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8 Books for the First Day of School and Beyond!

Take a look at some of these books and the recommended discussion questions to prepare your child for the start of school... and well into the school year.


Elmore (by Holly Hobbie)

Being a porcupine means Elmore keeps would-be friends at a quill’s-length distance; but his mother once said that the “L” in his name stands for “love.” So what is a spiny porcupine to do? Elmore is motivated to find a way to become closer to other animals to share his love. This charming book shows children that sometimes the thing that makes us different can also be a bridge to new friendships.

Lesson: What makes you different, can actually be your biggest asset.

Ideas for Discussion:

  • Ask your child: What are some things that you have in common with your classmates?

  • Ask your child: In what ways are you unique? What sets you apart from others?

  • Ask your child: How can you best share with your classmates the beauty of what makes you different?

  • Ask your child: If someone doesn’t understand what makes you special, how can you help them to see the beauty in the ways you are different?


The Sandwich Swap (by Queen Rania Al Abdullah)

Lily and Salma are best friends and they like doing all the same things – jumping rope, drawing, playing on swings – and they always share lunch together. But they don’t eat the same lunch. Lily eats peanut butter and Salma eats hummus. And what’s that between friends? Turns out, for these girls – a lot. A food fight erupts and results in a summons to the principal’s office. In the end, the girls try each other’s sandwiches and realize both were delicious all along.

Lesson: The smallest things might unnecessarily divide us – until we learn that friendship is more powerful than difference.

Ideas for discussion:

  • Ask your child: Who are some of your closest friends? What are some things that she likes that you don’t like? What are some things that you like that she doesn’t? Sometimes it’s ok to be different – that’s what makes friendship fun!

  • Ask your child: Not all differences and similarities have the same importance. Even if Lily and Salma decided they didn’t like each other sandwiches, would that have really mattered? We all have different taste buds on our tongues anyway! What attributes of your friends do you hope are similar? What attributes of your friends don’t matter as much if they are the same?

  • Ask your child: It’s so important to celebrate diversity and cultural differences, rather than seeing it as a reason for division. How can we celebrate cultural diversity in our home? One of our favorite ways to discuss other cultures is through their food, music, or language – learning to cook and serve it, listening to a few songs, and memorizing a few words of hello and welcome!


Back to School Tortoise (by Lucy George)

This quick read stars a nervous tortoise who is unsure of what he can expect at school – will the kids like him? Will he like lunch? Will he trip, fall, and embarrass himself? He quickly turns his attitude around and begins focusing on “what if” – what if school lunch turns out to be his favorite? What if school actually is really fun? Even grownups will enjoy the twist at the end.

Lesson: Nerves are natural, but we choose to focus on the positive potential a new school year brings.

Ideas for Discussion:

  • Activity: Role play! Play school and have your kid be the teacher, with parents and/or siblings being the students. It can be challenging to be the teacher, so it is important to show respect.

  • Ask your child: What are some ways we can focus on the positive potential in our life right now?

  • Activity: Fill a see-through glass to the middle with water. Ask your child to describe how much water is in it -- a fun, tangible prompt to talking about the proverbial glass half full instead of half empty.


Bonaparte Falls Apart (by Margery Cuyler)

The charming Halloween characters in this brilliantly illustrated story are trying to use their talents and knowledge to help a young skeleton, Bonaparte, whose bones keep falling off. In preparation for starting school, the mummy lends Bonaparte some fabric, the spider builds him a web, and the Frankenstein-like character tries to bolt him together. This story of friendship illustrates for children how to best respond to another in need – by trying to help in the unique way he/she is gifted to do.

Lesson: Everyone has unique gifts, and it is a blessing to be able to use your special gifts to help others.

Ideas for Discussion:

  • Ask your child: The mummy had fabric, the spider had a web, the Frankenstein-like character had bolts. What do you have that you can use to help others?

  • Ask your child: Have you ever seen a classmate who needed help? Tell me about that situation.

  • Ask your child: The next time you see a classmate in need, what are some ways you can help?

  • Ask your child: How might you need help when you go to school?

  • Activity: Include something extra in your child’s backpack to share with a classmate. Ask him/her who she shared it with.


The King of Kindergarten (by Derrick Barnes)

The perfect antidote to the shelves and shelves of “overcoming anxiety” books for kids heading back to school. This cheerful tome shows a confident young boy headed into the classroom, ready to “rule” his first year of school. The royalty analogy overlays his preparations, studies, and recess interactions for a successful first day – meeting new friends, learning new skills, and returning home to the castle.

Lesson: The day you experience is the one you prepare for.

Ideas for Discussion:

  • Ask your child: What are some things we should do each morning to prepare to “rule” at school?

  • Ask your child: What is the difference between confidence and bravery?

  • Ask your child: The king in this story is just a kid, but he acts like royalty with a positive attitude and following the teacher’s instructions. How can you act like a King or Queen at home?


Splat the Cat: Back to School, Splat! (by Rob Scotton)

A homework assignment about his summer vacation spins Splat into trying to narrow down all the fun adventures he had over the break. But one theme follows through all his antics – his sister was always there with him. For show and tell, he ultimately brings his little sister, as he realizes that he appreciated having her tag along in his summer fun.

Lesson: No firm moral to this story, but a recognition that it can sometimes be hard for siblings to split when school begins.

Ideas for Discussion (best for children with siblings):

  • Ask your child: What are some ways you can engage with your sister or brother once school starts? Can you wave in the cafeteria or on the playground? Can you bring a picture to put in your desk or ask questions about each other’s days?

  • Ask your child: I know sometimes sharing space, toys, and time with your sibling(s) is hard. Name one thing you do like about each of your siblings. What is one of your favorite memories you have with them?

  • Ask your child: If the teacher asks what you did on summer break, what would you say?

  • Activity: Let’s have our own family show and tell! We’ll each pick something we are most proud of from this summer. Tell me three reasons why you picked what you did, and grownups do the same!


Kindergarten Cat (by J. Patrick Lewis)

Here is an charming read-aloud story of friendship by children’s poet J. Patrick Lewis. He brings us into the kindergarten classroom through the adoption of a class cat named Tinker Toy. With an “anyone can learn” undertone, it’s a great reminder that even if your child doesn’t feel ready for the classroom, there’s a space for every student to find their place and grow – even a cat.

Lesson: Everyone can learn if they are given the opportunity.

Ideas for Discussion:

  • Ask your child: What are you most excited to learn about this year?

  • Ask your child: In what subject do you feel the strongest?

  • Ask your child: In which subject do you feel like you have the most to learn?

  • Ask your child: How can you encourage other kids (and cats!) to do their best? What are some encouraging things you can say to your classmates?


Planet Kindergarten (by Sue Ganz-Schmitt)

Lovers of space, rockets, and adventure will love this fresh take on the first day of school. Told through the eyes of a young space explorer and his teacher (“commander”), author Sue Ganz-Schmitt takes the reader through the flight plan of a school day. From Mission Control intercom announcements to making friends with other students (“from other galaxies”) and finally, splashing down at home (in the bath), the book concludes that training at Planet Kindergarten will continue tomorrow.

Lesson: School is a training ground for life, and failure is not an option – we must try our hardest even though there will be setbacks.

Ideas for discussion:

  • Ask your child: At one point in the story, our astronaut has a disagreement and is put in time out. He ended up learning his lesson AND meeting a new friend on the bench. What is something you’ve learned from a recent time out?

  • Ask your child: What do you want to be when you grow up? How is school training you for that?


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