Hand These to Kids Needing a Boost for the First Day Blues| Back-to-School Roundup Reviews

Our reviews teams scoured the lists for the best of new books to take on the first days of school.

Tomatoes in My Lunchbox (Manoli) ©2022 by Magdalena Mora.

Our reviews teams scoured the lists for the best of new books to help children take on the first days of school.

Ahiyya, Vera. KINDergarten: Where Kindness Matters Every Day. illus. by Joey Chou. 40p. Random House Studio. Jun. 2022. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593484623.
PreS-K –Leo, who likes to be quiet, is worried about starting kindergarten. He’s learned that on his first day of school he will have to talk to the entire class about being kind. For the next few weeks before school begins, he shares his concerns with his dad, his grandmommy, and even Tulip, his cat. When school begins, Ms. Perry, his teacher, eases his worries by introducing him to students who like the quiet activities he does, such as playing with chalk and blocks. Although he still feels his heart racing, Leo is able to contribute to a kindness pledge his class makes together. Readers will see easy, common activities (words and actions) they can mimic not only on their first day of school, but throughout the year and in different ­settings. Behaviors include saying “please” and “thank you,” helping others, cleaning up, and saying, “I’m sorry.” Cheerful illustrations depict a fun, interactive learning environment that will give children a sneak peek of what to expect from school. VERDICT This would be a wonderful book to read aloud on the first day of kindergarten so classes could create their own kindness pledge and then share it with others.–Tanya Boudreau

Bell, Kristen & Benjamin Hart. The World Needs More Purple Schools. illus. by ­Daniel Wiseman. 40p. (My Purple World). Random. Jun. 2022. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593434901.
PreS-K –By extending the lesson of their original “purple people” metaphor from The World Needs More Purple People to this book, Bell and Hart seek to open the minds of their readers—as well as those of adults, or “mostly grown adults,” in schools—to the idea of building and learning in a “purple school.” Led by a bubbly tour guide, Penny Purple, readers visit every room of her “­purple” elementary school, a place where creativity blends richly with learning, like how red and blue mix into a perfect purple hue. Readers will be busy taking in the many activities that the students and teachers engage in with joyful enthusiasm; huge smiles fill the characters’ faces, even as their simple, sharp-angled forms appear in constant motion, reaching, presenting, or dancing on the pages. In an electrifying voice, Penny applauds the meaningful mindset that her school supports to create a special sense of community, speaking matter-of-factly—with some funny examples—about how collaboration, curiosity, and hard work are a part of every lesson at a purple school. One sparkling note in Penny’s ­animated speech lies in her inspiring claim that silliness, laughter, and individuality are just as important to the growth of the world. While seemingly simple in its message, this book reminds readers that the collaborative will and purposeful actions of all are needed to make this ideal learning environment a reality. VERDICT Engaging with its honesty, silliness, and inspirational message, this book celebrates the idea of a “purple school” to help students and ­teachers alike put the united value of ­learning and being yourself into perspective.–Rachel Mulligan

Bones, Bobby. Stanley the Dog: The First Day of School. illus. by Stephanie ­Laberis. 32p. HarperCollins. Jul. 2022. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780063039520.
PreS-K –It is the first day of school, and ­Stanley the bulldog is not excited about going. Stanley has no appetite for breakfast, and he ends up stumbling off the bus with the other students. Luckily, there is a nice cat who helps Stanley navigate the challenges of his first day, befriending him despite his uneasiness. Upon arriving home, Stanley is able to relax and settle in, only to realize with disappointment that he has another school day ahead of him tomorrow. This lighthearted picture book convincingly captures the many emotions that come with a child’s first day of school and presents them in a way that is at once comfortingly familiar and distant enough to reflect upon. Stanley is nervous, but he is also desperate to prove his skills to his new teacher and classmates, just as many children are when entering school. Digitally rendered illustrations depict a variety of dogs within a familiar school setting, which adds to the charm of this comical tale. Bright colors and dynamic images make the book well suited to be read aloud, and the expressive canine faces make each character delightfully approachable. Children will be inspired to support and encourage Stanley and one another as they consider the feelings described in this book. VERDICT This is an accessible story that will help young children transition to the expectations of school, especially when they are feeling trepidation themselves.– Mary R. Lanni

Button, Lana. Tayra’s Not Talking. illus. by Christine Battuz. 32p. (Kitty and Friends). Kids Can. Jun. 2022. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781525304842.
PreS-K –It is Tayra’s first day at a new school; she is feeling nervous, and to make matters worse, she is unable to express herself. The other students are not sure what to make of Tayra and her silence, and they frequently jump to negative conclusions as the morning goes by. Thanks to a patient teacher who offers alternative outlets for her feelings, Tayra is finally able to communicate with her classmates. Each new revelation allows the students to come to a greater sense of understanding and friendship with one another. Part of the “Kitty and Friends” series, this book uses familiar characters and themes to connect with one of the more challenging realities of childhood: bullying. Because Tayra is different from her classmates, they initially choose to ostracize her instead of digging deeper into who she really is. Through rhyming lines and a singsong rhythm, young children will immediately connect with the story as it is read aloud to them. Simultaneously, the text models positive and encouraging behavior that children will be able to easily emulate after the story ends. Collage-style illustrations are filled with color and familiar moments from preschool and kindergarten classrooms, enhancing the connection readers will feel with Tayra and her friends despite the fact that they are animals participating in human behaviors. VERDICT This charming story is an excellent addition to preschool and kindergarten classroom collections that focus on social-emotional learning.–Mary R. Lanni

