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The 21 best back-to-school books for kids to calm first day jitters

These books can ease worries and make starting school more exciting.
Illustration of three children's books
TODAY Illustration / Amazon
/ Source: TODAY

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Whether your child is strapping on a backpack for the first time or just starting a new year, the first day of school is nerve-wracking even in the best of times. With school schedules changing and continued precautions around coronavirus, parents can expect even more back-to-school jitters this year.

Parents can ease first-day jitters is by establishing the new routine ahead of time and reading books to prepare for the big day.

Books about starting school range from tender to hilarious. Try one of these picture books, a mix of old favorites and titles as new as your little student:

1. "Sounds Like School Spirit," by Meg Fleming and Lucy Ruth Cummins

This clever cheer-themed book is sure to get little ones in the school spirit with pep-rally style chants: "We say BOOK, you say BAG/We say NAME, you say TAG..." The equally cheerful illustrations make a great introduction to all the parts of school to shout about.

2. "A Hundred Thousand Welcomes," by Mary Lee Donovan and Lian Cho

Welcome children back to school in any language with this inclusive poem and illustrations that show multi-cultural greeting traditions.

3. "Wherever You'll Be," by Ariella Prince Guttman and Genevieve Godbout

This sweet poem from former TODAY producer Ariella Prince Guttman reminds children that wherever they'll be, parents will be thinking of them and waiting for a happy reunion.

4. "Little Ghoul Goes to School," by Jef Czekaj

Will the first day of school be ghastly? Little Ghoul can only hope so, but his worst fears come true when he arrives at school and finds his teacher is nice and lunch isn't revolting.

5. "My School Stinks!" by Becky Scharnhorst and Julia Patton

Wildwood Elementary stinks, literally, thanks to the creatures who share the school with an unhappy human. In humorous diary entries, he learns to go with the flow and forgive a nervous bite or two.

6. "First Day Critter Jitters," by Jory John and Liz Climo

If you think your child is nervous for the first day of school, just imagine how hard it would be for a snake to strap on a backpack. This funny picture book shares the first day anxieties of all sorts of critters, and will show little ones that everyone gets a little nervous.

7. "Danbi Leads the School Parade," by Anna Kim

Danbi has an extra-tough adjustment to make as she arrives at her first school in America. She'll use communication — verbal and non — to connect to her new classmates.

8. “The Day You Begin,” by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López

This touching read acknowledges the times when children feel different or misunderstood and encourages them to share their stories, so “the world opens itself up a little wider to make some space for you.”

9. “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,” by Ryan T. Higgins

Penelope Rex is shocked to discover her classmates are children. So she eats them. She’ll have to learn to keep her appetite in check if school is going to work out.

10. “The Pigeon HAS to Go to School,” by Mo Willems

Mo Willems is back with his sixth Pigeon book, and this time Pigeon has to go to school, even though he already knows everything (and is maybe a little scared). What if he learns too much?

11. “The King of Kindergarten,” by Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Conquering kindergarten is a snap for the hero of this story, who takes his first day in stride, makes friends and gets his royal rest. It's a burst of positivity and confidence.

12. “Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous: A First Day of School Dilemma,”by Keith Calabrese and Juana Medina

Lena is all ready for kindergarten. It’s just her shoes that are nervous. Good thing the rest of her closet can show them that the best things happen when we’re nervous.

13. “Mae’s First Day of School,” by Kate Berube

It’s Mae’s first day, and she doesn’t want to go. What if she’s the only one who can’t read and misses her mom? In a sweet encounter with a classmate and new teacher, she’ll discover she’s not the only one.

14. “The Kissing Hand,” by Audrey Penn, Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak

Chester Raccoon doesn’t want to go to school. To ease his fears, Mrs. Raccoon shows him the Kissing Hand — a trick that might help any child worried about separation.

15. “School’s First Day of School,” by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson

Turns out even schools get nervous — and covered in nose milk. This first day from the school’s perspective shows how lucky the school and kids are.

16. “Truman,” by Jean Reidy and Lucy Ruth Cummins

Truman the turtle spends his days with Sarah, until she straps on a backpack and leaves, mysteriously. He’ll have to be brave to venture across the vast, unsettling landscape of home to find her.

17. “Owl Babies,” by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson

This sweet book about Mama’s safe return is recommended for preschoolers and children with separation anxiety.

18. “All Are Welcome,” by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

This inclusive picture book shows exuberant children of all shades and religions. It’s a great reminder about embracing difference.

19. “Your First Day of Circus School,” by Tara Lazar and Melissa Crowton

What’s the first day of school like when the cafeteria’s a literal zoo? This fun take on the first day of school has a can-do spirit.

20. “Llama Llama Misses Mama,” by Anna Dewdney

It’s Llama Llama’s first day of school, and he feels so new. He’ll find out how fun it can be just in time for Mama Llama to come back.

21. “The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade,” by Justin Roberts and Christian Robinson

Nobody notices Sally McCabe, the smallest girl in the smallest grade. But by raising her hand she shows how a small voice can make a big difference.

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