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Back to School Picturebooks

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As children return to the classroom in September, books about mental health, class transitions and coping with change are more important than ever. We’ve handpicked a list of picture book recommendations to share with children returning to school – grouped into themes of community, resilience, rules, being yourself, starting a new class, feelings, friendship etc….

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Books about starting a new class

Wendy Meddour
 & Daniel Egneus

This is a beautiful picturebook that celebrates new beginnings and the power of human connection. Tilly moves to a new home by the sea. She’s sad to learn that her precious dog Shadow is not allowed to go into her new school on her first day. Tilly faces the challenge of a new start alone. At playtime, the teacher notices that Tilly is alone and suggests trying the Friendship Bench. A boy already occupies the bench and the pair form a bond as they work together to transform the old, broken bench into something beautiful.

This is a warm and gentle story. Most children can relate to the feeling of having nobody to play with or having to face a new challenge alone. The story gently encourages readers to seek human connection and reminds us all of the difference that reaching out and making friends can make. The story could be used to encourage children to reflect on how to make new or isolated members of the school community welcome. Could you work together this year to create spaces around the school where lonely children could go, where children can build connections through shared activity or where friendships can blossom?

Colin McNaughton
 & Satoshi Kitamura
It was an ordinary morning when the ordinary boy woke up, and it was an ordinary journey to school - but then Mr Gee bounced into the classroom and everything changed. Mr Gee plays rousing music which thunders around the classroom, and asks what it makes them think of. The dull grey world has been transformed into one of colour and excitement. 'Write a story about it!' laughs Mr Gee. And the ordinary boy began to write: the words just tumbled out of him pell-mell. And the places he went to, and the things he saw were extraordinary!
Matt Goodfellow
 & Yu Rong

Shu Lin’s Grandpa is perfect for use with a new starter to your class, particularly if they speak English as an additional language. It would also be a great story to support work on empathy and inclusion, whether or not there is a new starter at school. The artwork in the book is fitted carefully around the text and brings it to life – the star piece being a beautiful double-gatefold picture by grandpa. The illustration provides a good opportunity to look at this style of oriental art and have a go in school, as well as a chance to discuss celebrating difference, sharing heritage and welcoming others…

Caryl Hart
 & Rosalind Beardshaw
A fun and gentle introduction to expectations about what to do when you go to school. When a dragon goes to school, will she stamp her feet, hide from the teacher or throw crayons around? Or will she choose to put her belongings on her peg, enjoy the toys and books and eat her lunch politely with her friends? A lovely exploration of how to enjoy the routines, relationships and responsibilities that come with being big enough for school.
Lydia Corry
A beautiful book exploring the theme of change and transition and in particular dealing with the anxiety around moving house and changing schools. The book is full of imagination, depicted through the main character, Pearl, who expresses her thoughts and feelings about the changes she is experiencing in a relatable way. This book reminds readers about the importance of not having to face challenges alone and that it’s OK to ask for help.
Moving home is a real emotional rollercoaster for Pearl, supported by her imaginary Mooncat when she needs him most. Mooncat helps Pearl feel safe as she explores her new surroundings with her mum and when she faces the challenge of starting her new school.
The story ends perfectly and although this is a must-read for a child moving house or school, it’s a beautiful story for all as way to explore dealing with the changes and transitions we encounter in different stages of life. I especially loved the details in some of the pictures, especially where they depicted different people – a great opportunity to use imagination and wonder empathically about the stories about the lives of others. The reader might wonder if Mooncat visits them too.

Books about being yourself

Smriti Halls
 & Ali Pye
This is a joyful celebration of all the pieces, places and people that make us who we are. It is a wonderful way to get children thinking about and learning about their own families, and also opening up discussions about all of the other pieces that come together to make us all unique: from our friends and food we eat, to activities we get up to and the places we go.Children will enjoy finding out more about themselves and their families, and thinking about other families and friends who are similar or different to their own.
Ben Faulks &
 & David Tazzyman
Who am I? I ask myself. What makes me a ME? I think hard with all my might, And look around to see.What makes you a you? Are you like a sports car - lightning fast? Or maybe you're like a tree ... Do your arms stick out like branches? No? Then perhaps you're like a snail - very slow (especially when it's time for school!).A funny and thought-provoking look at what makes us us, from Ben Faulks (known as Mr Bloom from CBeebies) and David Tazzyman (bestselling illustrator of You Can't Take an Elephant on the Bus ). Guaranteed to feed the imagination, this celebration of being who we are is perfect for inquisitive (and inventive!) little minds.
Sophy Henn

Sometimes you are twinkly and floaty, sometimes you are soft and cuddly. Sometimes you are quiet and gentle, sometimes you are loud and clanky. Whatever you are, let’s be proud of you being you!

