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Back-to-School Picture Books to Brighten Any Kid’s First Day


The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!

Written and illustrated by Mo Willems

He already knows everything anyway, so why should he go to school? That’s the perfectly reasonable question Willems’s neurotic, know-it-all Pigeon asks as he faces the inevitable — his first time at school. Naturally, he’s full of dread. “What if I REALLY don’t like it!?” And, “What will the other birds THINK of me?” The ending is so clever, Pigeon’s ever-growing flock of fans might just applaud. It involves the school bus he will have to ride, bringing back fond, funny memories of his very first book, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!”

40 pp. Hyperion. $16.99. (Ages 3 to 5)

The King of Kindergarten

By Derrick Barnes. Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

Barnes (“Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut”) and Brantley-Newton (“The Youngest Marcher”) take a refreshing “you got this” approach to the first day of kindergarten. Our little hero knows he’s ready — even for the hard parts — and remembers his mother’s words, “Hold your head high and greet everyone with a brilliant, beaming, majestic smile.” This is a king whose power comes from self-respect and kindness toward all the members of his diverse classroom, and it doesn’t hurt that Brantley-Newton makes him and his classmates drop-dead adorable.

32 pp. Nancy Paulsen Books. $17.99. (Ages 3 to 6)

Truman

By Jean Reidy. Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins.

A girl. Her pet turtle. Her first day of school. From these simple elements Reidy (“Pup 681”) and Cummins (“Stumpkin”) spin an enchanting tale of bravery, heroism and undying devotion. Little Sarah lives in an apartment, and Truman’s tank is perched on a windowsill. When she leaves on a bus after some unusual preparations — “that backpack was particularly big,” he thinks — he decides to make a break and find her. He makes it to the rug, but “without Sarah, their home seemed vast and uncharted and unsettling.” Cummins’s delectable art captures the warm, witty heart of the story.

48 pp. Atheneum Books for Young Readers. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 8)

Take Your Pet to School Day

By Linda Ashman. Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman.

Ashman’s vivacious rhymes and Kaufman’s lovingly detailed illustrations bring a far-fetched dream to life in this larky story. One school’s students are told to bring their pets on Friday, and they do, not just dogs but a snake, a horse and an ant farm, pulled in a red wagon. Chaos reigns, and the teachers freak out. Turns out the pets themselves have engineered a scam — a highly entertaining one that proves school stories don’t have to be serious.

40 pp. Random House. $17.99. (Ages 3 to 7)

The Proudest Blue A Story of Hijab and Family

By Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali. Illustrated by Hatem Aly.

Muhammad, a fencer who was the first United States athlete to wear a hijab in the Olympics, tells the inspiring story of the first day of school for two Muslim sisters, the older of whom is wearing her hijab for the first time. Faizah loves her sister Asiya’s scarf, blue “like the ocean waving to the sky,” but others point and mock. The sisters remember their mother’s advice not to “carry around the hurtful words that others say.” The lovely, playful illustrations by Aly (“The Inquisitor’s Tale”) capture the spirit of imagination and sisterly solidarity in the face of bullying.

40 pp. Little, Brown & Company.$17.99. (Ages 4 to 8)

My Teacher Is a Robot

Written and illustrated by Jeffrey Brown

A boring teacher — what could be worse? “Everything Mr. Bailey says is robot talk,” Fred declares. Brown’s madcap comics-style book, with dialogue in speech bubbles, lets Fred’s thoughts run wild, with spiders, dinosaurs and mayhem visiting the classroom and the supposedly uninspiring teacher. But Mr. Bailey has a surprise in store, setting free Fred’s considerable imagination.

40 pp. Crown Books for Young Readers. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 7)

Nugget and Fang Go to School

By Tammi Sauer. Illustrated by Michael Slack.

Even a shark who’s so much bigger than the other fishy students can have a tough time on the first day of school. (“What if I yawn and accidentally swallow someone?”) Reading, math and music are a disaster, until his minnow friend Nugget steps in. Sauer (“Quiet Wyatt”) and Slack (“Shorty and Clem”) keep up the laughs, and the reassurance.

32 pp. Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 7)

Unicorn Is Maybe Not So Great After All

Written and illustrated by Bob Shea

The kooky, magnanimous hero of “Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great” is bummed on the first day of school. Why is everyone ignoring him and going nuts over trendy rubber bands? His solution: a new look, with go-go boots and a rainbow wig. “They’ll forget all about their silly rubber bands once they get a load of my sassy new look and cheery, whimsical attitude,” he reasons. Shea’s irreverent, high-energy humor is the perfect camouflage for a message about sharing the stage.

40 pp. Hyperion. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 7)


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