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10 Picture Books and Activities About Starting School

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Updated | 14 min read

The Best Books for Kids About Starting School

Reading with your child at home, or with the students in your class, is such a fantastic way to help kids engage with ideas and circumstances that can be stressful or scary in real life. Starting school for the first time, or for older kids starting at a new school, is one situation that we all know can induce more than a little worry and anxiety! With that in mind, drawing on the comfort and calm that picture books can bring children of many ages, here is a list of some of the best ‘starting school’ books around.

When School is New…
Picture Books and Activities for Kids

Starting School
by Jane Godwin and Ann Walker

Starting School by Jane Godwin

Ages: 4-7
Published in 2013 by Penguin Books
Paperback available at Booktopia
eBook Edition on iBooks and Google Play

This beautifully illustrated book is great for children who are starting formal schooling for the first time. The storytelling is simple and centres around five main characters, Tim, Hannah, Sunita, Joe and Polly, and their feelings and experiences on the first day of school. It also describes what will soon become familiar experiences such as ‘packing up’, making new friends and snack or break time.

“Starting School” by Jane Godwin Activity

Use this book to introduce the concept and experiences of school to your child, or to your new class of Foundation students. The following activity will help students to see the shared feelings of many children on the first day of school.

Create a Feelings Map

You will need the book, a piece of paper and coloured pens or pencils to write and draw with.

  1. After reading the story, choose one of the characters.
  2. Write the character’s name, or draw their picture at the top of the page.
  3. Look back on their first day of school and find out how they felt before school, during school and after school.
  4. Write or draw a picture that describes each of these feelings, with arrows, dots or lines connecting one feeling to the next.
  5. After their own first day of school, children could create a Feelings Map about their own first day.

A Tiger Tail (or What Happened to Anya on her First Day of School)
by Michael Boldt

Ages: 4-10
Published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster
Hardcover available at Booktopia
eBook available on iBooks and Google Play

This awesome book gives us a unique twist on familiar ‘first day of school’ narratives.

“Anya wakes up to discover that she has grown a tiger tail. Yes, a striped tiger tail. It also happens to be the first day of school. What will the other kids think? Are girls with tiger tails even allowed to go to school?! Anya is about to find out.” – Booktopia

With a fun metaphor, this back to school book touches on diversity, individuality and community in a fun and exciting way. In this wonderful world, Anya eventually discovers that quite a few of her new classmates have unique traits too! This book can also be great to read with kids who are starting at a new school, as well as those nearing their very first day of schooling.

A Tiger Tail by Mike Boldt Activities

“A Tiger Tail” by Mike Bolt Activity

Step into this alternate reality with a creative paper craft activity suitable for at school or at home. Anya wakes up with a tail, one that her mother says “goes so nicely with [her] hair” and “brings out her wild side”! In this fun activity, kids create a self-portrait with their own special animal feature.

Animal Who? Animal You!

You will need:

  • paper
  • coloured pens
  • scissors
  • glue
  • collage materials such as magazine pages, wrapping or tissue paper etc.

How to create an “Animal Who? Animal You!” collage:

  1. Decide which animal feature most suits your personality.
  2. Draw the outline of your portrait onto the piece of paper. Make sure to include your animal feature!
  3. Use the collage materials to decorate your portrait, using similar coloured materials for each section (e.g. your skin, clothing, hair etc.)

In the Classroom:

Teachers may like to do a paper chain version of this activity with their whole class.

  1. Download the [FREE] Paper Chain Craft Template.
  2. Provide each student with one paper person, as well as some extra paper and materials to create their ‘animal’ self.
  3. When students have completed their ‘Animal You!’ portrait, tape the hands of each paper person together and display in your classroom.

I am Too Absolutely Small for School
Written by Lauren Child

Ages 3-7
Published in 2005 by Candlewick
Paperback available at Booktopia
No eBook available (as at 12/01/18)

With all the fun and spark of an episode of the “Charlie and Lola” television show, this book about starting school tackles each one of Lola’s reason why she doesn’t need to start going to school.

Charlie tells Lola that at school she can learn how to count beyond ten (for when 11 hungry elephants ask her for a snack), write words down on paper (for when she needs to ask Father Christmas for a Christmas wish) and read her own books (for when an angry ogre asks her to read a bedtime story).

“I am Too Absolutely Small for School” by Lauren Child Activity

Children who have read this book with a parent in preparation for starting school, or with a teacher during their first term of school, will have fun creating their own wild scenarios and stories like Lola does in the book.

Wild Counting, Writing and Reading

For this activity, you will need yourself and your child or students!

  1. After reading the storybook look back on each of the reasons why Lola decided she did want to learn how to count, write and read.
  2. Ask each child to come up with their own wild reasons why they need to learn how to count, write and read.
    – At home, this can be done in conversation with your child. You could also think about something you’d like to learn how to do and come up with your own crazy reason for why you should learn how to do it. For example, to learn mountain climbing for when you go on a family holiday on top of a volcano!
    – In the classroom, this may work best in a whole class setting. Sit students in a circle and ask each child to share one of their crazy counting, writing or reading scenarios.

My First Day of School
by Meredith Costain and Michelle Mackintosh

My First Day of School by Meredith Costain and Michelle Mackintosh

Ages: 4 – 7
Published in 2013 by Windy Hollow Books
Hardcover available at Booktopia
No eBook Available (as at 12/01/18)

Another beautiful book about starting school, “My First Day at School” by Meredith Costain and Michelle Mackintosh follows a similar structure to Godwin & Walker’s “Starting School”. Following four different students on their first day, this book uses the term “Prep” to describe the class attended by the children, which may or may not be suitable for your local school’s terminology.

