10 Best Back to School Books and Activities

10 Ten Best Back to School Picture Books for Your Children

Updated 8/22/2020

As summer is winding down, it is time to think about going back to school. I selected these as the 10 Best Back to School Books that I hope your children/students will enjoy. School for your children will look different this year.

Some students will go to a physical classroom full-time, many children will return to a hybrid (part in class/ part online) situation, some will move forward online-only, and others will be homeschooled. Please have a flexible mindset to help your kids transition into any of these situations.

I found a fabulous free resource for you and your children. It is a collection of free books about COVID and how children can deal with their feelings during this difficult time. Check them out at the New York City School Library System.

I am a huge fan of sharing physical picture books with captivating illustrations with children. If you are a parent, you can read them with your kids that are heading to school. Teachers/librarians/school media specialists can read them to students as an icebreaker. These books are an excellent way to reinforce reading left to right for younger children.

Teachers and librarians might consider purchasing these books as hardcovers/board books to endure the test of time. However, even younger children can learn how to respect paperback books. When I taught Kindergarten, I presented several lessons where I modeled how to gently handle books. (I am almost 100% sure that this will be different this year, and shared items will have to be sanitized or set aside for around 3 days.)

Teachers might think about sending your future students welcoming introduction postcards. When I taught Kindergarten, I wrote that they would be writing their names on the first day of school. This communication also helped ease the minds of parents because they wanted to know what to expect.

My background includes earning a Master’s Degree in Reading and Library Science. I am certified as a Kindergarten- 6th Grade with a cross-endorsement as a School Media Specialist K-12 teacher, and I have taught Kindergarten and Second Grade.
In addition, I was an Academic Librarian for several years and worked closely with the Early Childhood Department.

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*”This post contains affiliate links in banners/ & photos. If you use these links, I will get a small commission from your purchase. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.”*

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There is still a Question Mark about How School will Look in the New School Year of 2020. As a Parent, You Might Want to Make Contingency Plans

10 Ten Best Back to School Picture Books for Your Children

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1. The Kissing Hand
Written by: Audrey Penn
Illustrations by: Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak
Series: The Kissing Hand #1
Ages: 2-7 Years
U.S. Grades: Preschool-Second Grade
Juvenile, Fiction, School, Separation Anxiety, Mothers and Sons, Raccoons, Forest Animals

The Kissing Hand is a heartwarming introduction to The Kissing Hand series. Chester Raccoon is extremely apprehensive about starting his first day of school because he will have to be away from his mother for the first time.

Mrs. Raccoon reassures her son by kissing his palm and telling him to hold it against his face to remind him that she is always with him wherever he goes.

Through gentle and enchanting illustrations and dialog, children will get a glimpse into what to expect when they go to school for the first time. This is an exceptional book for any child dealing with the fear associated with being separated from a loved one.

As a bonus, my copy came with Kissing Hand heart stickers that you can put on your children’s hands as a physical reminder that you are with them in their hearts.

Awards/ Recognition(s): New York Times Bestseller and the Distinguished Achievement Award for Excellence in Educational Journalism

Other books in The Kissing Hand (deal with social issues) series include:

A Pocket Full of Kisses #2 (2004) Sibling, Jealousy
A Kiss Goodbye #3 (2007) Moving
Chester Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully #4 (2008) Bullying
Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories #5 (2009) Coping with Death of a Friend
Chester the Brave# 6 (2012) Bravery
A Bedtime Kiss for Chester Raccoon #7 (2011) Fears at Bedtime
A Color Game for Chester Raccoon #8 (2012) Learning Colors
Chester Raccoon and the Almost Perfect Sleepover #9 (2017) First overnight away from home

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2. Tiptoe into Kindergarten Written and Illustrated by: Jacqueline Rodgers
Ages: 4-5 Years
U.S. Grades: Preschool-Kindergarten
Juvenile, Fiction, School, Kindergarten, Preschool

Tiptoe into Kindergarten is a clever overview of the Kindergarten experience. A Preschooler sneaks into her brother’s Kindergarten class. There she engages in several Kindergarten activities including writing letters on the board, counting, playing at an activity table, painting, and more.

Being a former Kindergarten teacher, I thought this book is a valuable addition to any collection. I appreciate the author representing the preschooler being happy and excited participating in classroom routines. These are reassuring images for apprehensive students.