This bright and colourful picture book is a joyful celebration of the uniqueness of each individual. The positive message of the book is not to worry about what you are not but to enjoy the things you are and “all the brills you’ve got!”. The illustrations are bright and fun, adding to the celebratory feel of the book.

This is a feel-good book for EYFS class book corners or to support primary pupils with an ‘All About Me’ topic. It encourages children to be confident in who they are and to embrace difference and accept others.

Shinsuke Yoshitake

This is a wonderful picturebook about the nature of individuality, perfect for building a classroom or school culture where the uniqueness of each person is celebrated.

The book invites readers on a whimsical journey that follows a young boy’s desire to create a robot clone of himself. However, before he can bring his cloned self to life, he must embark on a quest to uncover the essence of his individuality. What is it, exactly, that makes him who he is?

Bursting with imaginative illustrations, this thought-provoking book offers an engaging and enjoyable experience that not only sparks discussion but also serves as an ideal catalyst for exploring the concept of each person’s distinct uniqueness. Teachers could use this book as an icebreaker discussion to enable a new class to get to know themselves and others, for thoughtful artwork based on the fun labelled diagrams in the book or for PSHE lessons about expressing and celebrating individuality.

Younger classes will enjoy imagining what a robot close of themselves might look, act and feel like, while older children can get philosophical about the factors that have come together to make them who they are, or even about the potential ethics of cloning oneself (I’m sure overly busy teachers may also be tempted to wish for a clone!).

Either way, this is a really fun focal point for classrooms and one that works best if children are given enlarged or close-up access to the illustrations.

Anoosha Syed
An uplifting picture book about loving your name, finding your voice and standing up for yourself.Mirha is so excited for her first day of school! She can't wait to learn, play and make new friends. But when her classmates keep mispronouncing her name, she goes home wondering if she should find a new one.When Mama helps Mirha see just how special her name is, she returns to school the next day determined to help her classmates say it correctly.Featuring beautiful, vibrant illustrations and with an empowering message at its core, this heartwarming picture book from author-illustrator Anoosha Syed reminds us all just how important our names are!

Books about making friends

Caryl Hart
 & Tony Neal

Meet the Mini Monsters, four adorable characters who are learning valuable lessons about friendship and how to get along, in a pre-school setting. In this story, Sparkle is putting on a magic show with Arthur, but when Scout wants to join in, Sparkle is not happy. After some heartache, Sparkle soon learns that playing together is much more fun. Hooray!

Author Caryl says: “I am in love with the design of this book, the colour scheme, backgrounds and illustrative details are really, really clever and Tony Neal has done a great job of capturing the personalities of these loveable characters.”

Linda Sarah
 & Benji Davies
Brit and Etho are the best of friends. Every day they take their cardboard boxes to the top of Sudden Hill and turn them into adventures. But when Shu comes along, their comfortable two-by-two relationship is changed and Brit finds it difficult to adjust. Eventually, with much persuasion from Etho and Shu, Brit learns that three-by-three can be even better. This heartwarming story explores the feelings of insecurity many of us feel when a new personality comes along, and shows children that it is okay for friendships to change over time. The story inks to the whole school value of 'friendship' and can be use with individuals or small groups of children experiencing friendship issues (e.g. when three children are finding it difficult to share each other) or for helping established friends to welcome new friends into their group.
Tom Percival
Meesha loves making things . . . but there's one thing she finds difficult to make - friends. She doesn't know quite what to do, what to say or when to say it. But one day she discovers that she has a special talent that might just help her navigate social situations - and maybe even make new friends. A warm and affectionate look at the joys and difficulties of making and keeping friends, relating to others, and finding your place in the world.
Rebecca Cobb
A beautifully illustrated, wittily observed picture book about kindness, empathy and friendship from the award-winning Rebecca Cobb.Hello Friend! tells the story of one big-hearted and enthusiastic little girl who is insistent on making friends with a certain little boy. And why wouldn't he want to be friends with her? She's very good at sharing - even if it's a sandwich that he doesn't like. And she's certain that playing outside is their favourite thing to do, even if he is not so sure. But while he doesn't seem keen on many of the things that she loves to do, there is one thing he's very keen on after all . . . being friends.

Books about community and togetherness

Arree Chung

Mixed is a delightful picturebook that tells the stories of different colours. Set in a world initially painted in just the three primary colours – red, yellow, and blue – the three colours lived in harmony until one day, red’s declaration of being the best colour shatters the peace. After this, the colours segregate themselves into isolated neighbourhoods where they no longer mix. When a forbidden love between yellow and blue blossoms, everything changes again. The result is the birth of green. Green’s undeniable beauty sparks a revolution amongst the colours, and before long, more colours mix, transforming the once monochrome world into a vibrant tapestry of countless new colours.

