Shared by: Katherine Grier, Librarian at York Avenue Preschool

We all know the first weeks of school can be hard for students (and families).  Leaving behind the freedoms and adventures of summer, following routines, meeting new teachers, making new friends and learning things can be rough and a little scary. Read-aloud books are a great way to facilitate back-to-school discussions and make September a happily anticipated time, rather than a dreaded one.  Here are some of my new favorite back-to-school books that are perfect for this.

If I Built a School by Chris Van Dusen

My school will amaze you. My school will astound.

By far the most fabulous school to be found!
Perfectly planned and impeccably clean.
On a scale, 1 to 10, it’s more like 15!
And learning is fun in a place that’s fun, too.

This is how Jack, the ingenious young architect from If I Built a Car and If I Built a House, introduces his dream school.  The rest of Jack’s imaginings (which are gloriously brought to life in Chris Van Dusen’s awesome technicolor illustrations) are sure to please young students.  Without giving too much away, I will tell you that this school places heavy emphasis on gym, playground and lunchtime, and it includes robots and puppies.  Of course, my favorite room is the library, where the library books are all animated pop-ups rather than the “everyday regular” ones.  If I built a school, I would want a few of those books too!

The Pigeon HAS to go to School, Mo Willems

It has been a while since Mo Willems’ produced a new Pigeon story and this book was worth the wait.  It was released in early July and is already at the top of the NYTimes bestseller’s list for picture books.  The story addresses in a fun and silly way many of the fears and anxieties that little ones feel as they get ready to go to school. Pigeon’s rantings will have kids laughing and giggling from beginning to end as he worries about the teacher not liking him, finger paint sticking to his feathers and his head popping off from learning too much.   Grownups will be equally delighted and will definitely crack a smile or two when they hear some of Pigeon’s reasons for why he should not have to go to school.  Like many of our own children, he already knows everything and he is clearly not a morning person!!

The School Book by Todd Parr

With his trademark bright colors and simple text, Todd Parr explores all the different things that can happen in school–from morning routines to meeting new people to learning and playing together.   In addition, Parr introduces the concepts of sharing, inclusion, and community all in a cheerful, child-friendly way.  I guarantee preschool teachers and their 2, 3 and 4 year-old students are going to love this book.

How to Get Your Teacher Ready by Jean Reagan

I have noticed that many of the YAP students really enjoy books that turn the adult/child relationship upside down and feature strong and knowledgeable children helping out the adults in their lives and even setting them straight.  I imagine it is very empowering as well as very funny to them, and I love watching their reactions to these stories.   This winning picture book is a perfect specimen of this kind of story.  It beautifully describes how students care for their teacher and let her in on the tips of how to manage in their school’s “scary” environment. The teachers and I like to read this book aloud at the beginning of the school year, but I recommend it to parents as well, since so many scared or nervous children respond well to being given an important job, like helping their teacher.  It will also help to show them that they aren’t the only ones nervous about going to school.  Teachers (and Librarians!) can be too.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

I saw this book at a Scholastic Reading Summit in Greenwich, CT in July.  At first glance, I liked it for its beautiful illustrations and simple, rhyming verses that focused on different aspects of the school day while always ending in the phrase “All are welcome here.”  Our preschoolers love the repetitive, rhyming text and good illustrations. For that reason alone, I wanted it for our library.  As I read the book again however, I saw how layered and rich, and incredibly inspiring the book truly is. It is about diversity, for sure, and each page illuminates many differences that can be celebrated, such as clothes, foods, talents, and skin color and teaches that even with all these differences, kids can play, laugh, make music and art together, and have fun together.  It also teaches about community, in an amazing way.  When you look at the front endpapers (inside the cover before the title page) you see a mix of adults that includes interracial, same-sex, and heterosexual couples as well as single caregivers, bringing a mix of kids to school. Then on the rear endpapers, you see this same group assembled again at the conclusion of a successful schoolwide evening potluck.