Believe it or not, August is here and that can mean only one thing: back-to-school themes are everywhere! I wouldn’t normally call myself a follower, but I openly admit to loving the back-to-school time of year. Those store sections suddenly packed with notebooks, pencils, backpacks, and the smell of Scotch Tape absolutely make me giddy. I’ve always felt this way. Getting my new school books each year was like a sort of Christmas in September. (Why on earth do schools start so early now?) Since I’m no longer in the mass of students and my child won’t be for a while either, I will celebrate the oncoming of the school year (and the hint of fall right behind!) by making lists of my favorite school-themed picture books, and inevitably buying a few school supplies for myself while I’m at it. You never know when you’ll need an awesome patterned folder or another pack of Sharpies!
Here is my 2013 list of fifteen picture books that center around school in some form and make me slightly nostalgic for those childhood schooldays.
1. The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery, 2011
Using a clever spin on a classic little fellow, author Laura Murray has crafted a hilarious adventure for a class-made cookie that gets lost in the school. Mike Lowery’s colorful comic-style art is lovely, entertaining and keeps great pace as the little man runs as fast as he can. Check out the fun book trailer too!
2. How Do Dinosaurs Go to School? by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague, 2007
In keeping with my dino-fever, Jane Yolen and Mike Teague’s books are quickly becoming a favorite. Here they ponder the fantastic situation about how dinosaurs would get to school, interact with fellow students, behave in the classroom and perhaps ultimately be stellar students.
3. First Year Letters by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by Judy Love, 2003
A sweet and endearing book, Danneberg and Love portray a new teacher’s first year of teaching through letters that her class and others write to her via their classroom post office. Extremely witty and unique, it is a delight to piece together the backstory of each letter as it is described in parts via the letters and illustrations.
4. The New Girl… and Me by Jacqui Robbins, art by Matt Phelan
These precious girls repeatedly steal my heart as Mia attempts to help the new girl, Shakeeta feel “at home” even though they are at school. Jacqui Robbins narrated the book from the perspective of Mia and it is easy to get swept away into the world of elementary school and childhood friendships all over again with the help of Matt Phelan’s beautiful images.
5. Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin, art by James Dean, 2011
I quietly admit that I have never been a great Pete the Cat fan. But he is one cool dude in his school shoes with his rocking song that is sure to be stuck in your head. And it is definitely fun to read aloud again and again in preparation for all that school entails.
6. Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard & James Marshall, 1977
Oh this book was a favorite when I was a kid! It is such a great combination of naughty children, a sugary sweet teacher, and a dreadful and almost too scary substitute whom only those keen observers will discover the truth about in the end. A classic tale all around and one not to be missed.
7. Math Curse by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith, 1995
This is a genius of a book and addicting to read. Our poor protagonist awakes one day and everything is a problem… an actual math problem that is. Scieszka and Smith are a stellar team with the gobs of math equations to solve in the text and the illustrations which perfectly lead the reader and the poor kid through the math cursed day.
8. Wilson and Miss Lovely by John Stadler, 2009
A fairly new discovery to me, I actually laughed out loud over this lift-the-flaps, back-to-school mystery. Sweet little Wilson loves school and his teacher, but the poor guy is so blinded by his love that he seems oblivious to all the things going wrong on a particularly lonely day.
I hesitated to list any “kindergarten” school books as there are way too many to choose from, but these are some of my favorites and worth acknowledging in case you have a new student around.
9. Mom, It’s My First Day of Kindergarten! by Hyewon Yum, 2012
In this fairly new title, gorgeous illustrations are sweetly paired with a little boy’s tale of the mother-son interactions that lead up to his first day of kindergarten. The characters of the mom and boy subtly change size and color to reflect their mood, and the affect, while a little confusing, is quite tender and endearing.
10. The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten by Maureen Fergus & Mike Lowery, 2013
Our second Lowery illustrated book of the list and a brand-new book, I can only imagine the giggles this tale will induce. One special day, a little girl’s mom attends her class only to horrify the sweet girl by her complete ignorance or adherence to any of the basic rules and conduct of school. This role-reversal will blow some little minds and entertain along the way.
11. Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein, 2010
There is something incredibly special about books that assign a character to an emotion. Vernick and Jennewein tackle the well-known feeling of first-day jitters with a lovable big buffalo who appears to be ready for kindergarten but is unsure if it is ready for him.
12. Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes, 2000
This is yet another classic that would just be too cruel to leave out. Poor little Wemberly worries her way through life and all the way into kindergarten. Thankfully, her loving parents, stuffed rabbit, and a perfectly discovered new friend help assuage her fears and turn worry into confidence.
I must tell you that I purposefully left these three for last because they are my absolute favorites of the list and I long to encourage you to linger on them a little. All new discoveries, I am enamored by their culture, uniqueness, and beautiful stories thankfully paired with lovely art as well.
13. Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier, illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter, 2001
Based on a true story about the work of Heifer Project, Beatrice is a young Ugandan who deeply desires to attend school but is unable to due to family finances and responsibility. Although a bit long, the narration is captivating and surprisingly all caught up in a simple little goat.
14. My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, pictures by Gabi Swiatkowska, 2003
Yoon is a heartbreakingly sweet, Korean girl who details her struggles about learning English and attempting to find her place in a new country. The illustrations are startling beautiful and the emotions conveyed through the paint and text are raw and charming.
15. Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, 2002
A big admirer of Sophie Blackall’s work, I was quite taken by the gorgeous red of this book’s cover and I knew to expect great delights inside. Author Shirin Yim Bridges weaves an engaging tale inspired by the life of her grandmother. It shares glimpses about a little Chinese girl who determinedly works her way into learning and university just like the boys in the large, traditional Chinese family.
That wraps it up for this school year list. If you made it this far, I declare that you must love picture books and perhaps school as much as I do. I’d be curious to know what back-to-school books are on your list? And don’t forget a bouquet of newly sharpened colored pencils!