Shopping for school supplies is entering the final stretch, and some kids are starting to get a little apprehensive about starting school. Here are a few books to help ease those jitters from a local youth services librarian. (And don't forget to take them to the to get their own card!)
1. In Back to School Tortoise by Lucy M. George (Albert Whitman, 2010), a tortoise sets off to school with his backpack and his dapper red cap. Along the way, he starts to worry: “What if he tripped while getting lunch, and all the kids were mean to him?” Just as he’s persuaded himself not to go in, he gets to wondering, “What if…he made lots of new friends?” His gloomy attitude turns around, and in a delightful twist, “Mr. Tortoise” is greeted by his students.
2. Robert Quackenbush’s First Grade Jitters (Harper, 2010) depicts a little boy who is so worried about school that he doesn’t feel like eating, and he pitches a fit in the shoe store. He had a good time in kindergarten, but he thinks his new teacher may expect him to know how to read, or spell, or do arithmetic. He even worries that he won’t understand what the teacher is saying: “She might say, “oogly, boogly.” The pictures show a very anxious-looking young boy, but when he gets together with his friends from last year, they reassure him that all will be well. This book respects a child’s genuine feelings of anxiety while presenting a very realistic calming of those fears, along with some gentle humor.
3. Sometimes it’s the parents who aren’t ready for school to start. In Hyewon Yum’s Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten! (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2012) a little boy is fired up for kindergarten to get started. He is packed and ready to go, but his mom is fussing about whether he will have enough food, whether she forgot some of his school supplies, and most importantly, whether he is too little: “Mom, don’t worry. I’ll be fine, I am already five!” he tells her. In the pictures, the child is big and bold and confident-looking, while mom is tiny and blue and all of her body language reflects her inner concerns. This very funny book makes a nice change from the standard story of an apprehensive kid, and at the same time will reassure parents, too.
4. Another book to help get ready for school is Jack Prelutsky’s poetry collection There’s No Place Like School (Greenwillow, 2010). Bright and comical pictures go along with the poems by a variety of children’s writers, including Lee Bennett Hopkins’ poem about the school bus: “This wide-awake / freshly-painted-yellow / school bus / readied for Fall / carries us all”. Other poems talk about school subjects like math and writing as well as other features of a school like the drinking fountain, and recess.
5. One way to get ready to go back to school is reading about children in other countries and their first days in It’s Back to School We Go! First Day Stories from Around the World (Millbrook, 2003). Ellen Jackson presents 11 children from Russia, Japan, China, India, Kenya, Australia, and other countries talking about what their school day routine is, what they eat and how they play. On one page, the child describes their day, while on the opposite page the author fills in background facts about the life of children in that country. It’s a fascinating glimpse for students-to-be.
Susan Dove Lempke is a children's book reviewer, Assistant Library Director of the Niles Public Library, and the mom of two grown sons.