Back To School Books

adminPosts Leave a Comment


Some of you have already started school but here in New York City, there are still two more weeks until the first day. While many kids are excited about a new year, there are just as many, if not more, kids who are feeling all kinds of big feelings about the upcoming school year. Maybe your child is going to a new school or maybe you have moved or it’s their first time in school at all. All of these are exciting changes but can cause children, especially those who are more sensory sensitive or have developmental delays, to present with anxiety. Fear, worry, anxiety, nervousness, excitement are just some of the normal feelings children may be feeling as they think about what’s about to come with the new school year. As with all situations that might elicit big feelings and emotions, it’s incredibly important to validate your child and the way they are feeling. As grownups, we think it is our job to tell children who are feeling big feelings that everything will be okay which sends the message that it’s not okay to feel the way they are but the best thing we can do for them is to allow them to share those feelings and help them work through them. Using these moments as teachable moments and allowing them to talk about their feelings and problem solve before a problem occurs gives them more control and power. Another great thing we can do as grownups is share our own personal stories of when we were nervous about new situations or big changes, as an adult or when we were children, and how we worked through those moments. I find it is incredibly helpful for little humans to know that even though we are big, we also feel nervous at times.

Sometimes kids don’t want to talk about those feelings. They feel confused or embarrassed and talking makes them feel worse. Over the years as both an occupational therapist and having run social skills groups, I have found that when kids are having a hard time talking about how THEY are feeling, it’s good to turn to picture books. There are SO many great books out there and over the years the number of books that deal with feelings, emotions and tricky subjects has grown. What’s great about reading books with kids is that they don’t feel like they are talking about their own problems, but talking about the characters in the books. They also seem to have an easier time problem solving and working through the problems and situations the characters are encountering. Below I share a handful of great books that can be read as you and your child prepare for this new school year. Here are a few suggestions before you read to your child:
1. Read the book prior to reading it to your child and think about some meaningful questions that you can ask your child before and after the books are read. For example, maybe ask them what they think the book is about and what they think might happen. 
2. Stop while reading and talk about some of the feelings and emotions the characters are experiencing and ask them times they may have felt that way and what they did. 
3. When the book is finished, ask them to tell you something that they loved about the book and something they learned from the book. 

The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings-I have loved this book about feelings for such a long time. It’s a simple, fun and motivating way to teach young children about all the different feelings and emotions. We spend so much time thinking that learning letters, numbers and colors to toddlers but teaching them about and how to identify feelings is a critical social emotional skill that will help them throughout life. In this pop-up book, kids learn how to match different colors to emotions. For example, red is anger, blue is sad, green is calm and pink is love. What I like to do with kids is have them talk about a time they felt each of those feelings. As you are preparing for the new school year, you might have conversations about what situations in school might make them feel each of the different emotions.


The Color Monster Goes to School-kids are really drawn to the Color Monster because of the bright colors and the fun illustrations and this book is perfect for little ones who are going to school for the first time. The Color Monster is going to school for the first time and he is feeling worried and doesn’t even know what school is and what to expect! He makes a friend who helps guide him through the first day and not only does he have a great day, he can’t wait to go back the next day! This is a great book to talk to your new to school kids about what they think school is and what kinds of things they might do in school. As always, it’s important to validate a child who is feeling nervous about something so big and new, but equally as important to assure them that they will be safe. If possible, you might talk to your child about what kinds of things they will do in school, what kinds of activities they might do that are familiar to them and talk to them about what will be new and exciting.


Our Class is a Family-as kids start school, especially kids who are going for the first time, it’s important to talk to them about how school is more than just a place to learn. Teachers are obviously there to help kids learn new things, but they are also there to help them feel safe, loved and accepted no matter who they are. In Our Class is a Family, children learn that school is about building a community and a family within your classroom. A classroom is a safe place to not only learn, but to feel comfortable being you, even if you are different than your peers, take risks and possibly make mistakes that you will end up learning from. I think the message of this book is so important for kids who might feel different because they may need extra help with learning, may be getting therapy or if they have a physical or developmental delay.



The Boy With Big, Big Feelings-this is a great book for all children but especially for those who are experiencing anxiety, big feelings or who are sensory sensitive. Big changes and transitions of a new school year can be especially challenging for these children. The main character in the book has very big feelings, sometimes so big that he feels them in his whole body, and his way of coping is to stuff his feelings deep down inside because he thinks he is the only one who feels things the way he does. He’s afraid that the other children will see how big his feelings are and make fun of him but one day he realizes one of his peers seems to feel the way he does and a friendship is created. Together they discover that there are so many children like them who feel both happy and sad feelings really big. This book is great for validating that one can have big feelings and that it is important to share them and not keep them deep inside. If you have a child who has big feelings and doesn’t like to talk about them, this would be a great book to read before the school year begins and talk through some situations and experiences that might occur during those first few days and weeks of school that might make them feel big feelings and come up with strategies preemptively. One thing you could do is print out some feeling cards for your child to keep in their backpack or desk so they can share how they are feeling with their teachers without having to actually say it out loud if they are feeling embarrassed or worried that the other kids will make fun of them.

