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The 20 best children's books to calm back-to-school jitters

TODAY logo TODAY 7/22/2020 Lisa Tolin

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Whether your child is strapping on a backpack for the first time or just starting a new year, the first day of school is nerve-wracking even in the best of times. With school schedules changing and new precautions around coronavirus, parents can expect even more back-to-school jitters this year.

Parents can ease first-day jitters is by establishing the new routine ahead of time and reading books to prepare for the big day.

Books about starting school range from tender to hilarious. Try one of these picture books, a mix of old favorites and titles as new as your little student:

1. "First Day Critter Jitters," by Jory John and Liz Climo

"First Day Critter Jitters," by Jory John and Liz Climo

a close up of a logo: First Day Critter Jitters (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon First Day Critter Jitters (Amazon / Amazon)
  • "First Day Critter Jitters," by Jory John and Liz Climo $12.58 at Amazon
  • "First Day Critter Jitters," by Jory John and Liz Climo $16.54 at Bookshop
  • "First Day Critter Jitters," by Jory John and Liz Climo $17.99 at Books A Million

If you think your child is nervous for the first day of school, just imagine how hard it would be for a snake to strap on a backpack. This funny picture book shares the first day anxieties of all sorts of critters, and will show little ones that everyone gets a little nervous.

2. "Danbi Leads the School Parade," by Anna Kim

"Danbi Leads the School Parade," by Anna Kim

a person posing for the camera: Danbi Leads the School Parade (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon Danbi Leads the School Parade (Amazon / Amazon)
  • "Danbi Leads the School Parade," by Anna Kim $15.29 at Amazon
  • "Danbi Leads the School Parade," by Anna Kim $16.55 at Bookshop
  • "Danbi Leads the School Parade," by Anna Kim $17.99 at Books A Million

Danbi has an extra-tough adjustment to make as she arrives at her first school in America. She'll use communication — verbal and non — to connect to her new classmates.

3. "I Got the School Spirit," by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison

"I Got the School Spirit," by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison

a person holding a sign: I Got the School Spirit (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon I Got the School Spirit (Amazon / Amazon)
  • "I Got the School Spirit," by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison $16.19 at Amazon
  • "I Got the School Spirit," by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison $16.54 at Bookshop
  • "I Got the School Spirit," by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison $14.33 at Books A Million

The little girl at the heart of this story has nothing but enthusiasm for her first day of school. Use it to drum up excitement before school starts.

4. “The Day You Begin,” by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López

“The Day You Begin,” by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López

a book on a table: The Day You Begin (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon The Day You Begin (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “The Day You Begin,” by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López $10.38 at Amazon
  • “The Day You Begin,” by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López $16.65 at Books A Million
  • “The Day You Begin,” by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López $17.47 at Bookshop

This touching read acknowledges the times when children feel different or misunderstood and encourages them to share their stories, so “the world opens itself up a little wider to make some space for you.”

5. “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,” by Ryan T. Higgins

“We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,” by Ryan T. Higgins

a close up of a book: We Don't Eat Our Classmates (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon We Don't Eat Our Classmates (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,” by Ryan T. Higgins $8.50 at Amazon
  • “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,” by Ryan T. Higgins $16.55 at Bookshop
  • “We Don’t Eat Our Classmates,” by Ryan T. Higgins $15.65 at Books A Million

Penelope Rex is shocked to discover her classmates are children. So she eats them. She’ll have to learn to keep her appetite in check if school is going to work out.

6. “The Pigeon HAS to Go to School,” by Mo Willems

“The Pigeon HAS to Go to School,” by Mo Willems

a close up of a logo: The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “The Pigeon HAS to Go to School,” by Mo Willems $7.80 at Amazon
  • “The Pigeon HAS to Go to School,” by Mo Willems $15.63 at Bookshop
  • “The Pigeon HAS to Go to School,” by Mo Willems $15.18 at Books A Million

Mo Willems is back with his sixth Pigeon book, and this time Pigeon has to go to school, even though he already knows everything (and is maybe a little scared). What if he learns too much?

