Back To School With Diverse Picture Books

Decorative header image that reads "Back to School."
Photograph of Lisely Laboy

Lisely Laboy (she/ella) is the project manager at Diverse BookFinder. Lisely holds a master’s degree in Information and Library Sciences from Florida State University and undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida in Sociology and Women’s Studies. She has 10 years of public library experience, including time as a programming librarian for children and teens.


As we come to the middle of August, we’re sure school is on everyone’s minds!

For the youngest and newest students in our communities this time of year can be full of feelings of nervousness and uncertainty. However, using picture books to familiarize children with all the realities and activities of the school day is a great (and easy) way to alleviate some of those troubling feelings.

Today, we’ve got a fantastic list of back to school titles (covering a variety of subjects) that also highlight representation and BIPOC characters.


The First Day of School

These stories are all about the uncertainty that comes with starting a new school year.

Abuelita’s secret

2019

by Alma Flor Ada and Jacobo Muñiz

“A boy is living with his abuelita while his father is away. He dreads the first day at a new school because he has nothing special to share about himself. Each family member offers him an object that represents a memory from the summer, but the boy doesn’t think any of these is interesting. Then his abuelita whispers a secret in his ear. Whenever it’s his turn to talk, all he needs to do is open his backpack. When the moment arrives, he dumps the backpack’s contents onto the table. As his classmates pick up the objects, he retells the stories they represent. Suddenly, he is surprised that he has much to say. And when he returns home, his abuelita has an even bigger surprise.” — publisher

Any Child/Teen

Butterflies on the first day of school

2019

by Annie Silvestro and Dream Chen

Rosie can’t wait to start kindergarten—she’s had her pencils sharpened and her backpack ready for weeks. But suddenly, on the night before the big day, her tummy hurts. Rosie’s mom reassures her that it’s just butterflies in her belly, and she’ll feel better soon. Much to Rosie’s surprise, when she says hello to a new friend on the bus, a butterfly flies out of her mouth! As the day goes on, Rosie frees all her butterflies, and even helps another shy student let go of hers, too. — publisher

Any Child/Teen Cross Group

The Noisy Classroom

2020

by Angela Shanté and Alison Hawkins

“A young girl is about to enter the third grade, but this year she’s put into Ms. Johnson’s noisy class. Everything about the noisy class is odd. While all the other classes are quiet, Ms. Johnson sings and the kids chatter all day. The door is always closed, yet sounds from it can be heard in the hallway. With summer coming to an end and school starting, the girl realizes that soon she’ll be going to the noisy class. What will school be like now? Featuring the honest and delightful humor of debut author Angela Shanté and the bold, graphic imagery of debut illustrator Alison Hawkins, The Noisy Classroom encourages those with first-day jitters to reevaluate a scary situation by looking at it from a different angle and to embrace how fun school can be, even in nontraditional ways.” — publisher

Any Child/Teen Cross Group

Coming Soon To The Diverse BookFinder

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The Queen of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes & Vanessa Brantley-Newton

MJ is more than ready for her first day of kindergarten! With her hair freshly braided and her mom’s special tiara on her head, she knows she’s going to rock kindergarten. But the tiara isn’t just for show–it also reminds her of all the good things she brings to the classroom, stuff like her kindness, friendliness, and impressive soccer skills, too!

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Kindergarten: Where Kindness Matters Every Day by Vera Ahiyya & Joey Chou

It’s the first day of Kindergarten and Leo isn’t at all ready. Leo is a quiet kid and would prefer to stay home. Over the summer, his new teacher, Ms. Perry sent a letter asking her students to think about how to show kindness in school. She explained that they would be making a kindness pledge, and each student should bring one way to show kindness on the first day.

Getting to School

There are so many ways to get to school. These stories highlight methods from around the world.

The way to school

2015

by Rosemary A. McCarney

Your way to school might be by yellow bus, bicycle or car, but around the world children are also getting to class by canoe, through tunnels, up ladders, by donkey, water buffalo or ox cart. In Rosemary McCarney’s The Way to School, a collection of gorgeous, full-color photographs of schoolchildren from Myanmar, Ghana, Brazil, China, Canada and beyond, readers will see that the path to school can be "long and hard and even scary" depending on the lay of the land, the weather, even natural disasters.

