Starting School

The titles on this page focus on starting school for the first time, but check out our New School page for other potentially relevant picture books.

Dinosaur Starts School

Pamela Duncan Edwards (author) and Deborah Allwright (illustrator)
Albert Whitman and Company: 2009
ISBN: 9780807516003 (hbk)
ISBN: 9780807516010 (pbk)
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv young

What would you do if your dinosaur didn’t want to go to school? Don’t worry you’ll find the right words to help him with all of his worries.

This clever book about starting school encourages kids to take the lead in thinking about their fears through direct address (e.g. ‘What if Dinosaur turned away and tried to hide under the table? You’d say, I think you should tell the teacher your name, Dinosaur…’. The imagined dinosaur feels a range of common fears about school: the bigness of it, the noisiness, the stress of answering the teacher’s questions and making friends. The imagined boy who helps the dinosaur is always respectful and has some very sensible responses to his friends’ concerns.

The illustrations for Dinosaur Starts School feature a dark red stegosaurus whose concerns are palpable in his stomping, hiding and tears. In contrast the body language and facial expressions of the young boy convey all the bubbling excitement of a first day at school. This contrast makes for a great conversation about the mixed emotions many of us feel when starting something new.

While Dinosaur Starts School uses fantasy to talk about reality, there are lots of reminders of the ‘real thing’ in images and text. The endpages are dotted with school paraphernalia and the artworks are full of classroom details to consider. The text deals with a wide range of everyday school experiences such as playing in the school yard, making a picture, answering one’s name. There is only one page spread which may be culturally specific—the canteen lunch—that will be better understood by children from the U.K and U.S than Australia.

First Day

Andrew Daddo (Author) and Jonathan Bentley (Illustrator)
ABC Harper Collins: 2013
ISBN: 9780733331206 (HbK)
ISBN: 9780733332715 (PBK)
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A girl and her mum are getting ready for the first day of school—waking up, eating breakfast, dressing, packing a bag, first day selfie, saying goodbye. But who is really nervous?

This upbeat picture book about the first day of school captures both the excitement and the nerves about starting school for young people and their parents. Its focus on getting ready and then meeting up after school means that this title isn’t going to give kids an idea of what happens at school, but rather help them explore the range of emotions they (and you) might feel about that first day. The ambiguity about who feels what (girl, mum, both?) is a great conversation starter. The illustrations are delightful and work perfectly with the text. The lined pages which form a background on every page are an ever-present reminder of schoolbooks and writing exercises. Together with the relaxed warm images of mother and daughter, they evoke those complex, potentially ambiguous first day feelings superbly.

First Day

Margaret Wild (author) Kim Gamble (illustrator)
Allen and Unwin: 1998
ISBN: 9781864481105
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

First Day follows six children throughout their first day at school. Each child comes from a different family and has a distinct personality. There’s grown up Salma who is the eldest of four, Khalil who loves to tie shoe laces, Jun who loves to count, Stephen who has an older sister with too much knowledge about school to share, Penny who can’t sit still, and Alex who is worrying about her mum returning to her own grown-up school. As each child navigates the day and gets to know their teacher, Ms Manoli, they face their own challenges, and triumph in small but important ways. Each section of their day is helpfully flagged with key headings: before school, going to school, starting school, in the morning, during lunch, in the afternoon, and home-time giving a complete sense of the first day.

Margaret Wild is an award-winning writer who has produced countless classics and First Day demonstrates her great talent. On a practical level it provides a good guide to the different parts of a school day and presents school in a positive light—the children have some challenges to overcome but they are relatively minor ones and their teacher and parents are all supportive. The older character (Alex’s mum) returning to school is a unique and empathetic way to flag and validate the reasonable anxiety going to school may provoke in many children. It provides, along with the illustrations which often have a vignette quality, opportunities to start conversations with young readers about their own feelings and experiences. While First Day is a great practical resource for parent-child teams to read in preparation for first school experiences, it is also a wonderful story. The characters are distinctive, appealing, and their stories are full of gentle humour, warmth, and authenticity.

Maddie’s First Day

Penny Matthews (author) and Liz Anelli (illustrator)
Walker Books 2018
ISBN: 9781925381351 (Hbk)
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Maddie is getting ready to start school and so are her friends Maya and Charlie. Maddie has her new uniform, her new school backpack, and her old blankie toy ready to go. On the first day Maddie’s tummy feels wobbly—school is noisy, there are lots of kids and her friends discover she’s brought her baby toy. Blankie helps settle Maddie’s nerves, but not quite in the way she might have expected.  