There’s so much to love about this book. On a basic level, the unique storyline lends itself to fun art activities exploring colour mixing, and the illustrations will undoubtedly inspire fingerprint scenes. On a deeper level, conversations about friendship, unity, and embracing difference naturally spring from this joyful picture book. It allows pupils to consider how they might build an environment of acceptance and unity in their classrooms and see how diversity can make communities grow and thrive. A must-have for primary schools.

Tracey Corderoy
 & Tony Neal

This is a book to choose when introducing the importance of class rules, demonstrating how shared environments work best if everyone sticks to the agreed rules and works together to take responsibility for making somewhere a happy place to live, work and play.

Sunnyville is the perfect place to live. The animals live in peace and harmony and everyone is friendly to one another. Until one day, Rhino tosses a sweet wrapper over his shoulder. It’s only one, he thinks – until everyone is doing the same. This one action begins a domino effect which results in Sunnyville being a lot less than perfect with everyone being grumpy and doing as they please. Then little mouse has an idea, and ‘only one’ small act starts a whole wave of small acts and turns Sunnyville around.With appealing animal characters to draw in the reader, this is a wonderful story about being good community members and caring for the world around us. The story provides a great example of how ‘only one’ small act can start a whole chain of events.

The bright illustrations are eye catching and full of detail, with plenty of things to talk about for the start of a new year, including personal responsibility, keeping the classroom tidy, treating equipment with respect and working together to improve things.

Alexandra Penfold
 & Suzanne Kaufman

A simple but powerful rhyming picture book that shines a light on the importance of diversity and inclusivity in the classroom.

Right from its opening lines, “Pencils sharpened in their case, Bells are ringing, let’s make haste, School’s beginning, dreams to chase. All are welcome here,” the book exudes an essence of acceptance and unity that strikes a chord as pupils settle into the culture of their new class. The book uses the format of a school day to show how different classmates are equally included, and the repeated refrain of ‘All Are Welcome Here‘ is one that classes could easily adopt as their own motto.

For any school or teacher committed to diversity and inclusion, this is an essential book with a clear message elegantly conveyed through the journey of a group of children as they navigate a day at their school, where the very essence of seeking to make every individual welcome is the thread the runs through all of the pages. Each double page spread comes alive with vibrant depictions of children donning different cultural clothing, all engaged harmoniously in activities in an environment that is intentionally inclusive. This portrayal of a school thriving on shared learning from one another’s traditions is both heartening and thought-provoking.

Caryl Hart and Ali Pye

Together We Can is a celebration of all the different forms and types of friendship. Crammed with a huge diversity of characters (and animals!), with a wide range of interests, this joyful book looks at what a friend is, how to be a friend, how to make friends, and the value of being together. It offers gentle suggestions on combatting loneliness, taking turns, saying sorry and finding commonality with others. Every child will be able to find someone like them within the pages of this book.

Together We Can has been chosen by Save The Children for their #SaveWithStories appeal. You can listen to the book, read by actress Freya Allan, here.

Books to inspire class art projects

Peter H. Reynolds
The story of a little girl whose art teacher helps her to develop a 'can do' attitude. Vashti is sure that she can't draw, but when the teacher puts Vashti's simple dot picture on display, Vashti begins to think of what else she might be able to draw too if she is only willing to give it a try.
Anna Llenas
A picture book follow-up to The Colour Monster, Anna Llenas's jaw-dropping pop-up book. One day, Colour Monster wakes up feeling very confused. His emotions are all over the place; he feels angry, happy, calm, sad and scared all at once! To help him, a little girl shows thim what each feeling means through colour. What is the Colour Monster feeling? And can you help him feel a little less mixed up? A gentle exploration of feelings for young and old alike.
Martin Stanev
When two kids visit Grandma's house for their usual visit, they can't help but think she's stuffy and no fun at all. Even the dinner she makes is predictable. But when Grandma goes missing and wild animals start popping up around the house, they realise she has a secret...A gorgeously illustrated picture book about not judging people based on appearances, and the how families can work together to help save the planet, author/illustrator Martin Stanev's debut book will make a beautiful, and fun, addition to any child's bookshelf.

Books to inspire icebreaker discussions

Kate Baker
 & Madalena Matoso
Travel along the story path and discover an enchanted world where fairy princesses battle with monsters from the deep and vampire cats zoom through the galaxy on silver unicorns.This innovative twist on the classic quest tale allows young readers to choose their own characters, settings and plots at every turn. With a simple, easy-to-follow structure and bold, quirky imagery by award-winning illustrator Madalena Matoso, this is an imaginative storytelling experience for children of all ages.Who will you meet? Where will you go? What will you do next? It's all up to you...
John Burningham
Would you rather drink snail squash or eat mashed worms? Help a witch make stew? Tickle a monkey? Or maybe - if you could really be anyone or do anything in the world - would you rather just
Katie Abey
A fantastic first book of feelings that introduces little ones to a wide range of emotions. Why are the animals happy? What has made them feel sad? What do YOU feel excited about?We feel happy when reading our favourite book. We feel calm when we have a bath. We feel excited when we go to a party! We Feel Happy is the perfect book for starting a conversation about feelings with children. The animals are experiencing lots of different emotions, from the hippos who are excited to visit their friends to the shark who is grumpy about brushing its teeth.Includes learning hooks such as counting, first words and recognising animals, interactive speech bubbles, prompts and ideas on how to process and understand our emotions and lots of interesting things to spot on every page.
Pippa Goodhart
 & Nick Sharratt

Get pupils choosing, imagining and expressing their own preferences with this massively appealing picture book full of choices.