Informational

Coming Soon To The Diverse BookFinder

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Yenebi’s Drive to School by Sendy Santamaria

Every morning, I’m up at four o’clock.
I brush my teeth, get dressed, and drag my sister Melanie to the car where Mami’s waiting for us.
¡Se nos va hacer tarde! ¡Apurarse!
For the next two hours, we’ll be in the car driving–past tamale vendors (my favorite part), through la linea (my least favorite part), and across the US border. That’s how we get to school every day. This is our normal. ¡Vamos!

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The Walking School Bus by Aaron Friedland, Ndileka Mandela & Andrew Jackson Obol

Every morning, Shaka and his little sister Nandi walk with their father to school. Though the journey is long and hot, they arrive at school happy to see their friends and ready to learn. Then one day, their father gives them terrible news: he has to go work in a mine far away, and they won’t be able to go to school anymore. The route is too dangerous for them to walk alone, so they’ll have to stay home.

What’s In Your Lunchbox

Even lunch time can be stressful, especially if your lunch looks a little different than everyone else’s. These stories highlight these Cross-Group moments.

No books with isbn: 9781737240402

Coming Soon To The Diverse BookFinder

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Lunch from Home by Joshua David Stein & Jing Li

In a classroom of sandwiches, four students stand out with their homemade, culturally-specific lunches. But before they can dig in and enjoy their favorite foods, their lunches are spoiled by scrunched noses and disgusted reactions from their sandwich-eating classmates. Follow each of the four students as they learn to cope with their first “lunch box moments” in this picture book that encourages empathy and inspires all readers to stand up for their food! 

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Tomatoes in My Lunchbox by Costantia Manoli & Magdalena Mora

A child, newly arrived in another country, feels displaced, lonely, and a little scared on her first day of school. Her name doesn’t sound the way she’s used to hearing it. She knows she doesn’t fit in. And when she eats her whole tomato for lunch, she can feel her classmates observing her–and not quite understanding her.

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Everyone Loves Lunchtime But Zia by Jenny Liao & Dream Chen

At school, the other kids are eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and apples on the side. But Zia’s always nervous about opening her lunchbox. Her dumpling and noodle dishes look different and smell different. She dreads lunchtime. Then, during her birthday week, her parents pack her a different Cantonese dish each day and explain what the food represents: a roast pork bun to bring treasure, soy sauce chicken to bring success, and more. At first, Zia doesn’t want to eat her lunch, but once she starts, she just may realize her food could bring her good fortune after all!

Immigration & Language Learning

When children are combining starting a new school with moving to a new country or having to learn a new language, new experiences can easily overwhelm. Look to these stories for similar experiences.

The day you begin

2018

by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López

Other students laugh when Rigoberto, an immigrant from Venezuela, introduces himself but later, he meets Angelina and discovers that he is not the only one who feels like an outsider.

Cross Group Race/Culture/Identity Concepts

Danbi Leads the School Parade

2020

by Anna Kim

“An Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Book Meet Danbi, the new girl at school! Danbi is thrilled to start her new school in America. But a bit nervous too, for when she walks into the classroom, everything goes quiet. Everyone stares. Danbi wants to join in the dances and the games, but she doesn’t know the rules and just can’t get anything right. Luckily, she isn’t one to give up. With a spark of imagination, she makes up a new game and leads her classmates on a parade to remember! Danbi Leads the School Parade introduces readers to an irresistible new character. In this first story, she learns to navigate her two cultures and realizes that when you open your world to others, their world opens up to you.” — publisher

Centering Culture & Identity Cross Group

No books with isbn: 9781646140985

Coming Soon To The Diverse BookFinder

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Gibberish by Young Vo

It’s Dat’s first day of school in a new country! Dat and his Mah made a long journey to get here, and Dat doesn’t know the language. To Dat, everything everybody says — from the school bus driver to his new classmates — sounds like gibberish. How is Dat going to make new friends if they can’t understand each other?


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