As January hurtles along, many families will be preparing for a big milestone – the First Day of School. To help both kids and parents prepare for this exciting event, we present our favourite books on starting school. The big kids have not been forgotten – we have included books on starting secondary school, because we understand that this is a big challenge too. Hopefully this list will also help any families starting school later in the year!
For Young Kids
Many picture books talk about starting school. A good place to start may be your child’s favourite book or TV character – many of them, including Hugless Douglas, Maisy, Charlie and Lola and Peppa Pig, offer stories about starting preschool / kindergarten / primary school. Other great stories (and conversation starters) include:
Starting School by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker
This gentle and sympathetic book follows five children – Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe, and Polly – on their first day of school. The children have different personalities and experience the day differently. The story is engaging and also informative, since it highlights the many predictable events of orientation, such as finding your way around, getting to know people, and learning new routines. From the team that bring us the equally gorgeous and popular All Through the Year (about the months of the year) and Today We Have No Plans (about the days of the week).
This is a good introduction to the Amelia Bedelia series, which can grow with your child through their primary years – the series range from picture books to early readers and chapter books. Amelia Bedelia is a very literal-minded girl who gets confused by common sayings. Her misunderstandings land her in many funny situations! Here, Amelia Bedelia learns to enjoy her first day at school despite feeling nervous and having a very eventful time.
First Day by Andrew Daddo and Jonathan Bentley
First Day gives “first day nerves” a little twist when it’s the parent, not the child, who is feeling them! This is a joyous, affectionate look at the excitement of getting ready for school on The First Day. The excitement may be tempered by a little sadness, but that’s okay, because “the best bit about waving goodbye is the next wave will be hello”. Andrew Daddo and Jonathan Bentley is a great team who is adept at capturing the moods and behaviours of young children.
The combination of Freya Blackwood’s illustrations and a grumpy main character made me smile and smile as I read The Terrible Suitcase. The little girl longs for a red backpack with yellow rockets to take to her first day of school, but all she has is a Terrible Suitcase. She feels so mad that she hides in a big cardboard box in her classroom. Luckily, friendliness and imagination turns this terrible day into something magical. I love how real the characters seem, and how inventive this story is.
Deciding when to send your child to school can be daunting, particularly when present-day ideas about “school readiness” focus on emotional and social maturity (which can be hard to recognise), rather than the more clear-cut criteria of age or intellectual development. Kathy Walker, a leading parenting and education expert, is here to help you with this guide. Based on her experiences working with families and educators, Kathy explains what school readiness means and how to assess it; she also describes how schools work, and gives advice on how to choose a school that suits a child and their families. Finally there are tips on preparing children for school, both in the lead-up and in the early weeks of term. Readable and highly informative.
Jenny Atkinson is a former teacher who now specialises in helping students, parents and staff achieve a confident, happy transition to high school. Based on survey feedback from over 1600 students, High School Rocks addresses the challenges that concern students the most – including friendships, independence, time-management and bullying. A mix of tips, stories and advice will help families develop their own coping strategies, and improve resilience. High School Rocks is currently available only from the Kindle Store or the author’s website.
For Big Kids
Many stories aimed at upper-primary or early teen readers explore themes of dealing with change, loneliness and understanding oneself, issues also relevant to the transition to secondary school. Some novels that specifically mention school transition include:
Herschelle and his family have just moved from South Africa to Australia, and despite his careful study of Aussie slang, he is struggling to fit in. At school, he is lumped in with the nerds, though he was one of the cool kids back in Cape Town. Nobody understands his accent or his Aussie-isms, and both he and his family make gaffes because they are confounded by local customs. Things come to a head when Herschelle is picked on for being different. New Boy has great messages about diversity, racism and bullying – especially because it offers the interesting twist of having a bullying-victim who is white. This is Nick Earls’ first book for younger readers, after a string of successes for teens and adults.
Life changes for Pea and her sisters when their ditzy mum becomes a successful author. Her new glamorous image means they have to relocate from a ramshackle flat in Wales to a house in London. Pea is excited about London’s various attractions – and even likes her new school uniform, “in a masochistic Malory Towers sort of way” – but she really misses having a best friend. Catastrophes ensue as Pea hunts for a new best friend while her sisters plot to return to their former lives. Pea’s Book of Best Friends is a fun read with likeable, quirky characters. The first in an ongoing series.
For mature readers, or with adult guidance – How to be Happy is an award-winning memoir that has been variously praised as hilarious, heartbreaking, and important. It follows David’s life as he enters high school, through his attempts to fit in both at home and at school, and into his early twenties. How to Be Happy tackles many confronting topics – including depression, friendship, sexual identity, suicide, love and academic pressure – with sincerity and honesty. It is ultimately uplifting as David realises that life can be okay even when it is not happy 100% of the time.