Each double-page spread is themed around a different choice to make and packed with all sorts of possibilities from the tame to the outright wacky; choose furniture for your ideal house, choose a pet (watch out for the dragon) and choose favourite food (the ice cream looks good but I’m not sure about the boar’s head!).

The You Choose series of books have seen enormous popularity and are well-loved by children because of the premise of letting the reader choose items from an appealing illustrated scene on each page. Readers are invited to select their favourite food, destination, clothing, hobby and family from a mix of plausible and not-so-plausible cartoon options, illustrated by the inimitable Nick Sharratt. These engaging books have mileage to be read over and over again, and children love interacting with them together with friends or family as they discuss their choices.

There is nothing that can quite take the place of this fantastically engaging series!

Emily Coxhead

Find Your Happy is a bright, welcoming book that is bound to get children talking about emotions. Despite being called ‘find your happy’, the book recognises that it is sometimes hard to feel happy all of the time and that every day can be different. It gives honest advice and easy ways to cheer yourself up that do not involve the more common methods that can sometimes be suggested (for example playing on electronics and playing games).

A variety of emotions are mentioned in this book, including anger, worry and shyness. Each emotion comes with small tips and tricks that any individual child could easily use in real life to help make themselves feel better and to also help them to embrace the emotion. In particular, the page about feeling sad and the encouragement given to talk to someone trusted is a particularly important one that could strike up many conversations and support children’s emotional literacy.

The wording and designs of each page are colourful, engaging and fun, making the book easy to follow. The motif of a sloth animal running throughout each page is also a nice addition, adding subtle humour and sure to be a hit with children. It will no doubt leave readers with a heart-warming feeling inside and lots of great advice that they can use when understanding and dealing with different emotions.

Books to inspire fun and laughter

John Kane
There's something very important that I need you to remember. When I say Ooh, you say Aah. Let's try it.'Ooh the donkey has lost his pants. Readers must help him find them!In this picture book, young readers help to sell the story by responding to simple verbal or visual cues. This hilarious book is perfect for reading aloud and is fun for the whole family.
B. J. Novak
You might think a book with no pictures would be boring and serious. Except . . . here's how this book works:Everything written on the page has to be said by the person reading it aloud. Even if the words say BLORK . Or BLUURF .And even if they have to say things like BLAGGITY BLAGGITY and MY HEAD IS MADE OF BLUEBERRY PIZZA!That's the rule. That's the deal.US comic writer and actor, B. J. Novak's brilliantly irreverent and very, very silly The Book With No Pictures will delight kids and grownups alike!
Jory John
 & Pete Oswald

If you’ve ever felt like academic success is hard to reach, this sweet picture book about different types of intelligence will resonate with you.

The central character, Cookie, grapples with traditionally academic challenges within the classroom of Ms. Biscotti. However, a transformative moment occurs when an assignment requires a bit more creative originality, leading Cookie to uncover her hidden poetic talent. As her peers also showcase their distinct abilities, ranging from artistic endeavors to inventive creations, Cookie gains a profound understanding of the different types  of intelligence. Through sharing her poem, her self-assurance grows, igniting a belief in her potential to become the “Smart Cookie” she aspires to be.

This is a really funny book and is always a winner with children (we also love the other books in the series – check out The Couch Potato, The Good Egg and The Cool Bean). Enhanced by the vivid illustrations of Pete Oswald, the narrative seamlessly weaves clever wordplay with a universal message of self worth and being willing to grow. The story underscores the significance of valuing different kinds of strengths and fostering self-worth in a classroom, and provides an opportunity for adults and children to reflect on the classroom culture they want to create.

Nadia Shireen
From the creator of Barbara Throws a Wobbler - the ultimate story to chase (and laugh) your worries away.Geoffrey's got the jitters! It started last night when he was thinking about school - a funny, wiggly feeling in his tummy that grew and grew. But when Geoffrey's tummy jitters started talking to him - that's when he knew they were out of control. Geoffrey had to do something...Through a laugh-out-loud story and loveable character, Nadia Shireen shows how to understand and dispel anxieties, one jitter at a time.Selected as one of The Sunday Times Best Children's Book of the Year.

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