New Back to School Books for 2021

I believe that stories are one of the best ways to reassure and excite children about the upcoming school year! 2021 has produced a ton of brand-new releases filled with engaging illustrations, poignancy, and tons of kid appeal that are sure to be a hit both in the classroom and at home!

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Becoming Vanessa by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, 2021

On the first-day-of school, Vanessa carefully chooses her outfit of a colorful tutu, feather boa, and shiny new shoes to express her specialness. Halfway through the day, however, her feathers are falling off, her shoes are pinching her feet, and worst of all, it takes her a lot longer to write her name than everyone else. Frustrated at the difficulty of her name, Vanessa informs her parents that she wants to change it. After hearing the origin of her name, however, Vanessa realizes that it fits her perfectly and she can’t wait to return to school to show the kids how extraordinary she really is. 

With its strikingly lush illustrations and uplifting storyline about being yourself, this is a must-read!

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A Letter from Your Teacher On the First Day of School by Shannon Olsen; illustrated  by Sandie Sonke, 2021

Last year, I fell in love with Our Class is a Family by Shannon Olsen; Sandie Sonke, which shares the message that school is a safe place where children can take risks, learn from mistakes, and form a special bond with other students who become almost like a second family.

This year, they’ve released A Letter from Your Teacher On the First Day of School , which beautifully captures a teacher’s hopes and dreams for her new students. With upbeat text describing how the teacher will greet the children with a smile at the door, celebrate their big and small accomplishments, and help them build skills in science, math, reading, writing, empathy, and kindness, kids will definitely feel supported and cared for.

These exceptional books are excellent read alouds for helping students feel more at ease on their first day and excited for the year to come.

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Love by Corrinne Averiss; illustrated by Kirsti Beautyman, 2021

Until recently, Tess’ loving parents have been with her everywhere she has gone. Now it is her first day of school and Tess is feeling nervous. Her wise mother reassures her that “Love is like a string between us- it can stretch as far as it needs to.” While Tess initially feels apprehensive about being apart from her parents, she feels uplifted when she finds a connection with her teacher and several of her classmates. The metaphor of the string is relatable and sure to bolster readers feeling nervous about starting school.

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Sounds Like School Spirit by Meg Fleming; illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins, 2021

With its rousing call-and-response format, this first-day-of-school book is a ton of fun! Even the most nervous student will enjoy participating in the upbeat chants following a group of diverse students through their school day.

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Isabel and Her Colores to go School by Alexandra Alessandri; illustrated by Courtney Dawson, 2021

This beautiful bilingual book provides readers a glimpse into the distress non-English speaking children may feel when starting a new school and demonstrates how friendship has the power to penetrate language barriers.

Spanish-speaking Isabel is worried that she won’t fit in at her English-speaking school, but happily discovers she is able to communicate with her new classmates through her favorite pastime, drawing. Spanish vocabulary is cleverly woven into the text while the vivid illustrations expertly capture Sophie’s changing feelings.  The story is enhanced further with a Spanish-English glossary.

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A Small Kindness by Stacy McAnulty; illustrated by Wendy Leach, 2021

A Small Kindness follows a diverse group of children on their first day of school. The opening pages present the school in sepia tones with one girl standing out in full color. When she smiles at another boy, he brightens too. With each act of kindness passed on among the students and teachers, the pages fill with vivid hues demonstrating the remarkable power a compassionate gesture has on others.

The visualization of the immediate and prolonged effect of good deeds is especially impactful. The concise text provides several ideas for friendly acts that can easily be implemented every day and passed on like a game of tag. It also reinforces the idea that a classroom is a community enriched when we are kind to one another.

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I Am Smart, I Am Blessed, I Can Do Anything! by Alissa Holder and Zulekha Holder-Young, illustrated by Nneka Myers, 2020

When Ayaan admits to his mother that he doesn’t feel smart and worries he doesn’t always know the answer in school, she teaches him three affirmations that give him the confidence to boldly face each new day. Our family was so inspired by this powerful story, we started saying the same affirmations to bolster my children’s self-assurance.

