8 Picture Books About Animals to Help Ease Back-to-School Jitters

Reading about animals who have the same fears and other feelings about going back to school can help young readers face their own.

Reading about animals who have the same fears and other feelings about going back to school can help young readers face their own.


Cobden, Rose. Welcome to Dinosaur School. illus. by Loretta Schauer. 32p. Ladybird. Jun. 2023. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780241607275.
PreS-Gr 1–A hazy morning sun reaches over misty mountains, shining down on a dino town stirring with anticipation on the first day of school. Jewel, a tiny teal dino, rises feeling uneasy about the big day ahead. Papa greets her, spatula in hand, ready to whip up pancakes, and Dad helps her dress for school. Before long, the family of three steps outside into the bustling dino herd trekking toward school in a scene reminiscent of Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town. Waving goodbye to her dads, Jewel joins her Jurassic classmates in a tour of her new classroom. Personalized backpack hooks, individual carpet leaves, and labeled notebooks welcome each little dino as valued members of the class. Lunch is an herbivore’s delight, with fruit and veggies to chomp and slurp before an afternoon of lava pit playtime, rock painting, and dino story time. At dismissal, Jewel runs to Dad, announcing that her first day of school was great, and he assures her that her second day will be even better! Jewel is bewildered. “You mean…I have to go back?” Cobden’s sweet, rhyming story is upbeat, showering positivity and plenty of exclamation points onto the first day of school. Schauer’s digital cartoon illustrations are vibrant and dynamic, matching the story’s high energy. Jewel having two dads is presented matter-of-factly and seamlessly integrated into the story without spotlighting it as a point of discussion. VERDICT Young dino lovers will enjoy sinking their teeth into this cheerful and inclusive story before stomping off for the first day of school.–Emily Brush

Engler, Fynisa. New School for Mouse. illus. by Ryan Law. 28p. (Foster Mouse: Bk. 2). Lawley. Jul. 2023. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781958302392; pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781958302415.
PreS-Gr 2–A tender story about a young mouse who is sent to live with a foster family and attend a new school away from his home and friends. Mouse faces overwhelming feelings of anxiety on his first day of school, but soon makes friends with a rabbit classmate who is deaf and also feeling lonely. They become friends and use their friendship to make another new classmate feel welcome. The hand-drawn illustration style features lots of squiggles and can look a little unfinished, but still has a lot of charm. The story introduces a few different themes, including foster homes, foster sibling relations, and making new friends at school. However, with no recap at the end, these elements feel a little disjointed. For instance, it seems that Mouse’s foster home is only mentioned in the beginning pages to convey that Mouse is feeling extra anxiety about his new school because of his new living situation. VERDICT A nice addition to collections that are looking for more books with representation of characters who live in foster homes.–Melanie Leivers

Martin, Louise. My First Day of First Grade. illus. by Denise Hughes. ISBN 9781728265254.
––––. My First Day of Kindergartenillus. by Joanne Partis. ISBN 9781728265223.
––––. My First Day of Preschool. illus. by Joanne Partis. ISBN 9781728265193.
ea vol: 40p. (My First Day of). Sourcebooks. Jun. 2023. Tr. $10.99.
PreS-Gr 1–Nerves often run high as the first day of school approaches. No matter one’s age, it can be intimidating to enter a new classroom with an unfamiliar teacher and unknown friends; but with a little courage and support from loving caregivers, that first day becomes a successful milestone that makes the next one even more fun. This series kindly prepares little ones for their first days of preschool, kindergarten, and first grade by showcasing personality traits common in these age groups. Trepidation, shyness, friendship, and bravery are clearly visible, and readers will be inspired to follow in the footsteps of the characters in these stories as they overcome their individual challenges. Each book features a different animal, and as the books advance in age, the characters become increasingly more confident and kind. The mother figure is the prominent parent in all three books, and fathers are rarely mentioned. Told in rhyming lines and a singsong meter, each of these three books is as pleasant to hear as it is to read aloud. Colorful illustrations depict a wide range of anthropomorphic animals engaging in familiar classroom activities with one another. Additionally, pages at the beginning and end of each support the personalization of the story while empowering readers to be brave on their own first days, too. VERDICT This series is a charming and inspirational collection to share, especially with young children who are experiencing anxiety leading up to their first day of school.–Mary R. Lanni


