Back to School Picture Books

For most area kids, school starts this week. In light of that, I would like to share a few of my favorite back-to-school picture books.

My first two titles feature the unofficial symbol of going back to school: the school bus. Grant Snider’s One Boy Watching takes a quiet approach, following the first bus rider of the day as he rides from his country home to school. As he rides, the sun rises, with the colored pencil-sketched sky going from dark blue to purple to red and then, finally, to yellow. The text is minimal, an effect that matches the quiet scene through the window. As he gets closer to town, more houses appear and the bus fills up. Finally, at ten ‘til eight, the boy arrives at school. Both the text and the illustrations strongly evoke the quiet of the early morning, making this a soothing bedtime read in preparation for the real thing.

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My second bus-related title may feature the same mode of transportation, but the similarities end there. Josh Lieb and Hannah Marks’ The Monster on the Bus is an interactive read along that will not help anyone calm down before bed. On the contrary, this slapstick take on “The Wheels on the Bus” will make the audience giggle and give them much to talk about afterward. The book begins tamely, with brown-skinned Angelique waiting for the bus with her mom and waving to a friend. After the first verse of the song, however, the situation becomes increasingly outlandish. Subsequent verses include a hungry monster, an evil villain, a wizard, and a ride through outer space. Eventually, the children band together and demand to be taken to school. Marks’ monsters are cute instead of scary, and the cartoonish illustrations lend to the book’s humorous tone. What a ride.

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One of my favorite back to school books is Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s 2019 title The King of Kindergarten. Thankfully, the self-esteem boosting book has a sequel of sorts just in time for the ‘22-23 school year. The Queen of Kindergarten follows MJ Malone, a young Black girl, as she hypes herself up for the first day of school. She is all confidence as she gets ready, and her mom deftly channels that confidence into a list of “royal duties.” A queen brightens every room, her mom tells her. A queen is always kind, caring, and helpful to others. As MJ goes throughout her day, tiara proudly atop her head, she seeks out opportunities to cheer up new friends, help classmates, and find joy in the small moments. Whether or not your kindergartener is as confident as MJ, they will likely walk away with lessons on kindness and the fun that can be had at kindergarten. Brantley-Newton’s illustrations, as ever, exude joy. Her use of bright colors and ability to portray love between characters affirms Barnes’ joyful story. The Queen of Kindergarten would be an excellent solo read or group read aloud for any child.

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