The first day of school often fills children with feelings of excitement and nervousness. Reading about characters undergoing similar experiences can help with this transition. Of the many stories that focus on starting school for the first time, a few stand above the rest. Below are what I have found to be the best books for quelling first day jitters. I hope you and your children enjoy the books and have a great first day of school this year!
Books For Children Who Are Nervous About Starting School
Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney, 2009
(Ages 2 – 6)
This is a wonderful book to use with children who have separation anxiety or who just need a little encouragement about starting school. It serves as a gentle reminder that parents always come back and that it is okay to have fun without them.
Simple rhymes capture little Llama’s initial apprehension of going to school without his mom. While he observes other children playing, he does not participate and finally breaks down into tears. After the teacher reassures him that his mom will be back at the end of the day, Llama joins in on the fun. He enjoys the rest of the afternoon, but still jumps for joy upon his mother’s return. The story ends with the comforting words, “Llama finds out something new – he loves Mama…and school, too!”
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, 1993
(Ages 3 – 6)
When Chester Raccoon is nervous about starting school for the first time, his mother kisses his hand. She explains that with this kiss, he will still feel her love even when they are apart. Anytime he gets nervous he can look at his hand and remember his mother loves him. This is a picture book that has withstood the test of time and provides a great way for parents to reassure their own children about starting school.
I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas; illustrated by Priscilla Burris, 2003
(Ages 2 – 6)
Owen does not want to return to school, but his mother comforts him by saying, “I love you when I’m with you and I love you when we’re apart.” Subsequent pages show Owen in school making mistakes as well as good choices. Each page includes his mother’s reminder that she loves him no matter what. “I love you when you share your favorite purple crayon. I love you when you accidentally make a mess. I love you when you have to call for help. I love you when you figure things out for yourself.” This sweet story should provide comfort to young children starting school and encourage them to take risks.
Take a Kiss to School by Angela McAllister; illustrated by Sue Hellard, 2006
(Ages 3 – 6)
While most books about starting school focus on the first day, this one actually takes place on the second day. Digby, a small grey mole, had a terrific first day of school, but doesn’t understand why he has to go back again. He is worried that he will forget where to line up and where to hang his jacket, so he asks his mother to stay with him at school. She cups her hand, blows in a dozen kisses, and then slips them into Digby’s coat pocket. Whenever he feels nervous throughout the day, he pulls out a kiss to make him feel better. He has a few anxious moments where he needs a kiss, but then makes a new friend and realizes he doesn’t need them after all. This is a sweet story that will hopefully leave readers with a way to combat their own nervousness and aid in transitioning to school.
It’s Okay to Make Mistakes by Todd Parr, 2014
(Ages 2 – 6)
This is not a traditional book about going to school, but I think it is a wonderful story for this time of year because many fears about going back to school revolve around making mistakes and failing. This book has a message that can not only apply to quelling back-to-school fears, but it also encourages children to try new things and be okay if they don’t work out. We can all learn from making mistakes and I think it is important for children to understand that from an early age.
Todd Parr is a renown children’s author and illustrator who has created many empowering books for children. A few of my other favorite Todd Parr books include The Family Book, It’s Okay to Be Different, The Feelings Book, and The Peace Book.
The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School by Deborah Diesen illustrated by Dan Hann, 2014
(Ages 3- 6)
It is the Pout-Pout Fish’s first day of school and he is nervous. He enters several different classrooms and finds that he cannot perform the tasks the class is working on. Dismayed, he wants to go home, but a teacher reassures him that school is for learning and he is not suppose to know everything yet.
I think children will relate to Pout-Pout Fish feeling out of place and worrying about not being smart. Hopefully they will also feel comforted in the message that school is a place to learn new things and students are not expected to know things ahead of time.
Monkey Not Ready For Kindergarten by Marc Brown, 2015
(Ages 4 – 6)
This book is a standout to me because it presents parents with ideas of how to ease the transition of starting kindergarten. For example, the book reveals a nervous Monkey and his parents playing school together, reading books about school, giving a secret good-bye handshake, etc. This is a terrific choice for highlighting a child’s anxiety and coming up with solutions to combat it.
Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick; illustrated by Daniel Jennewein, 2010
(Ages 4 – 6)
While many books focusing on the first day of school have a more serious undertone, I love this one because it is both silly and reassuring at the same time.
A little girl brings her buffalo to kindergarten and he worries that he will not fit in. He hesitates when asked to finger paint with his hooves, but the book prompts readers to remind him that finger painting is supposed to be messy. Everyone is different and this book teaches readers that that is a good thing. As the author says, “Everyone’s special in his or her own way. That’s the kind of thing you learn in kindergarten.” I love this simple, but powerful read.
Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous: a first-day-of-school dilemma by Keith Calabrese and Juana Medina, 2018
(Ages 4 – 8)
Lena is excited for her first day of kindergarten, but when she goes to get dressed she discovers that her shoes are a bit nervous. Lena and her dad brainstorm a way to make the shoes feel more at ease. Her friendly green headband “reminds the shoes of other times they were all scared but decided to be brave together. And how things had pretty much worked out okay. Even better than okay sometimes. Because often the best things happen when we’re nervous.” The illustrations and storyline of this one are absolutely charming!
Dad’s First Day by Mike Wohnoutka, 2015
(Ages 4 – 7)
This is a humorous spin on back-to-school books. While Oliver is excited for school, his dad is the one who is nervous! This uplifting read is sure to bring smiles to children and adults alike.
A book with a similar theme is Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten by Hyewon Yum, 2012.
Countdown to Kindergarten by Alison McGhee; illustrated by Harry Bliss, 2002
(Ages 4 -7)
Ten days before she starts kindergarten, a young girl fears she will be a failure. A first grader mistakenly tells her three misleading rules of kindergarten: No stuffed animals, no cats, and “You have to know how to tie your shoes. Yourself. You’re not allowed to ask for help. Ever.” Even though she can count backwards from ten, she cannot tie her shoes. Scared that she will be deemed “Velcro girl” for life, she comically attempts to lose or destroy her shoes each day approaching kindergarten. On the big day, however, she discovers that most of her classmates do not know how to tie their shoes. Their kindly teacher announces that they will all be learning together and that she will be assisting them. The next day they will be bringing in stuffed animals and then counting down from ten. It looks like it will be a great year after all.
This is a fun way to approach the typical anxiety associated with starting kindergarten. The little girl is quite imaginative in how she tries to dispose of her shoes equaling some hilarious results, which makes this a fun book to read leading up to kindergarten at home or on the first day of kindergarten with a teacher.
I Am Too Absolutely Small for School (Charlie and Lola series) by Lauren Child, 2004
(Ages 4 – 8)
Headstrong Lola and her invisible friend Soren Lorensen are quite nervous about starting school for the first time. Lola gives her brother Charlie several reasons why she doesn’t need to go, but the ever-patient Charlie disputes Lola’s arguments by providing convincing reasons for Lola to attend.
On the first day of school, Charlie nervously looks for Lola to confirm she is okay only to find her at home after school happily sipping pink milk with a new friend. Charlie is a patient and kind brother who can serve as a role model for older siblings everywhere. The mixed media illustrations work perfectly with Charlie and Lola’s quirkiness making it a fun story for preparing a child for school.
Birdie’s First Day of School (Birdie series) by Sujean Rim, 2015
(Ages 4 – 8)
It is the night before her first day of school and Birdie cannot sleep. She is too nervous. She thinks about the things she had heard from the good, “You will learn about EVERYTHING!” to the not-so-good, it is all work and NO play, the food is terrible, and her teacher might be a werewolf! Birdie’s mother reminds her that she and her dog, Monster, are never too far away. To better reinforce this point, she gives her a locket with a picture of her family inside. Birdie steps into school and is impressed with the beautiful new classroom. “It had everything. And everything had its place – even Birdie.” She is seen placing her coat in a cubby with her name on it. Birdie participates in many fun activities such as learning about letters, numbers, geography, singing songs, and creating art. During recess, Birdie is seen playing with a few children she already knows and making new friends as well. She returns home to tell her mother about her day. “She felt smart from all the things she learned. She felt proud of what she had done during the day.” Once again, she is pictured in bed not being able to sleep, but this time it is due to her excitement for her next day at school.