Maddie’s First Day portrays all the excitement and worry of the first day of school with a reassuring message that school is full of fun and friends, even if there are a few unsettling moments. The illustrations portray the bigness of school with a bird’s eye view of the playground and a whole page spread of the spacious classroom. Warm reds and pinks draw attention to the excitement of school as they highlight Maddie’s uniform (something new!) and form a connection between the colour of blankie and the beautiful trees in the playground. The blankie toy mouse is a wonderful device with which to consider the difficulty of growing up and leaving the comforts of younger years behind—kids can have fun spotting blankie and mice motifs in the pictures too. While blankie does what blankie’s do—provides a reminder of home—it is really the connection that blankie facilitates between Maddie and a fellow classmate that helps Maddie through her first day.

Maddie’s First Day is heart-warming story that may help kids explore their first day fears and the big topic of growing up too.   

Spot Goes to School: An original life-the-flap book

Eric Hill
Puffin: 2019 (board book reprint)
ISBN: 9780723263609
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

‘Spot starts school today!’ Mrs Bear is there to welcome him and lots of animal friends too. There’s music and story time and art. What will Spot say at the end of the day when Dad asks, ‘How was school, Spot?’

This classic going-to-school story has been through many reprints and with a simple text, flaps that encourage interaction and a bright cast of animal characters it’s easier to see why. Eric Hill focuses on the fun of early primary school—there’s loads of colour and apart from some impromptu spelling it’s all about play. For this reason Spot Goes to School could work as a preschool or Kindergarten book. While it focuses on the fun, there is a moment of distress when Spot feels he can’t sing well. Cleverly, this is not resolved but rather just allowed to be, so that when Spot’s Dad asks, ‘How was school, Spot?’ the answer comes across as genuine and creates opportunities for discussion about reasonable expectations of school being both challenging and enjoyable.

Starting School

Jane Godwin (Author) and Anna Walker (illustrator)
Penguin Viking: 2013
ISBN: 9780670076765 (hbk)
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe, and Polly are all starting school. The reader meets them making their preparations, arriving at school with their parents, and then at various key moments during the first day: making friends, touring the school, helping to think up the classroom rules. Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe, and Polly are all individuals; they have different feelings about school and different experiences on the first day, but everyone’s experience is, at the end of that day, positive.

Starting School is driven by wonderfully realistic dialogue from a cast of charming child characters who give young readers a great sense of what to expect on their first school day. A range of feelings —from anxiety to exuberant enthusiasm about school— are implicitly portrayed or conveyed clearly in the dialogue. The straightforward statements of the children are accompanied by titles (e.g. ‘Making Friends’, ‘Around the School’) which help give context to the children’s comments. Anna Walker’s eye-catching collages portray school as a happy colourful place. The occasional use of photography within the collages provides points of detail to dwell on and also glimpses of the ‘real’ classroom—perfect for intriguing curious minds.   

The Colour Monster Goes to School

Anna Llenas
A Templar Book:  London, 2018
ISBN: 9781787415584 (HBK)
ISBN: 9781787415522 (PBK)
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

It is Colour Monster’s first day at school. ‘What’s school?’ he asks. Is it a spooky castle or a scary jungle? Luckily, he has a young friend to help him pack what he needs and say goodbye to his parents. She also shows Colour Monster what school is all about—friends, music, stories, playtime, snack time, going to the toilet, exercise, and drawing of course.

This delightful take on a popular picture book theme feels authentic and comforting. The child narrator offers a kid’s eye view of school which, focused especially on the fun bits, nevertheless provides information about what a typical school day may involve. The girl-narrator’s occasional reprimands, for example when Colour Monster plays with the toilet paper, implicitly encourage young readers to feel in charge as the narrator is throughout the story. These reprimands also provide lots of comic moments, which are beautifully delivered through the illustrations. All the artwork is filled with classroom and school yard detail, moreover the Colour Monster’s constant colour changes provide a riot of colour on every page as well as prompts to discuss emotions. Don’t forget the invitation to draw your own Colour Monster in the endpages; a perfect device for encouraging kids to explore their own feelings about school!

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