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3. First Day Jitters
By: Julie Danneberg
Illustrated By: Judy Love
Ages: 5-7 Years
U.S. Grades: Kindergarten-Second Grade
Lexile® Measure: AD210L
Juvenile, Fiction, School, First Day of School

First Day Jitters is an intelligent alternative perspective to experiencing the nervousness associated with the first day of school. Sarah begins her day buried under her bed covers until Mr. Hartwell coaxes her out.

Gently, Mr. Hartwell guides Sarah step by step through her morning routine and eases her into her transition from her first day at a new school.

The amusing illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the engaging text. Children will smile when they hear this witty story.

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4. Kindergarten Countdown
Written by: Anna Jane Hays
Illustrated by: Linda Davick
Ages: 4-5 Years
U.S. Grades: Preschool-Kindergarten
Juvenile, Fiction, School, Kindergarten, Days of the Week, Counting, Calendar, Rhyming

Kindergarten Countdown is an adorable rhyming book about a girl who is counting down the days until starts Kindergarten. Again, I am thankful the author depicts the future Kindergarten student eager about her first day of school.

This is a wonderful book that represents a few math skills including counting, calendar, and days of the week. The rhymes make the book move along at a good pace. I would recommend this book, and use this book while teaching these concepts.

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5. Spot Goes to School
Written and Illustrated by: Eric Hill
Ages: 2-5 Years
U.S. Grades: (Day Care) Nursery School-Kindergarten
Juvenile, Fiction, School, First Day of School, Dogs, Puppy, Animals, Lift the Flap

Spot Goes to School is a delightful look at the first day of school activities as seen through the eyes of Spot (a puppy). On the first day of school, Spot sings, builds with blocks, paints, and plays on the playground.

The simple, bold text is ideal for young children. Allowing children to guess what’s under the flap based on the pictures, is a great way to keep them engrossed and entertained throughout the book.

*Spot books have entertained children for decades. They have been translated into numerous languages. Also, they are available in a variety of formats including board books. Because Spot books are lift the flap, to engage young children for years to come, parents, teachers, and librarians might consider purchasing the board book versions of the Spot books. They tend to be less expensive and more durable for small hands.

Join Spot (by Eric Hill) in his other charming adventures:

Concept Books:
Spot Can Count
Spot Counts to Ten
Spot Tells Time
Spot’s Opposites
Spot’s Favorite Colors
Where’s Spot
Spot Bakes a Cake

Social Situations:
Spot Says Please
Spot’s Baby Sister
Spot’s Birthday Party
Get Well Soon, Spot!
Good Night, Spot
Spot Loves Bedtime
Spot Loves School

Family and Love:
I Love You, Spot!
Spot Loves His Mommy
Spot Loves His Daddy
Spot Loves His Grandma
Spot Loves His Grandpa

Going Places:
Spot Goes to the Beach
Spot Goes to the Swimming Pool
Spot Goes to the Park
Spot Goes Shopping
Spot Goes to the Farm
Find Spot at the Museum
Spot’s First Walk

Holidays:
Happy New Year, Spot!
Spot’s Valentine
Spot’s Easter Surprise
Spot’s Halloween
Spot’s Thanksgiving
Spot’s First Christmas

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6. If You Take a Mouse to School
Written by: Laura Numeroff
Illustrated by: Felicia Bond
Juvenile, Fiction, School, Mice
Ages: 3-8 Years
U.S. Grades: Preschool-Second Grade
Lexile® Measure: AD660L

If You Take a Mouse to School is a hilarious look at what happens when a boy takes a mouse, who wants everything, to school.

The mouse will read, write, do math problems, and science experiments, but it will take a bus full of extra school supplies in order to satisfy this little scamp.

The illustrations complement the writing masterfully to keep the pace lively. The collaboration between Numeroff and Bond is entertainment at its best!

5 stars Awards/Recognition: NYT Bestselling author and Publisher Weekly Bestselling author

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7. Splat the Cat:
By: Rob Scotton
Juvenile, Fiction, School, First Day of School, Cats, Kittens, Mouse
Ages: 3-7 years
U.S. Grades: Preschool-Second Grade
Lexile® Measure: AD390L

Splat the Cat is an enchanting and comical glimpse at Splat’s (our protagonist) first day of school. Scotton takes us from Splat’s silly excuses about why he cannot attend school to his pet mouse (Seymour) escaping in the classroom.

