Back to School, Back to School…Take These Books, They’re Real Cool!



Social-Emotional Learning

Back to School

Emotional Regulation



Historical Figures


Try not to be too jealous of my sweet rhyming skills when it comes to titles, I’m just brimming with creative talent.

ANYWAY, lets begrudgingly talk about back to school book recs. I’m doubling down on recommending books that lean heavily on social-emotional learning and building an inclusive classroom culture. Especially with younger ones, this could be the very first time they’re in a classroom setting. It’s stressful to send off our tiny humans any year, and especially this year, the third school year being affected by the pandemic.

When I taught in classrooms (3-5 year olds), I preferred to focus on what I bluntly called “teaching them not to be jerks” and academics would come second. Literacy matters, but not as much as empathy. Algebraic thinking is important, but not at the expense of making friends. Thus, the books that I liked to use, especially at the beginning of the year, were more about how to treat each other, have friendly conversations, and process big emotions. The books below are some recently released favorites and titles released in the last year or so! They’re categorized by publisher to help keep this massive list organized.

Isabel and Her Colores Go to School

by Alexandra Alessandri & Courtney Dawson

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

If you haven’t seen my IG Live with the author of this adorable bilingual story, it’s definitely worth watching! The story follows Isabel, who is starting a new school and a little worried about it. She doesn’t speak English fluently yet, but puts on a brave face and remembers what her mother always tells her “Al mal tiempo, buena cara” (“in bad times, a good face”).

She might be overwhelmed, but Isabel is stronger and smarter than she thinks in some moments. This book is beautiful, the illustrations are lovely, and it would definitely make students feel welcome in any (but especially ESL) classrooms!

The Color Collector

by Nicholas Solis & Renia Metallinou

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

Alright I fully admit that I should have shared this gorgeous book waaaaaaaay before now! But life gets in the way and humans are imperfect, and we’re here now. The Color Collector follows a narrator who meets a new student named Violet, who is very quiet and keeps to herself. One day, the narrator notices Violet picking up colorful bits of litter and putting them in her backpack. Fascinated by this, the narrator musters up the courage to ask what she’s doing.

Something I love within the story is the use of color. We begin the book in mostly greyscale; as Violet opens up and their friendship blossoms, color plays a larger role within the illustrations. I won’t spoil the ending, but it works beautifully with Isabel and her Colores and new students (as well as those who might struggle being outgoing) will resonate with Violet.

A little bit of Courage

by Claire Alexander

Published by Happy Yak/Quarto

While I do usually like to stick with human characters, this story and these Ploofers are really adorable and the message is fantastic. Ploofers stand in a line and “Shoof” themselves up into the air, creating beautiful rainbow colors. But the littlest Ploofer is too scared to join them, preferring to stay on the ground. What ensues is a wonderful modeling of a conversation that friends can have with one another when someone might be feeling nervous about something.

ABC Let’s Celebrate You & Me

by Sugar Snap Studio

Published by Quarto

I really like these big board books, I think they’re great for vocabulary development and for reading to a class. I’ve reviewed other books by this same creative team and I was happy to see this and the one below come out in time for the new school year! The majority of words are for intangible traits and qualities such as kindness, respect, and grins.

Some letters that do have physical characteristics like hair and skin, which is perfect for use with other books in this age group like Our Skin or Happy in Our Skin. The illustrations showcase a wide range of settings and characters.

ABC Everyday Heroes Like Me

by Sugar Snap Studio

Published by Quarto

This oversized board book takes the alphabet, prospective careers, and historical figures and blends them together to create an adorable list for readers. I really like how a “hero” can be both Jane Goodall or a teacher, they’re on the same level. Activist and Advocate are also both mentioned, which could be a great conversation opener about those and the differences between each role.

We all have qualities that make us heroic in our daily life, and this book helps readers to think about the good they do in their daily lives as well as how to appreciate others and their actions.

An ABC of Equality

by Chana Ginelle Ewing & Paulina Morgan

Published by Quarto

I. Love. This. Book! It was published in late 2019 and it’s a favorite around here. I finally got a copy for my own shelf recently (thanks for the Pride box, Quarto!), and it’s been a big hit when I do read alouds with little ones. Using the alphabet, it provides helpful and developmentally appropriate definitions for concepts like “accessibility”, “beliefs”, “justice”, and “gender”.

Not only is this a great primer for young readers, but if the caregiver is also unfamiliar with some definitions this would be particularly helpful. The illustrations are bright and fun as well, keeping engagement for listeners.

Way Past Mad

by Hallee Adelman & Sandra de la Prada

Published by Albert Whitman

Everyone can remember a time where we take our misdirected anger out on a friend, and the instant regret that washed over us afterwards. In this story, Keya has a monumentally crummy morning and takes it out on her best friend, Hooper. Will she be able to make it up to him?

The narrative style does a great job of showing the reader how crankiness can build on itself and eventually affects others. The illustrations are evocative and expressive, allowing young readers and listeners to look for facial cues from characters in order to help develop their social-emotional skills such as empathy. This book would be perfect for beginning of the year conversations about classroom expectations for treating others!

Way Past Jealous

by Hallee Adelman & Karen Wall

Published by Albert Whitman

In this story our main character is Yaz (although we do see some cameos from Way Past Mad! I love this detail!) and she’s feeling extremely jealous that no one is noticing her artwork and fawning over her friend Debby’s. Yaz’s jealousy over Debby is making her think mean things and want Debby to be sad, and her artwork no longer be displayed in the classroom.

Like Way Past Mad, the story arc does a brilliant job of showing how feelings build on themselves and sometimes make us do things we later regret. Yaz is able to eventually recognize that she doesn’t actually want Debby to be sad, she just wanted some attention for her hard work as well.

Having stories like these that help with emotional intelligence and feeling recognition is really important for early childhood, and having this book series to help when situations like these arise in the classroom make space for important learning both with the students involved in the dispute and for classmates that are witnessing the trials and tribulations of learning how to be a good friend.

These books were all kindly sent by the publishers tagged above (or the authors themselves, such as the Way Past books). All opinions are my own!

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