By Sandy Hsu | @hopefulsmiles
It’s a day that’s been deferred, postponed, and delayed again and again. Let’s wait and see, we said at the beginning of the pandemic. The year came and went.
And now, unbelievably, the time has finally come: my daughter is starting school.
I take a few deep breaths. After a year of homeschooling, my four-year-old will begin pre-k in the fall for a full five days a week. It’s going to be a big adjustment, for both of us.
Is she ready? I wonder. I certainly am. Mostly. I think.
On the one hand, we are definitely ready to trade the emotional roller coaster of the past year for something more like a school bus—shows up at the same time every day, and we know where we’re headed. Yet, after a year of spending so much time at home together and feeling a little rusty on the social front, getting into a new routine of going to school comes with its own set of big feelings and challenges
Books and reading are a shared passion for my daughter and me, so we’ve been preparing for the start of this new chapter by reading stories about school. It’s been a great way to help her know what to expect, familiarize her with the rhythm of a school day, and talk about what she is looking forward to and what she may be nervous about.
Here are a few of our favorites:
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
This heartwarming story of little Chester Raccoon’s mother giving him a kiss on the hand to remind Chester of her love when he goes to school was new to me, but I could immediately see why it’s become a classic. This beloved story hits all the right chords—tugging on the heartstrings of mamas sending their babies off to school and sweet reassurance for children that they are loved wherever they go.
Hello School! by Priscilla Burris
I love the gentle simplicity of this book. Hello School! gives a cheerful overview of what a day at school is like with short sentences, simple dialogue, and refreshingly uncluttered illustrations. It’s easy for little ones to understand and is great for helping a child starting preschool know what to expect.
First Day Critter Jitters by Jory John, illustrated by Liz Climo
I’ve been a fan of Liz Climo’s adorable animal webcomics long before I knew she also illustrated children’s books. Her endearing animal characters always put a smile on my face, and this book was no different! The animals in First Day Critter Jitters all have different reasons why they are nervous about going to school but when they each discover that they are not the only ones feeling anxious, they learn to help each other out. Super cute, witty, and so much fun!
A Little Bit Brave by Nicola Kinnear
This is such a lovely book about bravery, trying new things, and friendship. Logan the stay-at-home bunny takes a leap into the unknown in search of his friend Luna and pulls off a courageous rescue. My daughter enjoyed the artful illustrations and the story has all the charm of a well-loved folktale.
School’s First Day of School
by Adam Rex
In this fun twist on a first day of school story, a new school building personifies all of the big feelings and worries that a child may have about starting school. It’s an amusing role-reversal and the colorful childlike illustrations had a wonderfully nostalgic feel.
Lena’s Shoes are Nervous: A First-Day-of-School Dilemma by Keith Calabres
This playful story of Lena, a little girl who is excited to start kindergarten but must first convince her nervous pair of shoes to be brave, puts a clever spin on the first-day-of-school jitters that gives children a sense of agency. I especially appreciated that Lena’s dad offers helpful suggestions in the story while also encouraging Lena to problem-solve on her own.
The King of Kindergarten
by Derrick Barnes
Embark on the royal grand adventure that is the first day of school through the eyes of a joyful boy starting kindergarten! We loved this clever tale of reimagining the school bus as a yellow carriage, the school as a grand fortress, and our little hero displaying his bravery on the playground. Now my daughter can’t wait to be the princess of preschool! (By the way, I can’t believe that “The Princess of Preschool” isn’t an actual book. I really think I’m on to something here…)
Also worth an honorable mention are books with familiar characters. Reading about a favorite character going to school can be especially comforting for little ones as they navigate this big milestone. Some great ones are: Daniel Tiger Goes to School, Clifford Goes to Kindergarten, The Berenstain Bears Go to School, and Curious George’s First Day of School.
At the end of the day, as I pick up books off the couch and floor and return them to the shelf, the words from these stories echo in my mind:
I hope she will be brave like Logan the bunny.
I hope she will feel loved like Chester the raccoon.
She may feel jitters (as will I), but so does everyone else so it’s going to be ok.
I hope she’ll remember that even when she feels like the smallest girl in the smallest grade she can still make a big difference.
I’ll remember to give her a little space if her shoes are feeling nervous.
I hope she will make new friends, like her teacher, be royally kind, and enjoy learning.
And I’m sure that soon, she will be coming home from school with her very own stories to tell.
Sandy Hsu | @hopefulsmiles
Sandy is a wife, mother of two, and scientist-turned-writer living in Los Angeles, California. When she’s not reading to her girls, cleaning up mealtime messes, or struggling to keep up with the laundry, Sandy enjoys writing, painting, and planning travel adventures with her family. A lover of good stories and thought-provoking conversations, Sandy strives to find joy and beauty in the midst of the daily grind and hopes to encourage other moms to do the same.