It’s the rare child who’s completely confident and ready to take on a new year at school. If you’ve got a kindergartner, first-grader or other young child worried about going to that big, scary building all day, help him or her through the anxiety by reading books that show that things will turn out just fine. For older kids, back-to-school books tend to be more issue-oriented: how to deal with a new school in a new town, for example, and how to manage those cruel mean-girl social groups.

Here, a handful of favorites.

‘I Am Too Absolutely Small for School’

Author/illustrator: Lauren Child

Candlewick Press, 2003

What it’s about: In this installment in the ever-popular Charlie and Lola series, Charlie tries to convince Lola that she is indeed big enough to start school. Lola says she is too absolutely small and really busy at home. When Charlie says she can learn how to count up to 100 and learn to write notes and read books, Lola counters that she has 10 toes and fingers and that is all she needs to know; she can use the telephone instead of writing; and she has all her books in her head. Charlie comes back to say what if she wants to give treats to 11 elephants; write to Santa Claus; and read books to an ogre to put him to sleep? What then, Lola? Then Charlie says Soren Lorenson, Lola’s invisible friend, will want to sit by her at lunch so he won’t be alone. By the end of the first day, Charlie finds Lola hopping along home with a new friend who also likes pink milk. Turns out it was Soren Lorenson who was nervous.

Why read it: The colorful collages seem to come off the pages with their bright colors, winding spirals of words and vivid photographs, cutouts and drawings. Parents and their children just beginning school might like to try making pictures celebrating school by using Child’s mixed-media collage techniques.

‘Off to First Grade’

Author/illustrator: Louise Borden/Joan Rankin

Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008

What it’s about: From Alice to Li to Ramon to Mr. Zimmerman, the principal of Elm School, the children of Miss Miller’s first-grade class tell the story of their first day at school. Each free-verse poem introduces a different voice – and reason – to go to school. Alice is excited about the zillions of books, Dee waits for school bus No. 5, Ignacio practices his English, Otto has new sneakers, Quinn listens to jazz in his father’s car, Xavier drives bus No. 3 and can “see monkey business before it happens,” while Mr. Zimmerman chooses a book to read to Mrs. Miller’s class. And what does Mrs. Miller do on this big day? She puts name tags on each desk and remembers all those 23 names.

Why read it: The illustrator’s soft watercolors of the zoomorphic characters provide a gentle and unthreatening introduction to school. This book is a good choice to read aloud.

‘Clementine’s Letter”

Author/illustrator: Sara Pennypacker/ Marla Frazee

Hyperion Books for Children, 2008

What it’s about: In the third and newest Clementine book, our lovable and precocious heroine is in the third grade. The story begins with Clementine finally getting the hang of school. Clementine and her teacher Mr. D’Matz really work well together. He understands her creative way of thinking, and she understands his class rules. But what will happen when a new substitute comes in after Mr. D’Matz makes it to the finals of the Adventures for Teachers contest? Will the substitute understand Clementine’s need to draw beer-drinking outlaws on her school papers? Most importantly, will Mr. D’Matz actually win the contest and go to Egypt for the rest of the year? Clementine cannot let this happen. So when the class is asked to write a letter to the contest judges, Clementine takes things into her own hands – she will sabotage his good name. Surely if she is able to convince the judges Mr. D’Matz is a terrible teacher, then he will lose the contest.

Why read it: Children will enjoy Clementine’s hilarious problem-solving skills that inevitably run into unexpected snags. Parents will cheer for Clementine when she comes up with solutions on her own that teach her important life lessons like responsibility and generosity, which are good for kids of any age to learn.

‘The Fashion Disaster That Changed My Life’

Author: Lauren Myracle

Dutton, 2005

What it’s about: Alli is beginning seventh grade and thinking it “is going to be my breakout year. The year I finally stopped being invisible” – until a pair of her mother’s underwear, stuck by static cling to her pants, peeks out in her first class and everyone laughs. Even her friend Kathy is less than sympathetic to her “fashion disaster.” Then Rachel, the most popular girl in seventh grade, takes Alli on as a friend and Alli is amazed at how popular she becomes. She also meets a new friend, Megan, not in the popular circle, and tries to balance her new friendships. The climax comes at Rachel’s birthday party when Alli learns an important lesson about friendship.

Why read it: The story is told through Alli’s journal and e-mails and is really funny, even when Alli is agonizing about how to become popular in middle school and then what to do with that popularity. A good book for girls with middle-school angst.

‘My Nights at the Improv’

Author: Jan Siebold

Albert Whitman & Co., 2005

What it’s about: Lizzie is not only beginning eighth grade but eighth grade at a new school in a new town. She quickly runs into trouble with Vanessa, a popular but sharp-tongued girl. She watches an improvisational drama class at community education and begins learning from the improvisation lessons to let go of her fears and to think and speak as she goes along. Now she realizes that “in order to succeed you have to be willing to take risks.” She not only puts that lesson to work for herself but helps her mother, too.

Why read it: This one covers the nerve-wracking issue of being new at a school in the middle-school years. A good read, with good advice for girls.

Catherine Clyde is a children’s librarian at the Fort Worth Public Library.


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