7 Awesome Back-to-School Picture Books for Elementary Students

Back to School Book Round Up

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The beginning of the school year brings brightly painted walls, stacks of fresh paper and new faces. The start of school also brings students who are nervous about starting the year with a new group of peers. There may be students who are concerned about bullying or teasing. Some children may be thinking about how they are different from the others in their class. Reading aloud to students, especially at the start of school, is a great way to talk about feelings students might have as they begin school.

Discussing our names, what makes us similar and different, how to welcome others and act as an ally are good discussions to have through the reading of a book. Perhaps children need to discuss some news or current events that took place over the summer break. Use these suggested picture books to begin those conversations with elementary students. All the books include two discussion guides, one for educators and one for parents and families.


Each Kindness (Ages 4-8)

Maya, a new girl, tries to befriend Chloe and her friends but Chloe ignores her and discourages her friends from playing with Chloe. They call her names and make fun of “never new” clothes and toys. Maya plays alone and eventually leaves the school—and no one knows why. Then, Maya’s teacher gives a lesson about how small acts of kindness can have a ripple effect and asks everyone to share how they’ve been kind. Maya is left wondering what she could have done differently to treat Maya with kindness and respect. Get the discussion guides.

Thunder Boy Jr. (Ages 4-8)

This picture book with vibrant illustrations explores the importance of names. Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wishes he had a unique name that is all his own. He wants a name that symbolizes something meaningful to him like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder. Then something amazing happens. He and his Dad choose the perfect name that is loud and bright and lights up the sky. Get the discussion guides.

I Walk with Vanessa (Ages 4-8)

There’s a new girl at school and another girl sees her new classmate being treated badly. She decides to take it upon herself to do something about the mean behavior. Conveyed in this wordless picture book, her simple but powerful action inspires others. Suddenly, this single act of kindness leads to the whole school community moving from bystanders to allies. Get the discussion guides.

The Breaking News (Ages 4-8)

When young children see how their parents react to distressing news stories, they react with confusion and fear. A young girl finds that her parents and other adults are constantly upset, distracted, and not their usual attentive selves as they follow the news. She is concerned about what’s happening in the world too and wants to do something that feels big and important. In the end, she finds that small actions build on one other and make a difference. Get the discussion guides.

The Day You Begin (Ages 5-8)

Starting a new school year can be challenging. But when you feel different than everyone else, it’s harder. You may feel like an outsider because of the way you talk, how you look or where you or your relatives come from. This book teaches us that we all have things about ourselves that make us unique. If we share our stories and experiences with others, we will feel less alone and more connected. Get the discussion guides.

Lailah's Lunchbox (Ages 5-8)

Lailah is happy because this is the first year she is old enough to fast for Ramadan. But because she is in a new school and new country, Lailah is worried that her new friends won’t understand why she isn’t eating lunch with them in the cafeteria. Lailah is also missing her old home and friends and reaches out to the school’s librarian and her teacher. They encourage Lailah to share this part of her identity with her new friends. Get the discussion guides.

Mama's Nightingale (Ages 6-10)

Saya is sad and misses his mother deeply. Mama has been sent to an immigrant detention center. Because Saya yearns to hear Mama’s voice, Saya listens to her words over and over on the answering machine. Because Mama understands that Saya finds comfort in her voice, Mama records herself reading Haitian folklore bedtime stories. That is comforting but Saya wants to do more. Saya decides that she wants to do something that will help reunite their family and she does just that—also using the power of words. Get the discussion guides.