Book List

9 Great Back-to-School Books

Necessary nourishment, infectiously joyous.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN

Newbery honoree Barnes (Crown, illustrated by Gordon C. James, 2017) shows a black boy what to expect on his first day as “king” of kindergarten.

A young boy greets the reader with a sweet smile. “The morning sun blares through your window like a million brass trumpets. / It sits and shines behind your head—like a crown.” The text continues in second person while the boy gets ready for his first day—brushing “Ye Royal Chiclets,” dressing himself, eating breakfast with his mother and father before riding “a big yellow carriage” to “a grand fortress.” The kind teacher and the other children at his table are as eager to meet him as he is to meet them. Important topics are covered in class (“shapes, the alphabet, and the never-ending mystery of numbers”), but playing at recess and sharing with new friends at lunch are highlights too, followed by rest time and music. The playful illustrations use texture and shadow to great effect, with vibrant colors and dynamic shapes and lines sustaining readers’ interest on every page. Text and visuals work together beautifully to generate excitement and confidence in children getting ready to enter kindergarten. The little king’s smiling brown face is refreshing and heartwarming. The other children and parents are a mix of races; the teacher and staff are mostly brown.

Necessary nourishment, infectiously joyous. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4074-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

Both perfect for Lola fans and likely to earn her ever more readers.

LOLA GOES TO SCHOOL

From the Lola & Leo series

After years of everyday joys with McQuinn and Beardshaw’s Lola, readers now watch her start school.

It “will be a bit like story time at the library, but Lola will stay by herself.” The little black girl “knows what to expect” because she’s visited the school with her mom. She is prepared with gifts from loved ones—“fun pencils” from Nana, a water bottle from Ty. The night before her “big day,” Lola lays out her outfit. In the morning, she tucks her stuffed kitty, Dinah, in her bag and poses for a snapshot. In the classroom, Miss Suzan, a white woman, shows her where to put her things. Lola spends time reading with her friend Julia, who has pale skin and black hair, and then they play dress-up. Her mom sits for a while before saying goodbye. After snack time and more play, there is circle time. Of course, “Lola knows the song and all the motions.” Picking Lola up at the end of the day, Mommy hugs her daughter. Beardshaw’s soft, slightly smudgy illustrations allow young readers to focus on one cozy moment at a time. Even at this milestone, Lola still appears quite tiny, and the text is no more complex than in previous books, making this a seamless transition from Lola’s younger days to her new life in school.

Both perfect for Lola fans and likely to earn her ever more readers. (Picture book. 3-5)

Pub Date: June 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-58089-938-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

It’s tough to walk the plank and leave beloved captains behind; this may make the transition a little easier.

PIRATES DON'T GO TO KINDERGARTEN!

An imaginative pirate preschooler has a hard time adjusting to a new captain in kindergarten.

Not only is beloved preschool teacher Cap’n Chu not the captain of the kindergarten ship, but it doesn’t even sail the seas—it’s a spaceship! This is too much for pirate Emma to take, and she falls back to reboarding the preschool ship: “Pirates don’t go to kindergarten!” Despite repeated efforts on the parts of Cap’n Chu, new teacher Cap’n Hayes, and a fellow kindergartener, Emma continues to cling to Cap’n Chu until she gets the reassurance she needs that her former teacher will miss her too but will always be available for a visit. With that, space pirate Emma finally reports to her new ship. Kaban’s digital illustrations go to town with the metaphor, depicting school as a mix of reality and imagination: Emma swims, wooden cutlass in her teeth, back to the preschool room. Emma’s portrayed with a peg leg in one picture, and the kindergarten guinea pig’s fur makes it look like it wears an eye patch. Otherwise, the pirate trope is limited to bandannas and striped shirts. Emma presents white; the other students are diverse; Cap’n Chu presents Asian; and Cap’n Hayes has brown skin and white hair. Unfortunately, awkward renderings of her head and face may remind readers of a monkey’s.

It’s tough to walk the plank and leave beloved captains behind; this may make the transition a little easier. (Picture book. 4-8)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-9275-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

Yes, the Pigeon has to go to school, and so do readers, and this book will surely ease the way.

THE PIGEON HAS TO GO TO SCHOOL!

From the Pigeon series

All the typical worries and excuses kids have about school are filtered through Willems’ hysterical, bus-loving Pigeon.