Brave As Can Be: A Book of Courage-another wonderful book from The Growing Heart series, Brave As Can Be explores the various fears a child might have and how to overcome them. Starting a new school year can be filled with so many fears for a child, especially those who are developmentally delayed or who are sensory sensitive. It requires children to overcome so many fears: new teacher, new friends, new therapists, new classroom rules and learning new and trickier things. A child’s life can be filled with frightening things but as children get older, we can work with them on how to be brave and become more confident during these experiences. In Brave As Can Be, we follow an older and younger sister and the older sister explains all of the things she to be afraid of to her little sister and along the way teaches her the tricks and strategies she used to get through those times. This is a perfect book to read to a child who is feeling not so brave about the new school year and maybe discuss how they can use some of the tips to help them as they navigate the new school year.

The Smallest Girl In The Smallest Grade-one thing we don’t think about talking to little kids about is bullying in school and it is something that is so important as school is starting. In this book, Sally McCabe is tiny but she notices everything even though nobody seems to notice her. Sally notices that kids are being mean to other kids, using unkind words, pushing them around and she has had enough. During lunch one day, she stands up and . While you don’t want to scare your children about bullying, it’s important to have a conversation about it with kids and talk to them about what to look out for and what they can do if they are being bullied or if they notice someone else is being bullied. I start every school year out talking to my daughter about the importance of being kind and looking out for the underdogs who might not know how to stick up for themselves. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is try and protect the child being bullied because kids don’t want to become the next target but if you see something is happening that shouldn’t be happening, you have to find teachers or other grownups and let them know what is happening.


Llama Llama Misses Mama-those first few days/weeks of school can be hard for children, especially if it is going to be the first time they are leaving mom, dad or a beloved caregiver. Not only are kids worried about all the new things that are going to happen in school, they tend to worry about how much they are going to miss the people they love at home. In Llama Llama Misses Mama, we follow Llama Llama as he gets ready for his first day of school. They have met his teachers, seen the toys and games in the classroom and even met the other friends who will be in school with him. But as mama is about to leave, Llama Llama becomes worried that mama won’t come back and he spends the school day worried. Of course mama does come back and while Llama Llama was in school, his friends were able to show him how fun and special school can be. Separation from parents and caregivers can be really tricky and if you have a child who is expressing concern about this, you can read Llama Llama Misses Mama and talk about how mama came back just like she promised. You can also talk about what you have planned after you pick them up from school. Maybe you can come up with a challenge question that they will have to answer after pickup so they know; for example, have them tell you something funny that happened or something silly somebody ate during snack.

We’re Going To SchoolThis uplifting, diverse picture book celebrates the first day of school and the many activities that are shared by all people on this special, and sometimes scary, day. The start of a new school year, whether or not you are going to school for the first time, returning to your old school or starting a new school altogether, can cause children to feel a variety of feelings. We’re Going to School shares a day in the life of several children from diverse backgrounds, who engage in many of the same activities on this special day—the sometimes crazy morning routines of getting dressed, eating breakfast, getting out the door on time to actually get to school and so much more; the anticipation of a new classroom, teacher and friends while learning new rules and expectations at the same time preparation to get dressed, have breakfast, and leave the house on time; the experience of meeting new teachers and new friends, and learning new classroom rules; and the fun and satisfaction of completing a task correctly. Children will be reminded and reassured that even though new experiences can be scary sometimes, they soon become familiar occurrences, which paves the way for enjoyment. I like this book because it helps remind children that everyone is experiencing many of the same feelings and concerns about a new school year no matter where they live, the color of their skin and their abilities.

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes-I work with so many kids who have a hard time with school because they are worried about not being perfect at everything. They are worried about going into school and not knowing everything….what is expected of them, things that they might not know yet and being worried about making a mistake in front of friends and their teachers.  In this cute book, we follow Beatrice Bottomwell, a little girl who has never, not once, made a mistake. She’s always perfectly dressed, she never forgets her homework and also always wins the yearly talent show. But one day, Beatrice does the unthinkable and makes a big mistake and is devastated. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes is a book that is intended to help children realize that we can learn through our mistakes and that life can actually be more fun when you’re living your best life even if mistakes happen. As a therapist, I always encourage children to work through these hard moments and talk about all the mistakes that we all make and how we can only get better and braver by overcoming those mistakes.

Molly Make Yourself Big-This is a very special back to school book because the author, Shari Harpaz, is a long time friend and colleague of mine. She is a speech and language pathologist on the UWS of Manhattan and she has written this beautiful book about Molly, a little girl who is starting in a new school and is feeling nervous about the change. During the book, Molly learns how to manage her worries about starting a new school and to stand up for herself while also helping to empower children to be brave while remaining kind and demonstrates the true power of friendship. Her catchy mantra, Make Yourself Big, will resonate with your child and help them feel brave too, as they face new real-life situations. This book is great for slightly older pre-schoolers or school-age children who might be starting in a new school.



If you have any back to school book recommendations that you would like to pass along to me, I would love to add to my collection and would love to share with my readers. Also, while I linked Amazon for all of these books, I highly recommend checking out your local bookstores and support them whenever possible. There are so many fantastic local and small bookstores who not only will carry your books, they will special order them for you and probably have dozens more to recommend. As always, if you are looking for more specific recommendations for your child or your classroom, don’t hesitate reaching out to me and I will send other suggestions. I’m always an email away at


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *