The first few weeks of school are overwhelming. There is so much to teach in terms of classroom procedures, classroom community, routines, and expectations! Connecting a read aloud to these activities can make them more memorable and engaging for students. Using lessons based on books for back to school can also help create a bridge between the fictional situations and real scenarios in your classroom. This can facilitate great discussion and help students buy into your classroom management plan. These back to school picture books are perfect for teaching routines and building community during the first weeks of school.
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. While purchasing through my links won't cost you any more, it will help fund the ongoing costs of maintaining this website. Thanks for your support.
26 Great Back to School Books for Elementary Students to Start the New School Year Off Right
1. You're Here for a Reason by Nancy Tillman
This is a beautiful book by the same author who wrote On the Night You Were Born, the popular book for new parents.
The book tells children about their value and importance. It instills the idea that each child has individual gifts that are an important part of their home or school community.
The words talk about how small actions have bigger reactions but the illustrations really demonstrate that everything you do has an effect on others around you, whether you realize it or not.
It is a wonderful way to teach about the value of small acts of kindness! And you can follow it up by starting a classroom shout out or kindness board. I've shared more details about how to get started here: How to build classroom community the first days of school.
Get the book here: You're Here for a Reason
2. What Do You Do with a Problem? by Kobi Yamada
Looking for a back to school book to help your students feel confident taking challenges and work through problems in your classroom? This story is PERFECT!
In this story, a child is dealing with an unexpected problem. It talks about the anxiety the child feels in regards to the problem. This is a great book to teach problem-solving and the emotions and fears that come with daily struggles.
Many teachers teach problem-solving but do not touch on the emotional component that tends to weigh on children’s minds and hearts. This is a great book to have a dialogue about problems students face at home and at school and how to solve the problems bravely!
Get the book here: What Do You Do with a Problem?
3. Wordy Birdy by Tammi Sauer
This is a cute story that lends itself to lots of giggling and interacting with your students. Wordy Birdy talks and talks and talks and rarely listens! It’s a fun story to teach students the importance of active listening-both to the teacher and classmates.
Through Wordy Birdy’s missteps, students can learn about appropriate times in the classroom for talking and asking questions and times when listening is more important.
Get the book here: Wordy Birdy
4. What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada
This book follows a similar format to What Do You Do With A Problem? but focuses on a child who has an idea and doesn’t know how to embrace it and put it into action! It talks about being nervous about sharing your ideas with others and what happens when others don’t value your ideas.
Students at any age struggle with this concept and students can be critical of one another. This book shows the importance of being proud of your own ideas and respecting the ideas of others.
It encourages students to take their ideas and run with them!
Get the book here: What Do You Do with an Idea?
5. Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller
This book is realistic fiction and it talks about spreading kindness in simple terms for children. It gives practical examples of things that kids can do daily and talks about how being kind can sometimes be challenging.
The main character struggles with wanting to be kind but not knowing the best way to do it.
Because this book starts with a dilemma that can happen in any school, the conversation about problem-solving and being a kind friend can begin.
The main character’s internal struggle and the sadness that the other character feels, allows for students to feel empathy and compassion.
Get it here: Be Kind
6. The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill
This is a very cute rhyming story that talks about bullying on the playground.
It is so important to explicitly teach appropriate recess behavior because it is a time where students are not as easily supervised. Free play can lead to mischief and hurt feelings unless clear rules and expectations are set from the beginning.
This book is a great introduction for a conversation on how to approach those playground conflicts and what to do if they see or experience bullying.
Through this story, you can teach about identifying a bully, what the role of bystanders is and how to use kindness to overcome adversity.
Get it here: The Recess Queen
7. The Bad Seed by Jory John & Pete Oswald
This story is narrated by a bad sunflower seed who explains all the reasons he is so bad, and it is perfect for discussing rules and behavior.
The bad seed tells you the rules that he breaks. You can talk about why the rules are important and what kind of disruptions he causes by breaking these rules.
However, this story is so much more than just an opportunity to discuss rules. As it continues, the bad seed goes on to explain what made him so bad. This can lead to a discussion on kindness and empathy.
The bad seed tries to change by the end of the story but he’s not perfect! It’s a great back to school book to get started talking about goal setting and trying your best.
Grab the book: The Bad Seed
8. I Am Enough by Grace Byers
This is a great back to school to remind students to be proud of who they are. It can be easy for some students to get sucked into trying to keep up and be popular, but this book is a great reminder that each of your students is unique and has something amazing to offer the classroom.
The story itself is full of metaphors about reaching goals, being proud, and trying your best. It celebrates individuality and opens the conversation about differences within the classroom.
Many students struggle internally with insecurities with their looks and abilities. This book breaks down some of the barriers and tells students that their worth is important and valued! They are enough and should be proud to be who they are!
Get the book: I am Enough
9. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
This is a story for the first day of school! While I love First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, many students have already heard the story multiple times by the time they make their way to upper elementary. This book is a great alternative.
Penelope Rex is a dinosaur that is very nervous about her first day of school. She is surprised to find out that her classmates aren’t dinosaurs like her but…children!
You can use this story to talk about how students feel on the first day and different ways to make new friends. No one wants to be friends with a dinosaur who eats her classmates!
This book made me laugh out loud a few times, and it is great for facilitating discussions about sharing and kindness for younger students. Older students can use the story to foster a discussion about empathy and feeling left out .
Get the book: We Don't Eat Our Classmates
10. The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
This award-winning book is another great story about overcoming fear and having the courage to make connections in a new situation.
Many students feel alone during the first few days of school. Whether they've been separated from friends, are brand new to the school, or just don't feel like they fit in, your students are looking to you to help them find the courage to connect with one another.
This story reminds us that we all feel like we don't quite fit in sometimes. It focuses on teaching students to push forward and be courageous anyway because they never know who might make the perfect friend.
Grab the book: The Day You Begin
11. The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray
This fast-paced book is great for preparing for a “field trip” around the school to make connections with the important staff members that students should know.
The Gingerbread Man is left behind when his class leaves for recess, but he is determined to find his class. On his quest, he meets the school nurse, the gym teacher, and even the principal.
I love that this story has some humor and a happy ending, and it leads to great conversations about school safety, as well.
Check it out here: The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School
12. Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can't Go to School by Christina Geist
This is a funny story about a day when all the grown-ups beg to join their kids at school…but school is just for kids & teachers.
The story is funny and fast-paced and students love the illustrations. It makes a great opportunity to discuss personal responsibility.
I love making the connections that their parent isn't in our class so it isn't their responsibility to remember homework or lunches. Instead, I remind my students that THEY can take this on themselves this year.
The book is also great for showing school as a desirable and fun place to be, which is great for nervous or reluctant students.
Get the book: Sorry, Grown-ups, You Can't Go to School
13. My Creature Teacher by Laura Leuck
If you're looking for a book that discusses rules and procedures without being a total snoozefest, this is it! My students love the fun, colorful illustrations of the monsters' classroom. There are so many small details that the kids notice.
However, I love that this book goes through classroom, lunchroom, and playground scenarios to help start a discussion about how students should act in those different settings.
Whether you use it at the beginning of the year or as a rules refresher closer to Halloween, I definitely recommend you pick up this book!
Check it out here: My Creature Teacher
14. Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break if You Want to Survive the School Bus by John Grandits
This story is perfect for those students who have older siblings that have taught them the ropes of what's to come in your grade level.
The main character, Kyle, is nervous about his first day riding the bus. His older brother explains the 10 unbreakable rules he must follow.
However, during the ride Kyle is faced with scenarios that go in the face of each rule his brother has taught him.
By the end, he realizes that the bus isn't that all bad, and that he might even have a few tricks to teach his big brother.
15. The Exceptionally Extraordinarily Ordinary First Day of School by Albert Lorenz
If you are looking for an engaging and funny back to school book, look no further than this one!
The story revolves around John, who is new to his school. When asked if this school is different than his old school, his reply creates a wacky and wild tale that thrills his new classmates and leaves them riveted.
This book is truly hilarious, and it is great for helping new students feel a little more comfortable in their new classroom.
16. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett
This book is great for getting started with growth mindset, and the idea that your classroom is a safe space for making mistakes.
The perfectionists in your classroom will relate to Beatrice, the main character. She never forgets homework, always does everything she is supposed to, and even wins the talent show EVERY YEAR.
This book is truly hilarious, and it is great for helping new students feel a little more comfortable in their new classroom.
Grab the book: The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes
17. First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
This book perfectly captures those first day worries that can come with a new school year. So many students can relate to Sarah Hartwell's worries as she faces the first day of school in a new place.
With Mr. Hartwell's help, Sarah pulls herself together for the ride to school and faces her fears head-on with the help of the school principal.
This is such a good story for the first day, and the kids love the plot twist at the end. It is a great way to get kids talking about what they are nervous about for the new school year. It can help you answer pressing questions and assuage any lingering fears.
Get it here: First Day Jitters
18. Back-to-School Rules by Laurie B. Friedman
This is another great book for brainstorming and discussing classroom rules.
Percy, the narrator, explains the rules for surviving school. If you follow his rules, he guarantees doing well will be easy as pie and school will be a blast. However, there's way more involved than just showing up and staying awake. The great news is Percy shows you exactly what NOT to do.