Told mostly in speech balloons, the bird’s monologue will have kids (and their caregivers) in stitches at Pigeon’s excuses. From already knowing everything (except whatever question readers choose to provide in response to “Go ahead—ask me a question. / Any question!”) to fearing learning too much (“My head might pop off”), Pigeon’s imagination has run wild. Readers familiar with Pigeon will recognize the muted, matte backgrounds that show off the bird’s shenanigans so well. As in previous outings, Willems varies the size of the pigeon on the page to help communicate emotion, the bird teeny small on the double-page spread that illustrates the confession that “I’m… / scared.” And Pigeon’s eight-box rant about all the perils of school (“The unknown stresses me out, dude”) is marvelously followed by the realization (complete with lightbulb thought bubble) that school is the place for students to practice, with experts, all those skills they don’t yet have. But it is the ending that is so Willems, so Pigeon, and so perfect. Pigeon’s last question is “Well, HOW am I supposed to get there, anyway!?!” Readers will readily guess both the answer and Pigeon’s reaction.

Yes, the Pigeon has to go to school, and so do readers, and this book will surely ease the way. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-368-04645-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

Even the most school-ready kid can have doubts, but with a friend, nothing will seem too big to handle.

SO BIG!

Using just six words, Wohnoutka manages to spin a complete school story.

The sunshiny gouache illustrations do the heavy lifting, supporting the words “so,” “big,” “not,” “too,” “just,” and “right” that are repeated throughout. The first spread shows Bear waking up in a sunny bedroom. A red star marks Sept. 4 on the wall calendar, and there’s a backpack on the floor: “So big.” Bear continues to feel capable and confident while dressing, eating breakfast, packing a bag, tying shoes, and standing at the bus stop (there is nary an adult in sight) next to a nervous elephant and squirrel. Then the bus arrives, dwarfing Bear, and this contrast and the font indicate a change: “SO big.” The other students on the bus (rhino, hippo, giraffe…) are “So BIG,” and the school is “SO BIG!” Bear is suddenly “Not so big.” But then Bear spies Squirrel, who is crying and feeling even smaller and less ready than Bear. Wordlessly, Bear, a model of empathy, holds out a hand, and together, the two brave the hallways, which are “Not so big…,” meet their teacher, and find that their classroom is “Just right!” Wohnoutka’s animal cast is beautifully expressive, and his use of relative size within compositions is masterful, easily getting across to readers how the world feels to Bear and Squirrel.

Even the most school-ready kid can have doubts, but with a friend, nothing will seem too big to handle. (Picture book. 3-6)

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0079-3

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

A novel though probably not universal look at first-day jitters.

LENA'S SHOES ARE NERVOUS

A FIRST-DAY-OF-SCHOOL DILEMMA

Lena projects her nervousness about the first day of school onto her shoes, but how does one reach détente with footwear?

Lena is very excited for school. So is her dress, which is “very outgoing.” But those shoes are quaking in their, um, shoes. Lena’s dad suggests talking to them, but Lena is very matter-of-fact: They’re shoes. Duh! But her other clothes can talk to her footwear. Lena puts her headband next to her shoes and listens as the shoes express their fear: School is “big and loud and different.” The headband reminds the shoes of similar situations that they got through by being brave together, vignettes showing a doctor visit, a scary movie, and a big dog. The shoes are still unsure, so Lena announces she’ll wear her slippers. That does it. The final spread shows all the schoolchildren from the waist down, their shoes the focus. The seemingly digital illustrations use flat, solid colors in bright hues against brilliant backgrounds, several pages just black and white outlines with a few items picked out in vivid color for effect. Beige-skinned Lena’s dad’s skin is several shades darker than her own, and he has puffy brown hair. Her classmates are diverse and include a girl in hijab and a child in a wheelchair. The reminder of other tough situations survived may not be enough to calm readers’ own fears, however, despite the appealing whimsy of the device.

A novel though probably not universal look at first-day jitters. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5344-0894-4

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

Penfold and Kaufman have outdone themselves in delivering a vital message in today’s political climate. Let’s hope more...

ALL ARE WELCOME

A lively city school celebrates its diversity.

