Fellow parents, you may be counting the days (uh, minutes?) until that school bus arrives, but your kid doesn’t necessarily feel the same way. Transitions can be a time of anxiety for many children, and whether your kid is starting school for the very first time or just feeling a little queasy about re-entering the fold, it’s normal to have some big feelings around it all.
Here are some of our family’s favorite books that have helped my four kids work through some of their worries.
For the preschool and kindergarten set…
THE PIGEON HAS TO GO TO SCHOOL
by Mo Willems.
Mo Willems’ style is distinctive and hilarious; there’s a reason his books have won so many awards. In this one, the Pigeon is freaking out about starting school. He comes up with all kinds of excuses for why he shouldn’t go (not being a morning person, concern that his head will pop off if he learns too much, etc)… until he realizes that going to school means he actually gets to RIDE THE BUS. This book is sweet for the way it gently pokes fun at all the worries that plague kids (and grown-ups!) before new experiences.
LITTLE UNICORN IS SCARED
by Aurelie Chien Chow Chine.
This book is part of a series about Little Unicorn, who’s got a magical mane that changes color depending on his feelings. In this book, Little Unicorn is afraid of going to bed at night, and his ability to identify how he feels and manage these fears — with breathing exercises, for example — can be easily applied to starting school. The best part is the page with sketches of various emotions that lets the reader point to his or her own.
NUGGET & FANG GO TO SCHOOL
by Tammi Sauer & Michael Slack.
This shark and minnow best friend duo are about to start school, but Fang, the shark, has some misgivings. “What if school is too hard? Or weird? Or scary?” and “What if I yawn and accidentally swallow someone?!” Nugget, the minnow, has to drag Fang inside. Eventually Fang realizes his special gift is that he has “the best friend in the whole underwater world.” He leaves school feeling “fang-tastic,” his anxieties laid to rest. (It’s only the rest of the class that has to worry about being classmates with an actual shark!)
THE SCHOOL BOOK
by Todd Parr.
Parr, the New York Times best-selling author (THE GOODBYE BOOK, THE I LOVE YOU BOOK, and THE FAMILY BOOK) sets his empathetic eye on school with drawings that outline the getting-ready steps and what happens during the school day. “We meet our teacher. We have so much to do together. We eat healthy snacks.” He ends the book with: “There are lots of fun things to do at school. Always be kind. And don’t pick your nose. The End. Love, Todd.” Truth.
HANNAH SPARKLES: HOORAY FOR THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!
by Robin Mellom, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.
Hannah is excited to start first grade because she’s a self-described “friend-making machine” who gives great hugs and makes glitter butterflies. But once at school, she’s thrown off when no one actually wants to be friends with her. Her charm efforts fall flat, her glitter butterflies are rebuffed, and her one good friend, Sunny, is too far away to hang out with during class. Hannah slowly realizes that she might be better off listening and watching a bit instead of always “showing and talking” first. This is a really interesting, fun book that can help kids develop emotional intelligence and social skills.
EVEN MONSTERS GO TO SCHOOL
by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen.
Here we’ve got a monster reluctant to get ready for school. The monster’s dad tells him all monsters go to school, and gives all kinds of examples: Big Foot gets on the school bus. Frankenstein finds a chair in the classroom. Dragon finds the bathroom. Troll plays tag. Loch Ness Monster learns nursery rhymes. Giant eats lunch by the playground, while aliens learn to count. By the end, the little monster happily jumps on the school bus. It’s a lovely story that shows everyone is in the same boat (or… bus!).
TOMORROW I’LL BE BRAVE
by Jessica Hische.
This beautifully illustrated rhyming book with double-page artistic spreads is inspiring and confidence-building. Passages include “Tomorrow I’ll be smart, I’ll think before I act. I’ll solve a puzzle, read a book, and learn a fun new fact!” and, “Tomorrow I’ll be curious, please teach me something new. I’ll ask a million times… Why? Why? Why… maybe a million or two.” The best part: “Tomorrow I’ll be all the things I tried to be today and if I wasn’t one of them, I know that it’s okay.” Even big kids — and grownups — can relate to that.
SORRY, GROWN-UPS, YOU CAN’T GO TO SCHOOL
by Christina Geist, illustrated by Tim Bowers.
In this brand-new book, everyone — mom, dad, grandma — practically beg to go to school, but the answer is a resounding no. Sorry, only kids and teachers. OK, so apparently school is the hottest ticket in town? Brilliant. This is enough to convince Buddy and Lady, the two kids, to hop on the darn school bus.
LOLA GOES TO SCHOOL
by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw.
Lola gears up for her first day of school by reading books in pretend story-time to her little sister and packing up school supplies with her mom. On the actual day, she gets up early, has “picture-time,” then arrives in the classroom, where her mom stays for a few minutes of transition. (The mom sitting at a tiny table drinking coffee out of a yellow mug is a fantastic detail.) Throughout the day, whenever Lola gets a little sad, she hugs her stuffed cat and reminds herself, “Mommy said goodbye and went home.” After an uneventful but pleasant enough day (she made it!), she reunites with her mom and goes home, only to fall asleep on her mom’s lap. This is the best case scenario for a school day. (By the end of the story, the mom is still drinking coffee and is now on her iPad. Love it.) Part of a larger Lola series.
For the middle school set…
by Kristen Gudsnuk.
Making friends isn’t always easy. This graphic novel takes Linda through a smorgasboard of garden-variety middle school horrors, from mean girls loitering by the lockers to the indignity of gym class. This book is perfect for anyone who needs a reminder that making friends isn’t always easy… and that we all feel that way from time to time.
by Jerry Craft.
This graphic novel, told from the point-of-view of 12-year-old Jordan Banks, describes his experience starting a new school. “Middle school is hard enough without being… the new kid.” Jordan manages to get through it all with the help of his family, friends and his own emotional resources.
A SMART GIRL’S GUIDE: MIDDLE SCHOOL: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT JUGGLING HOMEWORK, MORE TEACHERS, AND MORE FRIENDS!
by Julie Williams Montalbano, illustrated by Cathi Mingus.
This American Girl guidebook is a primer on how to prepare for Middle School with an inside scoop on how to manage friends, homework, after-school classes and more. Full of quizzes and tips, this book is like a magazine/self-help hybrid, complete with personal letters from “real girls” who have survived this transition.
MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE
by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts.
This novel follows Rafe, who’s got his plate full with problems at home and getting used to middle school. So… he embarks on a quest to break every rule in his school’s Code of Conduct. This is book one in Patterson’s middle school series.
SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL: AN INTERACTIVE STORY FOR BOYS
SURVIVING MIDDLE SCHOOL: AN INTERACTIVE STORY FOR GIRLS
by Dave McGrail, illustrated by Lauera VanDerHeart.
These choose-your-own-adventure books let readers figure out how to handle different situations from what to do if a secret is revealed to whether or not to team up with a friend in a fight. An Interactive Story for Girls was featured by CNN and is now used as a mentoring tool for the non-profit, Girls, Inc.
BOYING UP: HOW TO BE BRAVE, BOLD AND BRILLIANT
GIRLING UP: HOW TO BE STRONG, SMART AND SPECTACULAR
by Mayim Bialik, Ph.D.
Certain chapters, in particular, are wonderful resources for helping middle schoolers understand stress and emotions. Bialik (yes, that’s “Blossom”) talks directly to her readers, offering tools for channeling emotions in a productive way.