Scharnhorst, Becky. How to Get Your Octopus to School. illus. by Jaclyn Sinquett. 32p. Penguin/Flamingo. May 2023. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593205228.
PreS-Gr 2–“Congratulations! It’s time for your octopus to start school!” A small, apprehensive coral octopus eyes the letter flashed by a young pale-skinned girl, matching the extra arms of her playmate with two long, dark brown pigtails. Her octopus would rather stay home, and he uses camouflage to hide in plants, a toy chest, and the shower, sending the girl scouring the house for her eight-armed friend. After snatching him up into a tickle attack, she plops him down beside a closet to find a suitable outfit for the first day of school. Mystery mollusk toast for breakfast concludes the manic morning, and then it’s time for the clingy octopus to slide into Mrs. Bubble’s classroom. What surprises will the octopus discover inside? Scharnhorst’s second-person narrative slips readers into the perspective of the young girl sending her cunning, yet cuddly, octopus off to school. While the octopus’s game of hide-and-seek may extend a bit too long for grown-ups, young readers will hardly notice as they enjoy spotting the octopus hiding throughout Sinquett’s playful and brightly colored digital cartoon illustrations. Spoiler alert: The goodbye hug at the end of the story might draw a tear from grown-up readers getting ready to send children off to school. Back matter contains a list of “Ten (Mostly) True Facts About Octopuses,” for readers curious about the habits of octopuses highlighted throughout. VERDICT A charming, eight-armed hug of a story that won’t hide long on library shelves.–Emily Brush

Shum, Benson. First Night of Howlergarten. illus. by author. 32p. Penguin Workshop. Aug. 2023. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593521274.
PreS-K–On the first night of Howlergarten, Sophie, a young tan-skinned girl with reddish brown hair worries that she won’t transform into a werewolf under the full moon. Sophie’s parents assure her that they will love her whether or not her tail and paws appear. At school, the half-canine class jumps into werewolf exercises; tracking scents; honing their hearing; and perfecting galloping, trotting, and pouncing on all fours. To her dismay, these basic skills do not come naturally for Sophie, and she fears exclusion from the class pack if she doesn’t transform. At recess, Sophie hears a classmate shedding tears over the same worries, and offering them some wolfie grahams sparks a fast friendship that rapidly spreads to include the entire class. The rise of the full moon at dusk finally ushers in the awaited moment. Drawing up courage, Sophie counts to three and greets the moon with a howl. The moonlight reveals something quite unexpected. Colorful, animated illustrations rendered in watercolor and outlined in black ink with digital effects play nicely with and expand on the third-person narrative and dialogue. An uproar of giggles will ensue from the illustrations of the human children pouncing and digging for bones. This delightful story entertains while acknowledging the fear of exclusion children may experience before starting kindergarten. VERDICT A feel-good story of solidarity and acceptance, this first day (or night) of school story offers the lesson that things are not always as they appear.–Emily Brush

Windness, Kaz. Bitsy Bat, School Star­illus. by author. 48p. (The Bitsy Bat Series). S. & S./Paula ­Wiseman. Jun. 2023. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781665905053.
PreS-Gr 2–On the first night of school, Bitsy Bat worries that she is not ready, but Mama and Papa reassure her that their star student is ready to shine. The classroom is too bright, too noisy, and Bitsy is the only bat in a crowd of critters. Laughs ensue when she hangs upside down on her chair, they chide her as she uses her feet to paint, and the snack that crawls from her batpack sends them shrieking. Bitsy’s head spins and her fear that she will never fit in bubbles over into a five-star meltdown. How can Bitsy shine in a world that feels so upside down or, rather, right side up? Windness’s cartoon Photoshop illustrations are detailed and remarkably resemble paint and pastel artwork. Back matter offers a note to readers from Windness sharing that she is autistic and like Bitsy, sometimes her world feels upside down. ­Windness does not overtly label Bitsy as autistic, but uses her endearing winged protagonist to demonstrate how topsy-turvy the world can feel for a person with autism. At the end of the story, Bitsy shares an activity with her class that will lend itself well for replicating and continuing conversations about the unique ways everyone shines. A glossary of terms is provided to help ­readers extend their understanding of autism. VERDICT A thought-provoking story of inclusion to share beyond the first day of school; every library will want to purchase this book.–Emily Brush

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