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The Color Collector by Nicholas Solis; illustrated by Renia Metallinou, 2021

When a boy notices a new girl at school named Violet, he respects her shyness while also trying to make her feel welcome. When he observes her picking up colorful keepsakes on her way home, he grows curious what she uses them for. He asks her about it one day and is surprised when Violet shows the collection of items on her wall that create a stunning mosaic of her island home. As the boy listens to her describe everything she misses about her old life, Violet feels comforted in sharing her sadness with a friend. As the boy walks home, he spots a colorful leaf and begins his own collection.

This tender tale skillfully depicts the impact of the boy’s kindness in the black and white illustrations that light up with color as the friendship blooms. The acts of saying hello and listening may seem simple, but this story demonstrates the powerful effect empathy can have in changing someone’s life and helping them feel seen.

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Kalamata’s Kitchen by Sarah Thomas; illustrated by Jo Edwards, 2021

Kalamata is feeling nervous about her first day of school tomorrow, but finds bravery by recounting a recent trip to an Indian spice market. Initially, she felt overwhelmed by the number of people at the market, but soon grows to love the smells of the spices and the dazzling colors surrounding her. As her mother prepares Dal, the scent of the food takes Kalamata back to that integral moment at the market reminding her that good things can come from situations that may initially seem scary.

A recipe for Dal is included as well as a glossary of ingredients inspiring budding chefs to create their own special meal.

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The Ghoul’s Guide to Good Grammar by Leslie Kimmelman; illustrated by Mary Sullivan, 2021

This quirky book is as entertaining as it is educational! With just the right amount of offbeat humor, The Ghoul’s Guide to Good Grammar is perfect for introducing or reviewing punctuation with children. Kids will love following spooktacular characters who provide examples of grammatical elements such as commas, quotation marks, contractions, possessives, homophones, etc. My rising third grader found this book to be absolutely hilarious and begged to read it multiple times!

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My First Day by Phung Nguyên; illustrated by Huynh Kim Liên, 2021

Gorgeous illustrations follow a young Vietnamese boy travelling along the Mekong river and through a jungle to reach school. The imaginative, dramatic pictures are simply spellbinding while the playful, poetic text inspires children that they too can valiantly face their first day of school. Beautiful on many levels, this incredible story is enhanced further with a map of the Mekong Delta and a note from the author and illustrator.

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Sharing a Smile by Nicki Kramar; illustrated by Ashley Evans, 2021 

While this isn’t a traditional first-day-of-school book, it is a timely story that will resonate with many children. When Sophie’s grandfather explains to her that it is important to wear masks now, she creates masks that fit all of her friends and neighbors’ personalities. This sweet tale of kindness is a perfect conversation starter for wearing masks at school and empowering kids to pick out their own mask to feel comfortable in.

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Listen by Gabi Snyder; illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, 2021

This remarkable book helps children find peace and mindfulness in a noisy world by taking the time to truly listen to their surroundings. While this story does not entirely focus on a school setting, I think it is a perfect read aloud for encouraging children to be more active listeners in general and especially in a classroom. One impactful spread demonstrates a group of students attentively listening to new words being read aloud from a picture book while another influential series of pages reveals how listening can make us a better friend to others.

There are many important takeaways from this book that will resonate with both children and adults.

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What the Road Said by Cleo Wade; illustrated by Lucie de Moyencourt, 2021

This uplifting book is perfect for children preparing for a new chapter in their life. Whether starting kindergarten or college, this thought-provoking story inspires readers to be their best-self on life’s journey.

When a boy discovers a new road, he asks where it leads and receives several stirring responses emboldening the boy to bravely face all of life’s twists and turns. This is a story that children can revisit for many years, each time taking away something different and gaining new perspective.

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What Will You Be? by Yamile Saied Méndez; illustrated by Kate Alizadeh, 2021

A wise abuela helps her granddaughter imagine all the things she will become when she grows up in this stirring story. This book goes beyond the usual aspirations of children to become a certain profession and focuses more on abstract ideas like becoming a builder who molds the world, a farmer who plants wonder and change, a leader who lights the way for others, and so much more. This dazzling story is perfect for inspiring little learners to confidently take on a new year at school!

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The End is Just the Beginning by Mike Bender, illustrated by Diana Mayo

If your child is lamenting the end of summer, they need to read this brilliant book that teaches children to look at life with new perspective! Everyday examples of endings transitioning into new beginnings help children shift their mindset learning to move forward with confidence. This standout story is a good choice for getting children excited about the new chapter of the school year!

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