Back to School Picture Books

SEL Picture Books Perfect for Back-to-School

Our favorite SEL books to help ease back-to-school anxiety for kids of all ages!

Back-to-school time can bring up a LOT of feelings for kids

The same things that bring excitement might also bring worries.  Kids might wonder, Will I make new friends? Will I get lost? Will my teacher like me?

Books featuring Social Emotional Learning themes, like how to make friends and how to handle big feelings, are an excellent way to ease the back-to-school transition.  

Parents and teachers know something magical happens when you share books with kids. Stories offer kids a safe place to explore their excitement and their nervousness. Books can also help give kids language to express their feelings. 

Even when the school year is well underway, stories can comfort and empower young readers, leading to meaningful discussions.

Picture books are a sweet spot for back-to-school themed stories. But they aren’t just for our youngest readers and listeners! While they are perfect for those experiencing their first years of school, they also serve as comfort and company to older students. 

Here are some of our favorite not-just-for-back-to-school picture books! These stories feature SEL themes, including Self-confidence, Empathy, Self-acceptance, and Belonging.

You can find more great SEL titles in our SuperDville book list.

The Day You Begin

Written by Jacqueline Woodson; Illustrated by Rafael López

“There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” 

Children long to be accepted, especially at the start of something new. As the school year begins, Angelina and her classmates notice all their differences. From the language they speak at home to the color of their skin to the cultural foods they bring for lunch, her classmates are shy about their own differences and sometimes unkind about the differences of others. 

When Angelina finds the courage to share her story, she creates a space for herself and a connection with a new friend. She also discovers that our differences are just as beautiful as what we have in common. Woodson’s lyrical text, paired with Rafael López’s vibrant illustrations, make this a new back-to-school classic.

Where Oliver Fits

Written and Illustrated by Cale Atkinson

With a charming literal take on ‘fitting in,’ this sweet story follows Oliver, a puzzle piece excited to find a space made just for him. The trouble comes when, no matter how many places Oliver tries to fit in, there is always something about him that’s just not right. Too much blue! Not enough red! the other puzzle pieces gripe before kicking him out. Finally, Oliver decides to change everything about himself to fit in, and it works! 

Except, Oliver misses being himself and sheds his disguise. Once again, the other puzzle pieces reject him, and he is back on his own…. Until he finds other puzzle pieces, who are trying just as hard to fit in. And guess what? They all fit perfectly together. Writer and illustrator Cale Atkinson assures readers and listeners that Your fit will find you, an empowering message for anyone yearning to fit in.

School’s First Day of School

Written by Adam Rex; Illustrated by Christian Robinson

In this charming picture book, everyone has first-day-of-school jitters… including School! School is brand new, having just been built over the summer. After many lovely days with only his friend Janitor coming to visit, School learns that soon children will be coming too! School’s first day gets off to a rough start. There are children everywhere! And School learns that some of them aren’t even happy to be there, especially a little girl with freckles.  When there’s a fire drill, School is so embarrassed. The kids leave a mess at lunch, but after lunch, School learns about shapes along with the kindergarten class. Then, the freckled girl draws a beautiful picture School that looks just like him. 

That evening, School tells Janitor all about his day and asks Do you think you could invite everyone to come back tomorrow? Especially that little freckled girl? Adam Rex’s warm text and welcoming illustrations make School’s First Day of School a lovely addition to classroom libraries.

Isabel and Her Colores Go to School

Written by Alexandra Alessandri; Illustrated by Courtney Dawson

English, with its “stormy blues and blizzard whites,” doesn’t sound quite right to Isabel. She prefers the “pinks and yellows and purples” of Spanish, which she speaks at home. In this bilingual picture book, colores describe the sounds, feelings, and emotions that Isabel experiences on her first day of school. 

An uncomfortable morning gives way to a wonderful discovery: Friendship creates a shared language all its own. With beautiful prose in both English and Spanish, vibrant illustrations, and an uplifting ending, Isabel and her Colores Go to School is perfect for any kid navigating a new situation.

Llama Llama Back to School

An Anna Dewdney book

Anna Dewdney’s beloved Llama Llama is going back to school! Whether or not readers and listeners are familiar with the beloved character, they’ll love how the gentle, rhyming text follows along as summer fun comes to an end and a new school year begins. Anxious about his first day of school, Llama gets some help from his friends and Mama Llama in discovering all the fun the new year has in store.

For more book recommendations, check out our SuperDville book list!