Freitas, Bethany V. Not Yet, Yeti. illus. by Maddie Frost. 40p. Clarion. Jun. 2022. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780358450252.
PreS-Gr 3 –Yeti is excited for his first day of kindergarten. Once there, Yeti introduces a new friend with the wrong name and knocks over a tower of toys they’ve all been playing with. When Yeti breaks the crayon while trying to write his name, he becomes distraught. “I can’t do it!” he cries, looking upset. His teacher acknowledges his effort and encourages him to try again. Throughout the day, he continues to receive words of support from his peers and teacher whenever he tries something. At the end of the day, Yeti feels so encouraged that he doesn’t want to leave. Through Yeti’s experiences during his day, this story shows children that it’s okay not to succeed right away; they can ­always try again. Yeti is a big, lovable character with expressive facial features that make it easy for readers to root for him. Bright ­digital ­illustrations show children with a range of skin tones against many backgrounds of solid colors or sometimes with key words lightly repeated. In all the visual stimulation, it might be easy to miss the one image where Yeti visualizes himself succeeding—the rest of the time, his motivation seems to come from others, not himself. The back flap of the dust jacket shares information on growth mindset, as well as questions that those reading the book with children can ask them. VERDICT With vivid illustrations and a ­positive message, this book is a good ­addition to share with children nervous about trying something new.–Florence Simmons

Manoli, Costantia. Tomatoes in My Lunchbox. illus. by Magdalena Mora. 32p. Roaring Brook. Jun. 2022. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250763129.
K-Gr 2 –A girl who recently immigrated from an unnamed country struggles to fit in while her teacher and new classmates struggle to pronounce her name. Inspired by the ­author’s own life, this tale begins with the protagonist’s first day at school as her new teacher attempts to say her name during roll call, but the girl doesn’t even recognize it. “The teacher says it like it’s too hard to understand. Then she says it again, one syllable at a time. It’s strange and sharp, and sounds like something is breaking.” And that’s just the beginning—when eating her lunch, a whole, big, and delicious tomato that reminds her of her homeland, it squirts onto her shirt, reminding everyone of how different she is. She tries to adopt a new, Anglicized name, along with a new identity, but she knows that it doesn’t quite fit. Plus, she’d be denying her true home and the person for whom she was named—her beloved grandmother. When she connects with a new friend by just being herself, the main character embraces her name, her culture, and herself. Molina’s text is lovely and achingly poignant. The lyrical narrative has a dreamlike quality, seamlessly taking readers from the little girl’s present home to her country of origin. Mora’s illustrations are warmly rendered with inks, pastels, and crayons, and will immerse readers in the little girl’s inner world. The main character has light brown skin and her classmates have a range of skin colors and hair textures. VERDICT An excellent choice for back to school and “new kid” picture book collections. This will resonate with many readers. Highly recommended.–Shelley M. Diaz

Peterson, Ellie. School Is Wherever I Am. illus. by Ellie Peterson. 40p. Roaring Brook. May 2022. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250845245.
K-Gr 2 –In this quiet, message-driven story, young readers are reminded that learning can happen outside of the classroom. As a young boy considers all the reasons he loves school, he wonders where else learning might take place. Could school be in the visit to the zoo or at the aquarium with his classmates, or in the kitchen making pot stickers with his grandma? Does school have to be in a school building with other students, or could it also be alone at home or on the computer screen? Could school even be in the times when a problem needs to be solved and an apology needs to be made? Following the narrator through his day, young readers will see many ways they can continue learning outside of school. With only one sentence per page, the brightly colored cartoon illustrations do the majority of the storytelling. These generally cheerful scenes help maintain a lighter tone, even while discussing a serious, even provocative topic. Of special importance is the author’s inclusion of online learning and at-home learning. Some of the more abstract examples, such as school being “in things I’ve broken,” may require a bit of discussion with children. This book is an solid starting point for a conversation on the importance of learning, curiosity, and actively taking part in the world at all times. VERDICT An excellent purchase for school libraries and public libraries with a big homeschooling community; a title to promote to teachers at the ­beginning of the school year.–Louie Lauer

Shaskan, Stephen. Too Cool for School. illus. by Stephen Shaskan. 72p. (Pizza and Taco: Bk. 4). Random. Jun. 2022. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9780593376072.
Gr 1-3 –Pizza and Taco are excited for the first day of school. Sporting new backpacks and ready to make new friends, the pair is ready for what the school year holds. When new kid B.L.T. arrives, all of the kids (anthropomorphized treats like burgers, hot dogs, and chocolate cake), try to prove how cool they are. The sandwich wears sunglasses and speaks in two-word, nonchalant sentences. Pizza finds sunglasses in the lost and found box and hopes to impress their new friend, but they keep getting to class late, resulting in detention with the crabby Mr. Apple. This graphic novel early chapter book features bright primary colors, dynamic panels, and hilarious digital art that includes talking tacos and pizzas with arms and legs drawn in. The expressive faces of the characters and the food-related puns will elicit giggles from the intended readers. The themes of popularity, trying to fit in, and being yourself will resonate with younger elementary students. VERDICT A fun, early graphic novel ­back-to-school pick for read-alouds or ­pleasure reading.– Shelley M. Diaz

