On Our Bookshelves – Back to School Books for the Little Ones


We’ve got a few more weeks of summertime left, but it’s definitely time to start thinking about going back to school. Notebooks, new backpacks, first day of school outfits, finding out who your teacher will be and who’s going to be in your class, frantically finishing up that math packet and the summer reading assignment…it’s all happening now.


My older girl is going into 8th grade and she’s an old hand at this. But her younger sister is starting kindergarten, and for her it’s a whole new beginning and a new school where she’ll be one of the little ones. For the rest of you with little ones just starting out, here are my book recommendations for bedtime reading for the rest of the month:


The Pigeon HAS to go to School

The Pigeon Has To Go To School - Book Cover - Disney Books

Author: Mo Willems

Year of Publication: 2019

Publisher/Book Cover: Disney Books

Mo Willems has done it again. If you already know and love the Pigeon, you’re in for a treat with his latest appearance as a reluctant student. If you don’t, you’ll catch on pretty quickly—the overdramatic and overemotional bird (he wants to drive the bus, he doesn’t want a bath, he does want to stay up late, and he wants a puppy, a walrus, hot dog parties, and cookies) is instantly relatable. He’s in his usual tizzy, this time filled with anxiety about the beginning of school, and he’s worried about not liking it, and about the teacher not liking him, or worse, not liking pigeons. As with the rest of the Pigeon’s adventures, it turns just out fine in the end, and this latest installment has an extremely satisfying ending for his young fans.


The Kissing Hand

the kissing hand - book cover - scholastic

Author: Audrey Penn

Year of Publication: 1993

Publisher/Book Cover: Scholastic

This one was recommended to me when my older girl went off to kindergarten. It’s about a nervous young raccoon, Chester, who is afraid to go to school (it’s night school, because raccoons are nocturnal, which I think is a nice touch), and how his mother comforts him with a small ritual so that he can take her love with him when he goes. It’s a bit on the sentimental side, but then, on the first day of school, most of us are, and it just might give some anxious small people (and their moms) a little bit of comfort when it’s needed most.


Owl Babies

owl babies - book cover - penguin random house

Author: Martin Waddell

Year of Publication: 1992

Publisher/Book Cover: Penguin Random House

There’s not much of a plot here, but I love this one nonetheless. It features three thoughtful baby owls (all owls think a lot) who wake up one night to find their owl mother has gone. They comfort each other (and continue to think a lot) and are excited, happy, and relieved when she’s back. The appealing illustrations (by Patrick Benson) are what makes Owl Babies special—they’re gorgeous. And the simple and reassuring message is perfect for the back-to-school occasion. (Or you can wait a little longer and bring this one out for Halloween—it was dark in the woods and they had to be brave, because things moved all around them…)


Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes

pete the cat - rocking in my school shoes - book cover - harpercollins

Author: Eric Litwin

Year of Publication: 2011

Publisher/Book Cover: HarperCollins

I’ve yet to meet a three, four, or five year old who doesn’t love Pete the Cat. First introduced to the world in Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, Pete, no matter his troubles, doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Why? Because it’s all good. When he’s rocking in his school shoes, he gets to experience the classroom, the library, the playground, and so on, and you know what? It’s all good. Nothing to worry about here!


Take some pictures (first day of school Facebook is the best Facebook), put them on the bus, wave goodbye, and shed a tear or two. It’s what we all do. You’ll be fine. They’ll be fine. Pete the Cat knows exactly what he’s talking about.


Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com


Lead-In Image (“Mommy’s Little Bookworm) Courtesy of defarmerdesign / Shutterstock.com




A Countess Below Stairs, Eva Ibbotson

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman

A Patchwork Planet, Anne Tyler

A Room With a View, E.M. Forster

After the Fall, Dan Santat

An English Murder, Cyril Hare

An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Anne Of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin

Before the Fall, Noah Hawley

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon

Bonjour Tristesse, Francoise Sagan

Books for Living, Will Schwalbe

Bunker Hill, Nathan Philbrick

Burmese Days, George Orwell

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Roz Chast

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

Cheaper by the Dozen, Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Cockpit Confidential, Patrick Smith

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons

Death in Profile, Guy Fraser-Sampson

Decorating a Room of One’s Own, Susan Harlan

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill

Diary of a Provincial Lady, E.M. Delafield

Doctor Jazz, Hayden Carruth

Ed Emberly’s Drawing Book of Animals, Ed Emberly

Endangered Pleasures, Barbara Holland

Envious Casca, Georgette Heyer

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin

Foreign Affairs, Alison Lurie

Frederica, Georgette Heyer

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

Good Poems, Garrison Keillor

Gowanus Waters, Steven Hirsch

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, & Jack Thorne

Heads in Beds, Jacob Tomsky

Hemingway Didn’t Say That, Garson O’Toole

Here is New York, E.B. White

Hide My Eyes, Margery Allingham

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

I Will Always Write Back, Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch

If on a winter’s night a traveler, Italo Calvino

Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke

Lexicon, Max Barry

Lizard Music, Daniel Pinkwater

Longbourn, Jo Baker

Madeleine’s Ghost, Robert Girardi

Malice Aforethought, Frances Iles

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer

Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut

My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

New York New York, Richard Berenholtz

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

Notorious RBG, Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik

On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder

One Summer: America 1927, Bill Bryson

Out of the Blackout, Robert Bernard

Parnassus on Wheels & The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley

Plotted: A Literary Atlas, Andrew DeGraff

Possession, A.S. Byatt

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle…and Other Modern Verse, Stephen Dunning, Edward Lueders, and Hugh Smith

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Rose Madder, Stephen King

Sanditon, Jane Austen and Another Lady

Selected Poems of Langston Hughes

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rivelli

Sing and Shine On!, Nick Page

Sorcery and Cecelia: Or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot, Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Straying from the Flock: Travels in New Zealand, Alexander Elder

Strength in What Remains: Tracy Kidder

Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart

Tales of the Unexpected, Roald Dahl

The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Ed., Lewis Carroll & Martin Gardner (with original illustrations by John Tenniel)

The Book of Forgotten Authors, Christopher Fowler

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

The Dancer of Izu, Kawabata Yasunari

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

The Great Passage, Shion Miura

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

The House with a Clock in Its Walls, John Bellairs

The Ice House, Minette Walters

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

The Longbourn Letters, Rose Servitova

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

The Making of Jane Austen, Devoney Looser

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, Oliver Sacks

The Martian, Andy Weir

The Missing Piece, Shel Silverstein

The Modern Kids, Jona Frank

The Monogram Murders, Sophie Hannah

The Mother & Child Project, Hope Through Healing Hands (ed.)

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, Thad Carhart

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss, Theodor Geisel (illustrator), Maurice Sendak (introduction)

The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin

The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo

The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer

The Three Questions, Jon J Muth

The Translator, Nina Schuyler

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce

The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories, Saki

The War on Normal People, Andrew Yang

The Weird World of Wes Beattie, John Norman Harris

The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

The Woman in Black, Susan Hill

The Women in Black, Madeleine St John

They Call Me Naughty Lola, David Rose

Thing Explainer, Randall Munroe

Ways of Seeing, John Berger

What If?, Randall Munroe

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

Worth a Thousand Words, Brigit Young

You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, Eleanor Roosevelt

Up At the Villa, W. Somerset Maugham

84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff