It’s back-to-school time and I’m sure many kids across the country have the same pre-return jitters that I did when I was in elementary school. Questions like: “Will the cafeteria lady force me to finish my fish sticks, even if they make me feel sick?” and “Is Sister Christine really teaching fifth-grade sex-ed this year?” plagued me. Little did I know back then that I would have the exact same nervous feelings as a school librarian decades later, though my questions have changed a little.
As educators we need to project confidence and control or we risk our classrooms descending into something akin to the monkey house at the zoo, but I think I would have been comforted to know that my teachers also felt anxiety about the start of a new school year. It would have been a point of connection and allowed me to see that they were human too.
So, with the general theme that kids aren’t the only ones who go back to school, I’ve pulled together a back-to-school book list of titles featuring non-child protagonists. Despite the fact that kids aren’t technically in the spotlight, young readers will be able to connect the emotions and feelings of the main characters with their own start-of-school-year experiences.
First Day Jitters, by Julie Danneberg
Sarah Jane Hartwell doesn’t want to go to her new school at all. She won’t know anyone and is sure she’ll hate it, but she allows Mr. Hartwell to help her get ready and take her to meet her principal. And when the principal introduces to Sarah to her class, we’re in for a surprise…
Ok, we’re all adults here and you’ll reach the end of the book in about a minute, so I’ll spoil it for you: Sarah’s the teacher! And I don’t doubt that there are many teachers who will pull her get-out-of-school antics with their spouses in the coming weeks.
Dad’s First Day, by Mike Wohnoutka
When the first day of school rolls around, Oliver is eager to start the new year, but his Dad… not so much. Oliver’s dad’s tummy hurts, he hides behind the couch, throws a tantrum when he drops Oliver off – he is totally not ready to let go. But when Oliver’s dad comes to pick Oliver up, he sees how much fun Oliver is having with his classmates and realizes he has to let his son grow up.
My favorite scene in the book is Oliver’s teacher carrying Oliver’s dad kicking and crying out of the classroom with a big smile on her face. Sorry, overbearing parents, you have to let your unique-as-a-snowflake child socialize with the rest of the masses!
Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?, by Audrey Vernick
Although it may not seem like buffalos would be a prime candidate for joining a kindergarten class, this book makes the case for one little girl’s buffalo. As long as he cooperates, learns how to get along without using horns, and tries his best, he’s totes ready! In addition to be humorous, this book has a nice message of acceptance. The kids in the story are pretty cool with the fact that buffalo is a bit smelly and “eats grass, then throws it up in his mouth and eats it again.”
Sophie’s Squash Go To School, by Pat Zietlow Miller
This one isn’t told by the squash, so technically it doesn’t fit this list, but the story is so cute I had to include it. Sophie is very attached to her best friends, Bonnie and Baxter (two squash gourds with big smiley faces), and isn’t interested in going to school and making new human friends. Steven Green, however, didn’t get the memo. Despite Sophie’s rejections, Steven persistently tries to befriend her. When Sophie eventually has to put Bonnie and Baxter down for their winter nap, Steven offers a new packet of squash seeds in friendship and she finally comes around to being his pal. “Sometimes growing a friend just takes time,” she says.
It’s a pretty cliche happily-ever-after ending, but I was a sucker for it.
School’s First Day of School, by Adam Rex
I was first drawn to this book because the illustrator is Christian Robinson, winner of a 2016 Caldecott Honor for Last Stop on Market Street. As expected, the illustrations are lovely, but the story is absolutely adorable as well. The main character is a newly built school (Frederick Douglass Elementary) and it is very nervous about students arriving for the new year. The first day doesn’t start smoothly. The school finds it very disheartening to hear students say “I don’t like school,” and even retaliates at times by squirting them with the water fountain (love this!). But over the course of the day, the school enjoys listening students’ jokes, seeing them work, and learning from the teacher and realizes how lucky it is to be such a special building.
Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, by Joseph Slate
In this book, we see kindergarten students getting ready for their first day of school — brushing their teeth, getting dressed, eating their lunch on the morning bus — but the focus is on their teacher, Miss Bindergarten, who works her butt off to get her classroom ready. The story is clearly fiction since she sets everything in ONE morning (impossible!), but I love that on the title page, we see inspirational notes Miss Bindergarten wrote for herself and stuck all over her bedroom to help her approach the first day of school with energy and positivity. It’s also very endearing that Miss Bindergarten has the price tag to her shirt sticking out throughout the duration of the book. Teachers have a lot on their minds and can’t be bothered with details like tags!