7. “The King of Kindergarten,” by Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton

“The King of Kindergarten,” by Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton

The King of Kindergarten (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon The King of Kindergarten (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “The King of Kindergarten,” by Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton $11.99 at Amazon
  • “The King of Kindergarten,” by Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton $16.55 at Bookshop
  • “The King of Kindergarten,” by Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton $16.16 at Books A Million

Conquering kindergarten is a snap for the hero of this story, who takes his first day in stride, makes friends and gets his royal rest. It's a burst of positivity and confidence.

8. “Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go to School!” by Christina Geist and Tim Bowers

“Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go to School!” by Christina Geist and Tim Bowers

a group of people posing for the camera: Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can't Go to School! (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can't Go to School! (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go to School!” by Christina Geist and Tim Bowers $12.77 at Amazon
  • “Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go to School!” by Christina Geist and Tim Bowers $16.55 at Bookshop
  • “Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go to School!” by Christina Geist and Tim Bowers $17.99 at Books A Million

Can’t Mom and Dad come, too? Dad can tie his own shoes and everything! Sorry, parents. In this fun new book from Christina Geist, school is for kids and teachers only. (Full disclosure: Christina is married to TODAY's own Willie Geist!)

Related:

9. “Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous: A First Day of School Dilemma,”by Keith Calabrese and Juana Medina

“Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous," by Keith Calabrese and Juana Medina

a close up of a sign: Lena's Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-of-School Dilemma (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon Lena's Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-of-School Dilemma (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous," by Keith Calabrese and Juana Medina $11.39 at Amazon
  • “Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous," by Keith Calabrese and Juana Medina $16.55 at Bookshop
  • “Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous," by Keith Calabrese and Juana Medina $17.99 at Books A Million

Lena is all ready for kindergarten. It’s just her shoes that are nervous. Good thing the rest of her closet can show them that the best things happen when we’re nervous.

10. “Mae’s First Day of School,” by Kate Berube

“Mae’s First Day of School,” by Kate Berube

Mae's First Day of School (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon Mae's First Day of School (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “Mae’s First Day of School,” by Kate Berube $10.09 at Amazon
  • “Mae’s First Day of School,” by Kate Berube $15.63 at Bookshop
  • “Mae’s First Day of School,” by Kate Berube $16.99 at Books A Million

It’s Mae’s first day, and she doesn’t want to go. What if she’s the only one who can’t read and misses her mom? In a sweet encounter with a classmate and new teacher, she’ll discover she’s not the only one.

11. “The Kissing Hand,” by Audrey Penn, Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak

“The Kissing Hand,” by Audrey Penn, Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak

a blue frisbee in it s mouth: The Kissing Hand (The Kissing Hand Series) (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon The Kissing Hand (The Kissing Hand Series) (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “The Kissing Hand,” by Audrey Penn, Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak $15.99 at Amazon
  • “The Kissing Hand,” by Audrey Penn, Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak $16.54 at Bookshop
  • “The Kissing Hand,” by Audrey Penn, Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak $15.65 at Books A Million

Chester Raccoon doesn’t want to go to school. To ease his fears, Mrs. Raccoon shows him the Kissing Hand — a trick that might help any child worried about separation.

12. “School’s First Day of School,” by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson

“School’s First Day of School,” by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson

School's First Day of School (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon School's First Day of School (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “School’s First Day of School,” by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson $10.99 at Amazon
  • “School’s First Day of School,” by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson $16.55 at Bookshop
  • “School’s First Day of School,” by Adam Rex and Christian Robinson $17.99 at Books A Million

Turns out even schools get nervous — and covered in nose milk. This first day from the school’s perspective shows how lucky the school and kids are.

13. “Truman,” by Jean Reidy and Lucy Ruth Cummins

“Truman,” by Jean Reidy and Lucy Ruth Cummins

Truman (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon Truman (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “Truman,” by Jean Reidy and Lucy Ruth Cummins $13.19 at Amazon
  • “Truman,” by Jean Reidy and Lucy Ruth Cummins $16.55 at Bookshop
  • “Truman,” by Jean Reidy and Lucy Ruth Cummins $16.16 at Books A Million

Truman the turtle spends his days with Sarah, until she straps on a backpack and leaves, mysteriously. He’ll have to be brave to venture across the vast, unsettling landscape of home to find her.