Children will enjoy the emotionally expressive artwork of Splat, and the details Scotton planted around the story from the fishbone wallpaper to Seymour drinking milk with the class.

Awards/Recognition(s): Rob Scotton is a New York Times bestselling author and illustrator of several Splat the Cat books, Splat the Cat is a Time Magazine’s Top 10 Children’s Books of 2008

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8. Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes
By: Eric Litwin
Art by: James Dean
Ages: 3-8 years
U.S. Grades: Preschool- Third Grade
Lexile® Measure: 600L
Juvenile, Fiction, School, Music, Cats, Kittens, Rhyming

Pete the Cat feels amazing all school day long because he is rockin’ and singing with his school shoes on. He sings, paints, does math problems, writes, and much more while his happy feet are in his school shoes. The humorous artwork with Pete with his extra-large sneakers adds a “cool cat” vibe.

This is a lighthearted book that is a groovy way to transition kids back to school. There are free Pete the Cat songs, videos, and extras at the HarperCollins Children (publisher) website.
Awards/Recognition(s): New York Times bestselling series Pete the Cat books, 2012 Children’s Choice Beginning Readers (Grades K-2)

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9. Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse
By: Kevin Henkes
Ages: 4-8 years
U.S. Grades: Kindergarten-Third Grade
Lexile® Measure: 540L
Juvenile, Fiction, School, Mice, Teacher, Students, Conflict Resolution

Lily (mouse) is an outgoing student who loves school and adores her teacher Mr. Slinger. She is so enthusiastic about school and her teacher that she plays school at home. One day, Lily brings her new purple plastic purse that plays music when it opens and wears her sunglasses to school.

During several lessons, Lily cannot resist the urge to open her purse and let the tune play. After several warnings, Mr. Slinger confiscates Lily’s purse. In turn, she tells him she does not want to be a teacher anymore.

Once she arrives home, she realizes that Mr. Slinger had written her a kind note. How can Lily make amends? This is an ideal book to illustrate conflict resolution.

I invited students to wear sunglasses while I read the story, and this was a wonderful book to open a discussion with my students about how Lily could have prevented the problem, and how she can remedy the situation. Henkes playful and endearing books and illustrations have won numerous awards, and he is one of my favorite authors/illustrators.

Awards/Recognition(s): ALA Notable Children’s Book, Booklist Editors’ Choice, Horn Book Fanfare, Publishers Weekly Best Book, School Library Journal Best Book, New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, IRA Children’s Choice, American Booksellers Book of the Year Award

Other books starring Lily/ where Lily appears by Kevin Henkes:
Lily’s Big Day
Lily’s Chocolate Heart
A Box of Treats (Five little books about Lily and her friends)
Julius: The Baby of the World
Chester’s Way
Wemberly Worried

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10. What a Day it Was at School
Written by: Jack Prelutsky
Pictures by: Doug Cushman
Ages: 6-10 Years
U.S. Grades: First Grade-Fifth Grade
Poetry, School, Education, Juvenile, Poems

What a Day It Was at School is a hilarious collection of poems by Jack Prelutsky. When a cat mother asks her cat child how the day at school went, his response is a reading her the journal full of poems.

This feline’s journal covers: music, gym, and art class, lunchtime madness (a food fight), going to the nurse, a field trip, a visit from an author names Mister Hoobybatch, and so much more. Although this is outrageously funny, be careful not to give your students/children the wrong idea (it’s funny to start a food fight).

My favorite poems were:
My Backpack Weighs a Thousand Pounds (Most students can relate to this with all of their enormous, overweight books).

I Wish I’d Studied Harrder (This made me burst into laughter. The student wrote a poem, mostly misspelled, about how he/she wished he/she had studied harder for his “spellink” (spelling) test. And yes, that is how he/she spelled harder and spelling.)
It’s Library Time (The protagonist goes on adventures as he/she reads books in the library.)

I Know How to Add (The main character’s head is spinning as he tries to figure out complex math problems.)

Join the fun with these poems!

Awards/Recognition(s): Jack Prelutsky is a National Bestselling author, and Doug Cushman has won the 2005 Christopher Award for his artwork for Never, Ever Shout in a Zoo.

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6 thoughts on “10 Best Back to School Books and Activities”

  1. Pinning this for my next library run in a few months. I try to get my kids a new stack every time and I often have them held for me so I don’t have to go look for them when I get there. Thanks for the list because some of these we can definitely read, I have a first grader and a 4 year old.

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