humor, social-emotional

Book List: Back to School

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten (Doubleday Books for Young Readers)
Written by Candice Ransom
Illustrated by Christine Grove

For ages: 3-7
Amanda is extremely excited to go to school, but she doesn’t have the social skills to be a good friend. She’s intimidated by the other kids and doesn’t know how to respond when they interact with her. It takes some time, but eventually, Amanda finds courage and a good friend in Bitsy. The artwork effectively communicates the mixed emotions Amanda feels, even when she is not being very nice. The character arc here is pretty unrealistically fast, so having a conversation with your students about fiction compressing time might be good. In our lives, we take a little longer to learn and grow our empathy, and that’s perfectly fine. 

Wow! School! (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Written & Illustrated by Robert Neubecker

For ages: 3-7
They don’t come much simpler than this one, and that’s a good thing. This is a perfect book for that young child who is curious about school and maybe hasn’t attended yet. The main character Izzy is picked up by the bus for her first day of school. The artwork consists of multiple spreads filled with detail and presents the child with essential school-related vocabulary. Neubecker’s words are reflected in his art, very simple but overflowing with enthusiasm in the same way a child might react on their first day of school. The book’s design also adds an element of wonder as certain pages must be viewed vertically, so students get to rotate the text.

The Gingerbread Man Loose in School (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Written by Laura Murray
Illustrated by Mike Lowrey

For ages: 3-7
The Gingerbread Man is a very familiar character to children, and this book places him in a new setting: school. Told through end rhymes, we watch as the GM meets new friends and gets to learn what school is all about. He gets flattened by a volleyball, breaks his cookie toe, which the nurse attends to, and even falls into the art teacher’s lunch after sliding down the railing. Much of what GM does is a funny example for kids of the type of behavior we frown upon in schools. Our protagonist learns that being silly and playing is a fun time, but you have to know how to regulate yourself and when is the right moment. 

A Place to Read (Bloomsbury USA Childrens)
Written & Illustrated by Leigh Hodgkinson

For ages: 3-7
Teaching students how to focus when they read is one of the main things happening in early elementary. The young narrator of this book is a child who wants to lose themselves in a good book, but they keep running into problems. The buzz of a bee distracts them. The chair is uncomfortable; he imagines it’s a scratchy, hairy monster. He even tries out wilder locales like a lily pad and a distant star, but they just don’t fit. Eventually, the boy learns that you can read anywhere; it’s about not letting things become your distractions. He’s helped by a friendly cat who snuggles up and makes it all right.

Amy Wu and the Warm Welcome (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Written by Kat Zhang
Illustrated by Charlene Chua

For ages: 4-8
Amy Wu is excited when her teacher announces they have a new student. His name is Lin, and he is from China. He doesn’t speak the whole day despite Amy talking to him and showing him around the building. She glimpses Lin with his family and sees his personality change. He’s chatty and smiling but speaks in Mandarin. Amy understands Lin doesn’t speak English, and she asks her grandmother for help in making a special welcome banner in Lin’s native language. Chua’s illustrations are perfect for this story; the characters have very expressive eyes and reactions. The lesson of the book is all about not just accepting new people into our communities but genuinely understanding them. 

Rescuing Mrs. Birdley (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Written by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrated by Emma Reynolds

For ages: 4-8
This is my vote for the best book on the list. Miranda loves watching nature shows, and she loves The Nature Joe Animal Show. Joe will rescue animals and return them to their natural habitats. One day, Miranda sees her teacher Mrs. Birdley at the grocery store. The poor woman has wandered too far from her natural habitat, the school. Miranda is convinced she has to get her teacher back home. And she does that in comical style, eventually locking Mrs. Birdley just as the weekend starts, hoping she gets reacclimated by Monday morning. This is the kind of book that will have teachers laughing along with the children—a must-own for every classroom, in my opinion.

The Recess Queen (Scholastic Press)
Written by Alexis O’Neill
Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

For ages: 4-8
Mean Jean is a brute on the playground, yelling and pushing other kids to get what she wants when she wants it. Unfortunately, this behavior makes recess miserable for many children. New student Katie Sue seems like a wallflower but decides to stand up to Mean Jean but not how you might expect. Instead, a jump rope becomes the tool that Katie Sue will use to tame this playground beast. The artwork here is delightfully colorful, and the characters have a thin, rubbery look reminiscent of some cartoons from the early 2000s. I’m not sure how easily applicable the ideas of countering bully are here. Still, it is a fun book that exudes positive vibes.

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