With the start to a new school year, we thought it would be fun to assemble book selections that speak to the myriad and mixed feelings kids have about the return to school. By now, some children, bored with summer and eager to reunite with friends, are entirely thrilled to be returning to the structure and social aspects of school. Others are not at all eager to return and the reasons for their reluctance are varied and often complex. For many children, the transition from summer to school is bittersweet – an end and a beginning, sad and exciting – all at the same time. Regardless of how children are feeling about the start of a school year, it is healthy for them to recognize, express, and process those feelings. Our selections describe school interactions and challenges that will be familiar to many children and most parents – the first days in a school where we knew no one, the anxiety associated with learning something that was really difficult, friendship challenges, and occasional misunderstandings. The books we have selected touch on familiar school challenges through the experiences of memorable characters, including a few that aren’t human. Who says giraffes, worms, and tortoises don’t go to school? The challenges described in the stories will sound familiar to readers – your children – and may help them give voice to their own fears.
Finally, some of our book selections feature inspirational school-success stories – fictional or real individuals for whom school was transformational. School can be a place where you discover a talent or a new passion, where you meet individuals who will be your lifelong friends, where whole worlds open up to you when you learn to read – especially meaningful when literacy comes late in life.
Best Reads to Honor ‘Back to School’ With Kids
How to Apologize, written by David La Rochelle and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
A straightforward guide on how to say sorry sincerely, without making excuses, as demonstrated by some very cute porcupines, hippos, ponies, and even a sloth. Everyone can benefit from this book’s reminder that apologizing may be hard, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Our favorite scene in the book is the giraffe saying sorry to the worm for borrowing his socks without permission, but meanwhile he’s wearing the socks on his tiny horns. This adorable book is a great way to start a talk with youngsters about the importance of a heartfelt apology.
Hurry, Little Tortoise, Time for School written by Carrie Finison, and illustrated by Erin Kraan
This is a great book to start conversations with anxious children about how faster isn’t always better, and how we don’t need to compare ourselves with others. The colorful, unique art brings life to each animal that Little Tortoise gets passed by on her way to school. There are some cute plot twists, such as Snail offering Little Tortoise a ride on a scooter. The best part of the story is the surprise “tardy” student who appears on the last page, which gives parents a great opportunity to reflect on Aesop’s immortal “The Tortoise and the Hare” fable. Young readers and even adults will cheer for Little Tortoise, and be reassured when her teacher tells her, “The most important thing is that we’re all here.”
Grades One and Two
A Walk in the Words Written and Illustrated by Hudson Talbott
Hudson Talbott’s inspiring story vividly reveals the challenges, and ultimately the rewards, of being a non-mainstream kind of learner. As the main character is in school, and all of his friends are learning to read, he feels that the books “were coming for me! So many words! So many pages!” This book holds an important lesson both for struggling readers and for anyone who needs to learn empathy for them. There is a great drawing of the “Slow Readers Hall of Fame,” which includes Einstein, Picasso, and Shakespeare.
CatStronauts: Mission Moon written and illustrated by Drew Brockington
This off-the-wall full color graphic novel stars the brave cat crew of Major Meowser, pilot Waffles, genius inventor Blanket, and quick-thinking science officer Pom Pom. Desperate for a solution to the worldwide energy crisis, this crew is on a mission to the moon to create a solar power plant to help alleviate the looming power catastrophe. They must go to astronaut training school to be space-worthy. Will the lovable feline heroes be able to complete their lunar mission and save the world? With its appealing blend of cuteness with STEM lessons hidden in the pages, this six book series will have readers over the moon!
Grades Three to Five
The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read written by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, Illustrated by Oge Mora
Caldecott honor illustrator Oge Mora delivers a feast for our eyes with this incredibly powerful book. Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1848, and was not allowed to read or write. At the age of fifteen she was freed as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, but Mary had to keep working hard, at times for a quarter a week, to help her family. Even though she was free, she wasn’t able to attend school, and always felt held back because she couldn’t understand written words. She would look to the sky, wishing she could be like one of the swallow-tails in the clouds. “Mary decided that flying was a lot like reading: they both made a body feel as free as a bird.” Mary worked hard all of her very long life, had many children, and lived through 26 United States presidents. At the age of 114, she enrolled in school and learned to read, becoming the “World’s Oldest Student.” Bravely overcoming illiteracy against all odds, Mary is beautifully commemorated in this moving tribute to her life, which helps young readers understand that school is a privilege.
Twins written by Varian Johnson and Illustrated by Shannon Wright
Coretta Scott King Honor author Varian Johnson and the very talented illustrator Shannon Wright have expertly teamed up to create a relatable story for anyone about to start a new school. Francine and Maureen are identical twins who have always done everything together. Their new middle school brings unexpected and very different class schedules for the girls, followed by new interests, their own friends, and eventually a competition for student council president. In the end, only one sister is the winner of the political process, but they both succeed at school, thanks to each other’s support.
Reading, like going back to school, helps children discover relatable stories and fuels their own passion for learning and discovery. Learn more about how Stratford School Altadena promotes learning and reading opportunities for children. Visit www.stratfordaltadena.com and schedule a personalized tour today.