I love this series and think that this is a perfect book for starting school. Birdie is a likable character and both the illustrations and the text provide reassurance to children that school is going to be a great place for them. Birdie’s locket is also a great idea for making nervous children feel closer to home.
You’re Wearing That to School?! by Lynn Plourde illustrated by Sue Cornelison, 2013
(Ages 4 – 8)
Many children anxiously contemplate what to wear the first day of school. After all, first impressions are important. Penelope is an exuberant hippo who cannot wait to wear her sparkle rainbow outfit for her first day. Her best friend Tiny, a well-meaning mouse, tries to advise her on wearing something a little more ordinary so that she will fit in. When Penelope follows her heart, Tiny is pleasantly surprised by the results. The book ends with some wonderful tips for a “Hippo Happy” first day of school. This is a great first day of school book about staying true to yourself and poses the question, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”
Another great book about staying true to yourself on the first day of school is A Bad Case of the Stripes by acclaimed children’s author David Shannon.
Monsters Love School by Mike Austin, 2014
(Ages 4 – 8)
While cutely drawn monsters excitedly prepare for school, Blue feels a bit nervous about this new adventure. His colorful friends happily introduce him to the teachers who share why school is so much fun. They learn the ABC’s and 123’s, create artwork, sing, spell, listen to books, and make friends during recess. By the end of the day, Blue loves school and can’t wait to return. The illustrations are colorful and bright making them engaging to children. This is an upbeat and vibrant book that includes several puns that adults and older children will enjoy.
Children may also enjoy Monsters Love Colors by Mike Austin.
Kindergarten Rocks! by Katie Davis, 2005
(Ages 4 – 6)
While Dex is excited for kindergarten, his stuffed dog, Rufus, is feeling an eensy bit scared. Dex’s older sister, Jess, tries to reassure him, but it isn’t until he experiences the fun of kindergarten for himself that he relaxes. He loves the imagination station, playing with play-doh, writing letters, and meeting nice people such as his teacher and the custodian. “I’m going to l earn lots of stuff in kindergarten, but the thing I learned today was…Kindergarten Rocks!” The humorous story and illustrations will help ease the fears of future kindergarteners.
First Grade Dropout by Audrey Vernick; illustrated by Matthew Cordell, 2015
(Ages 5 – 8)
At some point, almost every child is going to do something embarrassing at school. It is inevitable. The character in this book accidentally calls his teacher “mommy” and the class erupts in laughter. He is convinced that he can never show his face at school again. Until one of his friends does something equally as embarrassing and he realizes sometimes it’s okay to laugh at yourself. The jagged illustrations perfectly capture the character’s anguish and I think parents and children alike will enjoy this terrific read.
The laughs continue in Second Grade Holdout.
First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg; illustrated by Judy Love, 2000
(Ages 5 – 8)
Sarah Jane Hartwell does not want to get out of bed on the first day of school. She’s scared that she doesn’t know anybody and that it will be too hard. She begrudgingly makes her way to school and is met by the principal who shows her to her classroom. The illustrations cleverly hide Sarah Jane throughout the story and the twist ending reveals that Sarah Jane is actually the teacher. This is a funny story that may also comfort children in knowing that even teachers get nervous for the first day of school!
Noni Is Nervous by Heather Hartt Sussman illustrated by Genevieve Cote, 2013
(Ages 5 – 8)
Noni is a worrier. She seems to worry about almost everything, but especially school. What will she wear? Where will she sit? Worst of all, what if the teacher is mean? Noni goes to school and even though she is wrought with worry biting her nails and wringing her hair, she is befriended by an outgoing girl who makes Noni realize that school can be fun. This reassuring read is a great one for any child preparing for their first day of school.
Here are a few other great books about anxiety, nerves, or being shy:
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