Old School, New School, Back to School — 8 School Books that Rock

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There are some books that just...bring back all the feels.  I absolutely love introducing kids to my childhood favorites!  But the next generation of picture books is on the market, and these titles are just as inspiring. I put together four pairs of back-to-school books—throwback favorites matched with new classics. Check them out.


School Books with a Twist

Old School

Who remembers Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry G. Allard Jr. and James Marshall? 

I guess Miss Nelson never heard the old advice for a new school year: Don’t smile until December. To gain control, she dons a wig and an ugly black dress and transforms into witchy substitute Viola Swamp. The kids in room 207 were certainly treating their kind teacher poorly, but I do feel a little sorry for them when Miss Swamp declares, “We’ll have no story hour today.”

This book ends with a big reveal—we don’t learn that Miss Swamp is really Miss Nelson in disguise until the last page. There’s a new back-to-school book on the market this year with a twist of its own.

New School


School’s First Day of School is inventive, funny, and sweet—it might even be my favorite book of the year! It is about the back-to-school jitters, except the nervous party is the school building. You see, the school was just built, and he's not quite sure of  himself.

Author Adam Rex really nailed this one. His school is so relatable. He reacts with embarrassed apologies when his fire alarm sounds, but he is not above squirting a deserving kid in the face with his drinking fountain. There are several jokes in this book that had me laughing out loud.

Rex is an accomplished illustrator, but he shares this project with fan favorite Christian Robinson. He personifies the school and the other buildings in the book in such wonderful ways. He also includes all kinds of kids in the school’s day. We need more books with diverse illustrations. 


School Books that Promote Kindness

Old School

These days, kids wouldn’t bat an eye upon meeting a classmate named Chrysanthemum, but the messages in this lovely throwback by Kevin Henkes have not changed. 

If you haven't read it, Chrysanthemum is the story of a little mouse with a unique name. Her parents think it's absolutely perfect, but some kids at school tease her. Luckily, the popular art teacher Delphinium Twinkle thinks that flower names are beautiful! When she says that she wants to name her baby daughter Chrysanthemum, flower names become something to celebrate.

This is a classic back-to-school read to remind children that teasing hurts.

New School


The Smallest Girl in The Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts (illustrations by Christian Robinson here again) is an updated take on that theme. Sally McCabe may be the “smallest girl in the smallest grade,” but she notices everything—including the abandoned, bulldozed, and bullied. Hardly anyone notices Sally, though, until the day she speaks out and inspires those around her to act with greater care and kindness.

The Smallest Girl is the perfect read aloud for building community and character. It does a great job addressing bullying (especially the important role of bystanders), and Sally is a great model of grit and integrity. The Smallest Girl  presents an opportunity to talk about empathy and to help kids expand their circle of concern. Who in your child’s life is overlooked? Who might need a champion or just an extra smile? 

School Books Featuring a Beloved Character

Old School

The kids of the 1980s and 90s will have fond memories of Franklin and all of his friends in Woodland. There are now more than 50 million Franklin books in print around the world, two animated television series, and a host of Franklin merchandise. Franklin Goes to School is a classic back-to-school tale about a nervous child who overcomes fears and becomes comfortable in a new environment.

New School

Now, Franklin is cute. But have you met Chu? Chu is a small panda with a giant sneeze. Ah! Ah! Ah! Achoooo! There are three Chu books (written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Adam Rex...are you seeing a pattern here?), but Chu’s First Day of School (pictured above) is my family’s favorite. Just like Franklin, Chu is apprehensive about the first day of school. But, he comes to find that school is an okay place to be. It’s what happens in the middle that makes all the difference. My kids love to act out this story’s big scene. Read it and you’ll know why.


School Books About Compromise

Old School

Tomie dePaola has written and illustrated over 250 children’s books, so chances are you remember more than one of them. His illustration style is instantly recognizable and beloved around the world. This book, The Art Lesson, is one of his autobiographical tales. It is about a young boy, Tommy, who is an artist. When he starts school, too many rules stifle his creativity. In the end, he reaches a compromise with the art teacher who allows him the opportunity to explore his talent.

New School

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School (above) by Laurie Halse Anderson and Ard Hoyt explores a similar theme. I first bought this book in a desperate attempt to get my preschooler to let me comb her hair, but it turned out to be about an adult who learns to appreciate a child’s unique gifts rather than an ode to the power of detangling spray. 

In this adorable book, Zoe’s hair has a life of its own. It even brushes her teeth for her! Her first grade teacher, though, finds it disruptive. She ties it up with rubber bands, barrettes, bobby pins, and duct tape before finally learning to work with—rather than against—this force of nature.

This is a great back-to-school read for families and teachers. It reminds us that we are all better off when we look for strength before weakness. 

Do you have a favorite back-to-school read?

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