Looking for books to read aloud the first day of school?
I’ve got you covered!
A new school year is upon us!
What better way is there to start the year than to read some spectacular picture books to your learners?
Here are my top picks for preschool/pre-K through third grade.
Please note that many of these books could fit on multiple lists, and I recommend our personal favorite, Don’t Eat Your Classmates!, for any grade level.
Books to read aloud the first day of preschool/pre-K
Rex Wrecks It! by Ben Clanton
This is a delightful book about a set of creatures in an early childhood classroom. Rex (a young T-Rex of course) wrecks every block structure the other creatures create. His friends are frustrated until they find a way to work together. This is a great book for opening discussions about playing nicely together.
My Teacher Sleeps in School, by Leatie Weiss
This book actually takes on a new meaning if you’re teaching virtually, but it’s a good choice for those of you in a social distancing classroom. My preschooler really liked this book in which little elephants imagine that their teacher lives at school. Their imaginations run wild as they wonder where she eats, sleeps, etc. It’s a vintage book (1985) that hasn’t lost its charm.
All the Colors of the Earth, by Sheila Hamanaka
This lovely book is actually a poem with just a few words on each page. Help your young listeners celebrate ethnic diversity by talking about different types of hair and skin color. “Children come in all the colors of love, in endless shades of you and me.”
Chu’s first day of school, by Neil Gaiman
If you want an absolutely adorable book for the first day, this is it. Chu is a little panda who is nervous about the first day of school. He waits anxiously as the teacher goes around the circle asking each animal child what they are good at. The snail is my favorite: “I like to go into my room and close the door and not come out until I want to.”
And Chu? Turns out he’s very good at sneezing.
Stunning illustrations + hilarious story = a surefire winner!
Back to school Tortoise, by Lucy M. George
Tortoise is worried about going back to school. What if he falls down, the kids are mean to him, and he doesn’t like lunch? Kids will love the surprise ending, when we learn that Tortoise is actually the teacher.
Books to read aloud the first day of kindergarten
Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous, by Keith Calabrese and Juana Medina
It’s Lena’s first day of kindergarten. She’s ready to go, but her shoes are hiding; they’re too nervous to go to school. Together, Lena, and her dad encourage her shoes until
Lena the shoes find the courage they need for the first day. Sweet!
Mae’s First Day of School, by Kate Berube
Mae decides she IS. NOT. GOING. to school. There’s so much that could go wrong! Mae does end up walking with her mom to school, but she climbs a tree and is determined to stay there.
Rosie, another hesitant child, joins Mae in the tree, along with a tall lady named Ms. Pearl, who is definitely not ready for her first day either. As it turns out, of course, Ms. Pearl is Mae’s and Rosie’s teacher. All three enter school hand-in-hand.
The Pigeon Has to Go to School! by Mo Willems
Fans of Pigeon will love this addition to the series in which Pigeon doesn’t want to go to school at all. It’s great for addressing concerns kids may have about coming to school, and letting them know you’ll be there to help them every step of the way.
Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick
A big nervous buffalo (wearing a backpack) holds hands with his friend as he makes his way to kindergarten for the first time. But is he ready? This is a lighthearted book, also perfect for opening up a discussion about kids’ concerns about a new school year.
Books to read aloud the first day of first grade
School’s First Day of School, by Adam Rex
This book is simple but beautifully relatable. School is a brand new school and is nervous about welcoming students. His friend Janitor tells him not to worry – he’ll like the children.
But School isn’t so sure, especially when there’s a little freckled girl who doesn’t like school at all. “I must be awful,” he whispers to himself. In the end, of course, School and the little freckled girl win each other over.
This is the perfect book for teaching empathy and for helping overcome fears about a new school year.
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, by Ryan T. Higgins
This book was by the far the favorite of everyone at our house. It features darling Penelope, a t-rex who keeps eating her classmates! (Don’t worry; she swallows them whole and spits them out afterward.)
Not only are the illustrations phenomenally good, but the text is hilarious. “Sometimes it’s hard to make friends,” said her dad. “Especially if you eat them.” And “You see, Penelope, children are the same as us on the inside. Just tastier.”
I can’t do justice to this book in a review … please just get it! I guarantee students of all ages will love it. (And so will you.)
First Day Jitters, by Julie Danneberg
Sarah is nervous about the first day of school. When Mr. Hartwell urges her to get out of bed, she covers her head with the covers. Finally she arrives at school, nervous and feeling sick about a new year at a new school. It isn’t until the last page that we learn that Sarah is Mrs. Hartwell, the teacher!
Rufus Goes to School, by Kim T. Griswell
You and your students will quickly fall in love with Rufus, a pig who longs to go to school and learn to read. When he finds a backpack, lunchbox, and blanket, he’s sure he has everything he needs … but no pigs are allowed in school. In the end, the persistent Rufus wins the principal over.
Great story with engaging illustrations – recommended!
The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson
This is a breathtakingly beautiful book best for first grade and older and is perfect for starting a conversation on acceptance. The book talks about things that may make a child feel alone or outside the group while also encouraging them to be their unique selves.
This book nearly made me cry and is sure to open the door to meaningful discussions.
My Teacher is a Monster! by Peter Brown
This is a wonderful book that my little guy has requested again and again. Bobby has a problem: his teacher is a monster (with green skin, claws, and sharp teeth). But when Bobby meets his teacher in the park, she seems less and less like a monster … and we learn that she’s not a monster after all. First graders are old enough to understand why the teacher looks less and less like a monster as we move through the story.
My Name is Yoon, by Helen Recorvits
I’m in love with this story about precocious Yoon, who isn’t happy that her Korean name looks so different when printed in English. But as she learns to find her place at school, Yoon learns that she can still be herself in America. The only problem with reading this book aloud is it might make you cry.
Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson
This is a friendship book well-suited to older kids (first grade and up), but younger kids will enjoy it too. The narrator puts mean Jeremy, his new neighbor, on his Enemy List. When asking his dad for advice on how to get rid of enemies, his dad promises to make Enemy Pie. But first he has to spend one day being kind to his enemy. Of course after the day spent together the boys are no longer enemies. Good story!
Books to read aloud the first day of third grade
Miss Nelson is Missing, by Harry Allard
This is one of my all time favorite children’s books about a teacher whose students constantly misbehave. When she comes back to school disguised as the cruel Mrs. Viola Swamp, the children shape up in a hurry. Kids of all ages will enjoy this book, and you’ll love reading it aloud.
The Teacher from the Black Lagoon, by Mike Thaler
So … warning … this book isn’t graphic or gory, but it does feature a (fictional) teacher who shoots fire at students and even bites them in two. I know it sounds creepy, but it’s a classic picture book (1989) that’s funny and not scary. It turns out that the narrator is actually dreaming, and Mrs. Green is actually a beautiful and kind teacher, not the villain we meet at the beginning of the book.
(I recommend this book for third grade because of the type of humor, but my preschooler – who scares easily – absolutely loved it.)
The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi
Unhei has just moved to America from Korea, and her new classmates can’t pronounce her name. When she decides she needs a new American name, her classmates put new choices in a jar for her to choose from. As it turns out, Unhei keeps her Korean name and celebrates what makes her unique. Not only does the book have an important message, it’s also beautifully written and illustrated.
What books have your students loved the first week of school? Please add your recommendations to the comments section below!
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