illustrations.


The Teacher’s Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi and Zachariah OHora

A teacher is so blinded by love for his pet that he fails to see how it’s ruining the classroom! The class steps in to help their teacher see the error of his ways, reinforcing the concept that teachers are fallible creatures who need students as much as the students need them. Brilliant illustrations and silly hijinks make this a perfect icebreaker book.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

One of my favorite school books ever, this story addresses the concept that even the coolest, most adored teachers have to maintain order in their classroom. Lilly is crushed when her treasure is confiscated for being out before sharing time, and lashes out in a way she comes to regret. Luckily, Mr. Slinger understands the torrent of feelings that come with being a small kid, and his gentle forgiveness reinforces the idea that students are much more than their worst moments in the classroom.

Lailah’s Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi and Lea Lyon

Lailah is so excited to be old enough to fast during Ramadan, but she isn’t sure her classmates will understand why she doesn’t join them in the lunchroom. With support from her librarian and teacher, she finds ways to introduce her new friends to her beliefs.


You’re Finally Here by Melanie Watt

A hyperactive and adorable bunny rejoices that the students are FINALLY HERE, then begins to scold them for making him wait so long. Jitters dissolve during this hilarious story (and the internet is full of cute activities that make this perfect for the first day of school).

Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten! by Hyewon Yum

Who is worried on this child’s first day of school? MOM! This role reversal empowers kids and comforts parents sending their little ones into the world for the first time, and the sequence of events throughout the story are a perfect primer on what to expect as you head out the door for school!

Ally-Saurus and the First Day of School by Richard Torrey

Ally loves dinosaurs, and can’t wait to meet all the other dino-lovers she’s SURE to find in her kindergarten classroom! Unfortunately, none of the other kids seems to share her obsession- some even snub her for her passion. As Ally moves through the day, she finds friends and learns to take turns playing games that other people love. The scene in the library at the end makes my heart warm every time.

My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown

A little boy is always seeming to get in trouble at school, and this book opens on his monstrous teacher yelling, stomping, and roaring her exasperation. But when Bobby and his teacher cross paths on a weekend, they realize there is more to teach of them then the roles they play at school.

Sumi’s First Day of School Ever by Juong Un Kim and Soyung Pak

A young girl is starting school knowing only one English phrase: Hello, my name is Sumi. At first, her experiences make her think school is scary and lonely, but as the day progresses, she begins to warm to the kinder aspects of her new school. Special in the way it reinforces how many different feelings any child can expect to feel on any given day of school, this book is a don’t miss.