Front endpapers show adult caregivers walking their charges to school, the families a delightful mix that includes interracial, same-sex, and heterosexual couples as well as single caregivers; the rear endpapers assemble them again at the conclusion of a successful schoolwide evening potluck. In between, the rhyming verses focus on aspects of a typical school day, always ending with the titular phrase: “Time for lunch—what a spread! / A dozen different kinds of bread. / Pass it around till everyone’s fed. / All are welcome here.” Indeed, this school is diversity exemplified. Several kids point to their home countries on a world map, and some wear markers of their cultural or religious groups: There’s a girl in hijab, a boy wearing a Sikh patka, and a boy in a kippah. A rainbow of hair colors and skin tones is in evidence, and children with disabilities are also included: a blind boy, a girl in a wheelchair, and several kids with glasses. What is most wonderful, though, is the way they interact with one another without regard to their many differences. Kaufman’s acrylic, ink, crayon, collage, and Photoshop illustrations bring the many personalities in this school community to life. “You have a place here. / You have a space here. / You are welcome here.”

Penfold and Kaufman have outdone themselves in delivering a vital message in today’s political climate. Let’s hope more people, starting with this picture book’s audience, embrace it. (Picture book. 3-8)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-57964-9

Page Count: 44

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

X marks the school: “The treasure of all treasures!” (Picture book. 3-7)

KINDERGARRRTEN BUS

A pirate bus driver tells his new kindergarten charges to buck up and not be afraid, but then something happens that shows him to be a fraidy fraud.

On their first day of kindergarrrten, a rather unconventional bus driver greets six diverse kids whose fear (both of the new experience of going to school and of their driver) is more than evident. But the blatantly stereotypical (hook hand, peg leg, earring, hat, beard and mustache) pirate will have no blubbering on his bus: “Pirates don’t get scared!… / ’Cause we’re rrrough! And we’re tough! / And we ain’t got time for that fluffy stuff!” But when bumpy roads send his parrot flying out the window, the pirate’s “hornswogglin’ ” is revealed, and in a reversal, the children must convince the pirate that he can be brave and drive the bus even without Polly. An author’s note tells adults how to help anxious children faced with new experiences. Barry’s illustrations use fairly dark, somber hues to set the mood, and his fine-lined, scribbly style suits the pirate theme. The details will keep readers glued to the pages: Instead of stairs, the bus has a plank to walk, the windows are round like portholes, the steering wheel is that from a ship, and a jolly roger (the silhouette of a teddy bear head) flies from the roof.

X marks the school: “The treasure of all treasures!” (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: July 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58536-398-8

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

Informative and genuine, the book offers much to learn about connecting, expanding understanding, and overcoming...

SOMEONE NEW

In I’m New Here (2015), O’Brien told the story of three new immigrants from their perspectives. Here, she tells the same story from the perspectives of the peers who welcome them.

Jesse, Jason, and Emma are struggling to connect with their new peers—Maria from Guatemala, Jin from South Korea, and Fatimah from Somalia—who seem so different from them. Jesse, a white boy, sees Maria watching his team play soccer. He wonders if she even knows how to play, thinking, “Our team is already great as it is. I don’t want to mess it up.” Jason, a black boy, wants to share his comics with Jin, but since Jin can’t read or write English, Jason wishes he “had a superpower to help him.” Emma, a white girl, tries to explain to Fatimah, who wears hijab, what’s happening in class, but Fatimah does not understand. Each student uses a talent of theirs (soccer, writing, and drawing) to connect with their new classmate and make a friend. O’Brien’s watercolor-and-digital illustrations again make effective use of white space to positively depict the students who are already “home” moving through discomfort and confusion to welcoming their new classmates. The author includes a note discussing intergroup anxiety, how to overcome it, and strategies for dissolving barriers.

Informative and genuine, the book offers much to learn about connecting, expanding understanding, and overcoming differences—a great companion to the previous title. (Picture book. 5-10)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58089-831-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

More Book Lists

The Magazine: Kirkus Reviews

Jenn Shapland reclaims a queer icon in My Autobiography of Carson McCullers.

subscribe
  • The Kirkus Star

    One of the most coveted designations in the book industry, the Kirkus Star marks books of exceptional merit.

  • The Kirkus Prize

    The Kirkus Prize is among the richest literary awards in America, awarding $50,000 in three categories annually.

    See the 2019 winners.

Great Books & News Curated For You

Be the first to read books news and see reviews, news and features in Kirkus Reviews. Get awesome content delivered to your inbox every week.

Thank you!

Looks good !! Please provide a valid email.