Book Corner: Back-to-School Picture Books May Help Calm First-Day Fears

Back to school is often a time of mixed emotions. Children are excited about seeing friends and doing enjoyable activities at school but are also often nervous about everything that will be different: new teachers, new environments, and new schedules. Fortunately, there are many children’s books that can help with preparing for the first day of school and working through some of the emotions kids may be feeling.

A Is for Elizabeth by Rachel Vail
This beginning chapter book is one of my favorite books this year. A is for Elizabeth is funny, insightful, inspiring, and told with a true second grader’s voice. Elizabeth is at turns sweet and pouty, absurdly confident and pitifully contrite. Elizabeth is super excited that in second grade she is finally getting homework, but when she learns the assignment is to make a poster about her name, she is upset and angry. Her name is very long, which means that her homework assignment is bigger. It’s a much bigger assignment for Elizabeth than for know-it-all Anna, with her short name, which is extremely unfair because Anna also gets to go first all the time because of alphabetical order.  Elizabeth struggles with how to complete her assignment while remaining true to her sense of justice. Elizabeth’s zesty spirit and the realistic (and often comic) turns this story takes to make it a great read for elementary students. 

Clothesline Clues to the First Day of School by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook
Who are students going to meet on the first day of school?  Items hanging on the clothesline give clues. A raincoat, gloves, and safety vest are for the crossing guard; sneakers and a whistle are for the gym teacher.  A variety of sweaters, shirts, pants, and dresses are for all friends at school. This picture book offers a cheerful look at all the helpful and supportive adults and friends who make school a welcoming place.

My Teacher Is A Robot by Jeffrey Brown
Fred is not a fan of how his teacher, Mr. Bailey, teaches. Asking the students to follow rules, bringing them in from recess when it starts to rain, studying Japan instead of dinosaurs - there’s just not enough freedom to do what they want. All of this convinces Fred that Mr. Bailey is a robot and expects his students to act like robots, too. But when Mr. Bailey introduces creative writing, Fred can let his imagination run free.

The Pigeon Has to Go to School! by Mo Willems
In this latest installment of the beloved Pigeon series, Pigeon does NOT want to go to school. He has all kinds of excuses for not going:  he already knows everything, school starts WAY too early, the teacher may not like pigeons. Finally, Pigeon admits what is at the root of his arguing:  he is scared. He doesn‘t know what will happen at school, and all of the unknown factors are making him feel anxious. Finally, he realizes he may know more about school than he realizes (including knowing a LOT about the bus he’ll take to school), and his fear turns into excitement.

Unicorn Is Maybe Not So Great After All by Bob Shea
Unicorn is SUPER excited for the first day of school, because “every day is great when you’re a super-special unicorn!”  But when she arrives at school, she finds she is not the center of attention like she’s used to. Unicorn is determined to bring the focus back to herself by making her look and her actions over the top, dressing up and drawing attention to her skills, like flying and turning things to gold.  But instead of helping her make friends, her exuberance makes her classmates frustrated with her. Unicorn eventually finds it’s best to just be herself and let her classmates shine as well.

Darcie Caswell is the Youth Services Coordinator at CRRL. This column originally appeared in The Free Lance-Star newspaper.