The five year old daughter of my niece starts kindergarten tomorrow. (They live in California where they don't wait until after Labor Day to begin the school year.) Elise, like five year olds across the country, is excited about going to school but she is also a little bit worried about what to expect. She will do fine, I am sure, but I know how she feels. If it is any consolation to those of you who are starting school soon, I have never met a teacher who did not worry about the start of the new year. I know I will have trouble sleeping the night before school starts--both from excitement and from worry that things may not go as smoothly as hoped.
To help Elise and her mother and everyone else, here is a list of some of the picture books that I use at the start of the school year to help ease the worries and find the fun of school.
The two authors who come to mind first are Kevin Henkes and Rosemary Wells. Both of these well-loved authors have written many picture books about school. Look for Wemberly Worried and Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse for those of Henkes' books that most relate to school worries. He has so many books from which to choose that you could spend weeks with them and get good advice for being young from them all. Wells is similarly talented in making life a little more understandable. The titles that first come to mind from Wells that relate to school are those about Timothy (Timothy Goes To School) and the stories about Yoko.
For those young ones with a good sense of humor and the ability to understand that rumors are often wrong, the Black Lagoon books by Mike Thaler (titles include The Librarian from the Black Lagoon, The Gym Teacher from the Black Lagoon, The Teacher from the Black Lagoon, and many more) can be a great deal of fun. If your child will be scared off by tales of a librarian who laminates children and other evil school personnel, you might want to wait until they are safely ensconced in school routines before introducing these books, but keep them in mind when you want to laugh about these early school jitters.
Speaking of jitters, A Very Full Morning by Eva Montari uses gentle illustrations and a rabbit with expressive body language to make the point that everyone worries about the first day of school. This little rabbit named One Tooth can't sleep the night before the first day of school, but she dutifully gets up, gets dress, and heads off to the classroom. The illustrations are soft but the angles they take convey the worry inherent in the day. The surprise and reassurance comes on the final pages. One review I read warned that this might add to worries of some so read it to yourself if you worry about your worrier. (Pre-reading the picture book you are about to share with your child is always a good idea. Of course sometimes the persistent "read it now" is more important than that judicious scan.)
Froggy Goes to School by Jonathan London starts with an all too familiar dream. Froggy dreams that he forgets to put on his pants before setting off to school. After surviving such a humiliating dream, the real school day can not help but go smoothly.
The School in Murky Wood by Malcolm Bird distracts young students from their school worries by getting them looking for the monster students who use the school in the night time. These goofy looking monsters come out when all of the kids go home. They have classes that are similar to those that the humans take but with distinctly monster-ish twists. When I read this to a class I prepare myself for reports of monster track sitings for many days to come.
If you have a child who loves playing with language, Butterflies in my Stomach and Other School Hazards by Serge Bloch is just for you. Each page features a familiar idiom that applies to a young boy setting off to school. He "gets up on the wrong side of the bed" with "butterflies in his stomach" about going to school. He is asked about his "long face" and meets the "Big Cheese" principal. It takes a wise teacher to get to the root of his biggest concerns. It took a talented artist to depict each idiom as a literal statement while helping the reader to understand the implied meanings. This is a book that is worth reading again and again for there is much to discover and discuss on each page and in each surprisingly simple illustration.
Do you have a real worrier? The Worryworts by Pamela Edwards is not about school but it is about the wonderful world of worry. Wombat, Weasel, and Woodchuck want to go out to wander the world but they worry about what could go wrong. What if a whirlwind from the west whisks them away? What if wasps wander around them? Every what if is addressed with a wonderfully wacky solution. This book is one that our school counselor uses often with students who are worriers. It is a delight to read aloud because it goes well out of its way to use "w" words wildly.
I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas is a little too saccharine for my usual taste and the illustrations are a little too pastel. Nonetheless, I get a little misty-eyed when I read this reassuring little tale. Owen the pig is worried about being left alone at school. His mother tells him that she loves even when he is not with her and then gives concrete examples. It is sweet and sappy and sometimes just what is needed.
If you are up for reading something longer than a picture book, the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park are funny stories about a mischievous little kindergarten girl. (In later books in this very large series she heads on to first grade.) Some folks get upset by her wild behavior and bad grammar but others love to laugh at her antics and find consolation in her coping skills. These books are written as first chapter books so if you read one to your beginning reader, she may take off with them on her own. (Boys are not as likely to want to try these books at first glance but I have had several boys that read them all once that first reluctance was gone.)
See my earlier post about Jump Start Camp for a few more titles that you might want to try as well.
Parents need reassurances about the first day of school, too. I am sorry that I don't have any books just for adults to help you cope. Enjoying any of these books with your child should offer you plenty of support. Take a minute on the first day of school to meet some of the other parents and get comfortable with the school. You will be spending a lot of time there and you need to feel as comfortable as your child does.