Syed, Anoosha. That’s Not My Name! 40p. Viking. Jul. 2022. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593405178.
PreS-Gr 2 –In a vividly illustrated classroom that includes a child in a wheelchair, students who have many different colors of skin, a variety of dress, and many different hairstyles, saying “Mir” as in “miracle” and “Ha” as in “haha” should not be so hard. But on the first day of school, which Mirha has anticipated for so long, no one, not even the teacher, can say her name right. She hears students call her by every other name there is, from Mina to Nerha. Hayden, with red hair and green eyes, asks Mirha to change her name to Maya, to make it easier for everyone, and she considers it. The heartbreak is palpable, because most children have witnessed this situation, even if they were not victims of it. Mirha cannot understand why the name that is music to everyone in her Arab family is so difficult for others. Her solution proves perfect. When people get it wrong, she simply says, “That’s not my name,” and helps the person pronounce it. She is just as courteous about everyone else’s names. Syed’s book uses clarity in the dialogue, the emotions, and in the intent, featuring only well-meaning teachers and children who want to get it right. Her illustrated school scenes are so familiar while Mirha’s posture translates her every feeling, with or without the text. VERDICT This is a necessary guide for helping everyone navigate these waters, and educators may wish to throw in some conversation about pronouns as well. A great first-day story for breaking the ice.–Kimberly Olson Fakih


Back-to-School Backlist

Share these recently published books with little ones returning to school this fall.

Barnes, Derrick. The Queen of Kindergarten. illus. by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. 32p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen. May 2022. Tr$17.99. ISBN 9780593111420.
PreS-K –Highly recommended for all royalty entering kindergarten, as well as others who can see themselves bringing their special gifts to make their school, and world, better by their actions and positive spirit.

Brown, Carron. Shine-A-Light: Starting School. illus. by Stef Murphy. 36p. Kane Miller. Mar. 2022. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781684642830.
PreS-Gr 1 –The major moments and routines of the first day of school are introduced in this soothing picture book. An amiable introduction to school, elevated by a flashlight reveal feature, that would enhance any school readiness collection.

Fiona Goes to School. illus. by Richard Cowdrey & Donald Wu. 32p. (I Can Read 1). Zonderkidz. May 2022. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780310754961; pap. $4.99. ISBN 9780310754831.
K-Gr 2 –This book for emerging readers features an anthropomorphized version of Fiona, the famous baby hippo from the Cincinnati Zoo. When Fiona sees school children on field trips at the zoo, she and her animal friends decide it would be fun to start a zoo school. This book presents a positive view of school and of the importance of learning about others.

Kann, Victoria. Pinkalicious: Kindergarten Fun. illus. by Victoria Kann. 32p. HarperCollins. Jun. 2022. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780063003859.
PreS-Gr 2 –Pinkalicious and her classmates have been assigned kindergarten buddies for the day. Students who are learning to read will enjoy visiting a vibrant kindergarten classroom with Pinkalicious.

Love, Diana. Boris the School Bully. 32p. (I Can Read 1). HaperCollins. June 2022. pap. $4.99. ISBN 9780063204423.
K-Gr 2 –Boris and his bully friends come to spoil a beautiful school day for Diana, Roma, Koko, and Dawn. Young readers will be captivated by this story centered on ­lessons around the familiar themes of ­bullying, friendship, inclusiveness, love—and superheroes.

Ransom, Candice. School Day! illus. by Ashley Evans. 32p. (Step into Reading). Random. Jun. 2022. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780593302613; pap. $4.99. ISBN 9780593302606.
PreS-Gr 1 –In this satisfactory book for emerging readers, an older sister takes her brother to school for his very first day. ­Using rhyme and simple text, Ransom gives readers a glimpse of a typical first day.

Schu, John. This Is a School. illus. by Veronica Miller Jamison. 40p. Candlewick. Mar. 2022. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781536204582.
PreS-Gr 3 –This book opens with a single student, from a single class that goes out into a single hallway, and shows readers a school teeming with life. A solid choice for classrooms and libraries looking for updated beginning of the year or school stories.

Vo, Young. Gibberish. illus. by Young Vo. 40p. Levine Querido. Feb. 2022. Tr$17.99. ISBN 9781646141104.
K-Gr 2 –A young boy named Dat and his mah travel to a new country. As Dat prepares for his first day of school, Mah explains that when the people around him speak, the words will “sound like gibberish,” and that he should listen and do the best that he can. Throughout Dat’s day, he struggles to understand his bus driver, teacher, and classmates. He spends the majority of his day alone, until “someone unexpected” reaches out to him, first on the playground, and then again on the bus ride home.

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