14. “If I Built a School,” by Chris Van Dusen

“If I Built a School,” by Chris Van Dusen

a close up of a person holding a sign: If I Built a School (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon If I Built a School (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “If I Built a School,” by Chris Van Dusen $9.76 at Amazon
  • “If I Built a School,” by Chris Van Dusen $16.55 at Bookshop
  • “If I Built a School,” by Chris Van Dusen $15.65 at Books A Million

School is a little plain for Jack, so why not spruce it up a bit with puppies, pneumatic tubes, hover desks and skydiving wind tunnels, for starters?

Related: "It doesn't help to tell your child how to feel, like 'Don't be scared' or 'There's nothing to be worried about.'"

15. “Owl Babies,” by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson

“Owl Babies,” by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson

a bird sitting on top of a book: Owl Babies (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon Owl Babies (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “Owl Babies,” by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson $8.99 at Amazon
  • “Owl Babies,” by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson $15.63 at Bookshop
  • “Owl Babies,” by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson $15.12 at Books A Million

This sweet book about Mama’s safe return is recommended for preschoolers and children with separation anxiety.

16. “All Are Welcome,” by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

“All Are Welcome,” by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman

All Are Welcome (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon All Are Welcome (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “All Are Welcome,” by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman $11.29 at Amazon
  • “All Are Welcome,” by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman $15.65 at Books A Million
  • “All Are Welcome,” by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman $16.54 at Bookshop

This inclusive picture book shows exuberant children of all shades and religions. It’s a great reminder about embracing difference.

17. “Your First Day of Circus School,” by Tara Lazar and Melissa Crowton

“Your First Day of Circus School,” by Tara Lazar and Melissa Crowton

a screenshot of a video game: Your First Day of Circus School (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon Your First Day of Circus School (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “Your First Day of Circus School,” by Tara Lazar and Melissa Crowton $12.39 at Amazon
  • “Your First Day of Circus School,” by Tara Lazar and Melissa Crowton $16.55 at Bookshop
  • “Your First Day of Circus School,” by Tara Lazar and Melissa Crowton $17.99 at Books A Million

What’s the first day of school like when the cafeteria’s a literal zoo? This fun take on the first day of school has a can-do spirit.

18. “Llama Llama Misses Mama,” by Anna Dewdney

“Llama Llama Misses Mama,” by Anna Dewdney

a close up of a book: Llama Llama Misses Mama (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon Llama Llama Misses Mama (Amazon / Amazon)

“Llama Llama Misses Mama,” by Anna Dewdney $10.67 at Amazon

It’s Llama Llama’s first day of school, and he feels so new. He’ll find out how fun it can be just in time for Mama Llama to come back.

Related: The rapper and actor freestyled the popular children’s book on Los Angeles radio station Power 106. Ludacris, aka Chris Bridges, is a father of 3.

19. “The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade,” by Justin Roberts and Christian Robinson

“The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade,” by Justin Roberts and Christian Robinson

a screenshot of a video game: The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade (Amazon / Amazon)
  • “The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade,” by Justin Roberts and Christian Robinson $13.79 at Amazon
  • “The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade,” by Justin Roberts and Christian Robinson $16.55 at Bookshop
  • “The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade,” by Justin Roberts and Christian Robinson $17.99 at Books A Million

Nobody notices Sally McCabe, the smallest girl in the smallest grade. But by raising her hand she shows how a small voice can make a big difference.

20. "Even Monsters Go to School," by Lisa Wheeler and Chris Van Dusen

"Even Monsters Go to School," by Lisa Wheeler and Chris Van Dusen

a school bus that is parked on the side of a road: Even Monsters Go to School (Amazon / Amazon) © Amazon Even Monsters Go to School (Amazon / Amazon)
  • "Even Monsters Go to School," by Lisa Wheeler and Chris Van Dusen $15.49 at Amazon
  • "Even Monsters Go to School," by Lisa Wheeler and Chris Van Dusen $16.55 at Bookshop
  • "Even Monsters Go to School," by Lisa Wheeler and Chris Van Dusen $17.99 at Books A Million

If even Bigfoot and Frankenstein go to school, you can bet your little monster goes, too. A fun, rhyming take on school routines for mythical creatures.

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