Students love hearing about the trouble Percy gets himself into and the tips he has for a new school year, and the story really lends itself to a discussion about what the rules and expectations are for your classroom.
This is a great opportunity to transition into building your classroom social contract.
Grab the book: Back-to-School Rules
19. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
This book is such a great opportunity to build classroom community and help students see that they belong.
The story revolves around Unhei, who has just arrived in the United States from Korea. As she begins the school year, she wonders if she should choose an American name and struggles with how she will choose.
The story is great for helping students empathize with the struggles of being new, and it is a great opportunity to brainstorm how the class can be a welcoming and inclusive place for all students.
Get the book: The Name Jar
20. Dear Teacher by Amy Husband
I love funny books at the beginning of the year. When students laugh together, it starts to form that classroom bond with a shared experience.
This story is a perfect opportunity to get your students giggling. Written in the form of letters from a student named Michael, this book is packed with zany adventures. Michael writes his new teacher to tell her tales that include pirates, space adventures, and more…but none of it can save him from the first day of school. Or can it?
A great follow-up activity is to have students write you a letter about themselves or the important things they want you to know about them. Just briefly review the parts of a friendly letter as you read the text, and you're ready to go!
Get the book: Dear Teacher
21. Adventures to School: Real-Life Journeys of Students from Around the World by Miranda Paul & Baptiste Paul
One important procedure to review the first day of school is transportation – both arrival and dismissal procedures. However, it can be a challenge to make this process engaging. It's truly just one of those must-do activities.
Try shaking things up by reading Adventures to School with your students. It shares how thirteen different students from around the globe get to school each day. While all the journeys are different, each ends with the same goal.
While you are reading, you can plot each child's home on a map for added learning. Then have a discussion about the various ways your students arrive and depart school before reviewing dismissal procedures on the first day.
22. How to Get Your Teacher Ready by Jean Reagan
We love How to Babysit a Grandpa by Jean Reagan around our house, so when I saw this book on the shelf at Target, I had to pick it up and take a peek.
In this version, the students explain how to make your teacher feel welcome during the school year. It is quite funny and it really would lend itself to a number of great conversations about procedures and building community at the beginning of a new school year.
Get the book: How to Get Your Teacher Ready
23. This School Year Will Be the Best by Kay Winters
The beginning of the new school year is the perfect time to get students talking about expectations for the new year, and this is the perfect back to school read-aloud to get started.
The book revolves around a new class discussing what they'd like to happen during the school year. From the familiar to the zany, each student shares his or her hopes.
With engaging and hilarious illustrations, your students are sure to love this story and it lends itself perfectly to a discussion of what the new year might hold.
Grab the book: This School Year Will Be the Best
24. I Didn't Do My Homework Because… by Davide Cali
Looking to create a no excuses classroom when it comes to homework? This is the perfect back to school read-aloud for introducing homework expectations. If you're looking for a book with giant lizard invasions, sneaky elves, and meat-eating plants…this is the book for you!
With all kinds of crazy excuses about why the students' homework isn't complete, this story gets wilder with each page turn. Your students will love the illustrations, and you'll love that you get to discuss homework without getting glazed over expressions from your students.
Grab it here: I Didn't Do My Homework Because…
25. The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
This story is about Brian, a kiddo who no one seems to notice and is always left out. However, when a new student comes to class, Brian is the first to welcome and befriend him. When the pair team up on a class project, Brian finally gets his chance to shine.
This story is perfect for discussing being inclusive and welcoming all students. Nearly all classrooms have students who are quiet or more reserved, and this book is a change to introduce how you can help these students find your place within the classroom community without making them feel uncomfortable.
Get the book: The Invisible Boy
26. The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania of Jordan Al Abdullah
Speaking of books that are all about accepting differences, this one is a real back-to-school read-aloud winner.
The story is about best friends who love doing things together, especially eating lunch. Lily eats peanut butter and Salma eats hummus. No big deal, right? Until it is…
As students watch the story unfold, Salma and Lily find a way to put aside their differences and learn that we are all unique and that our differences shouldn't get in the way of friendship.
You can follow up this book with a “Find Someone Who” activity that helps students focus on their similarities with peers they may not have known before.
Get the book: The Sandwich Swap
Back-to-School Read Aloud Freebie Activity
Building classroom community is about focusing on finding ways your students can connect. Many of the titles listed above focus on that concept, but it is always great to add a post-reading activity to get your students actively engaged in the process.
I've created this free “Find a Friend” activity that focuses on helping your students find what they have in common with one another.
This free back-to-school activity would be perfect to complete after reading a book like The Sandwich Swap or The Day You Begin from the back-to-school book list in this article, but it could also be used any time during the first week of school.