The book finishes with the simple, positive statement “I think I’m going to like this place called school”. And even if your child, or not every one of the students in your class feels that way after their very first day, this book is a reminder of what fun there is to be had in Prep.

“My First Day of School” by Meredith Costain Activity

This activity can be done at home, or in a classroom setting and is a fun way to make connections between what the story teaches children about school and what they will prepare in their real life too!

School Bag Craft Activity

You will need:

  • coloured A4 paper (or a single envelope folder would work too)
  • scissors
  • glue
  • colouring pens or pencils.

How to make a paper school bag:

  1. Fold one sheet of the A4 paper following the instructions in this “Paper School Bag” video by Paper Magic Reny on YouTube.
  2. Alternatively, you could use an envelope folder for the ‘bag’ and simply attached the straps and decorations.
  3. Cut the straps and other bag decorations out of different colours and glue them onto the bag.
  4. Create a name label to stick onto your school bag.
  5. Draw pictures of the different things you may need on your first day of school, cut them out and keep them in your paper school bag.

Jessica’s Box
by Peter Carnavas

Jessica's Box by Peter Carnavas

Ages 3-12
New Edition Published in 2017 by New Frontier Publishing

Hardcover available at Booktopia
No eBook available (as at 12/01/18)

A beautiful story written and illustrated by a former teacher turned successful children’s author Peter Carnavas, “Jessica’s Box” is a gentle story that deals with the challenge of making new friends. Jessica tries filling her box with all sorts of things that she hopes will make other’s interested in being her friend, but nothing seems to work.

The heart-touching metaphor at the centre of this story is that when Jessica stops trying to attract new friends with material objects and instead hides inside her box (essentially filling it with herself) she finally makes her first new friend.

The simple, uncluttered and open-ended text in this book means that children can easily make connections between their own life and Jessica’s experience, regardless of where they are in their school journey. “Jessica’s Box” is suitable for kids starting school for the first time as well as those starting at a new school in a higher year level.

Cerebral Palsy Edition
Published in 2008 available from publisher’s website

Carnavas was also commissioned by the Cerebral Palsy League to illustrate a second edition of “Jessica’s Box” that depicts Jessica in a wheelchair. The text and the situations illustrated remain the same. This edition adds a wonderful layer for creating discussion and increasing awareness of diversity.

“Jessica’s Box” by Peter Carnavas Activity

This activity is great for at home, or in the classroom and encourages students to think about what they have on the inside that makes them a good friend.

Inside the Box

You will need:

Children create their own ‘box’ just like Jessica’s box. However, instead of filling it with things, they fill it with words and pictures that describe all of the wonderful things about who they are!

Are you creative? Are you kind?
Do you know lots about space, or animals or rainbows?
What makes you so wonderfully YOU?

  1. Create the ‘box’ using the resource of your choice.
    – The cube and cuboid nets can be decorated before they are made – leave the ‘top’ open ready for filling.
    – The treasure chest template is ready to print and colour in.
    – Draw a box or a square onto the blank piece of paper.
  2. On pieces of blank paper, or on the treasure chest coins, write or draw all of the things that are wonderful about you!
  3. Pop them into, or onto your box.

These resources may help you with this activity:

First Day
by Andrew Daddo and Jonathan Bentley

First Day by Andrew Daddo and Jonathan Bentley

Ages 3-5
Published in 2014 by ABC Books
Paperback available at Booktopia
eBook available on iBooks and Google Play

“First Day” by Andrew Daddo and Jonathan Bentley is a great read-aloud book that is simple in its beauty. Removing the complexity of multiple characters, it keeps away from introducing what happens during a day at school and focuses on getting ready, saying goodbye and then ‘hello’ again at the end of the day.

“Remember what we always say” the best bit about waving goodbye is the next wave will be hello.”

In a sweet little twist at the end, we realise that the ‘reassuring voice’ we’ve been listening to throughout the book belongs to the daughter who is comforting her mother’s first day of school nerves.

“First Day” by Andrew Daddo Activity

One fun aspect of this book is its references to contemporary culture. This mother and daughter are “BBBFFs” and take a selfie together before the first school bell rings. Have fun with this idea by creating a “First Day Selfie” artwork. This can be done at home after the first day of school, or at school as a great first week of school activity.

First Day Snap!

You will need:

  • a camera or phone to take photos
  • a printer
  • scissors
  • glue
  • coloured paper
  • a large piece of cardboard

How to create a ‘First Day Snap’.

  1. Cut out a frame using the cardboard.
  2. Create a label or other decorations around the frame using the coloured paper or one of our printable letter sets.
  3. Ask your child or students to hold up the frame and smile for a snap!

The Kissing Hand
Written by Audrey Penn
Illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak

The Kissing Hand - Books About School

Ages 3-8
Published in 2007 by Tanglewood
Available in paperback with audio CD at Booktopia
and in a Kindle Edition on Amazon

“The Kissing Hand” has become a bit of a children’s classic. As a picture book about starting school, it is gentle and sweet, focusing on the love between Chester racoon and his mother.

Chester’s mother teaches him a special way to say goodbye on his first day of school. By placing a kiss in his hand, Chester can take his ‘kissing hand’ to school with him and be reminded of his mother’s love any time he begins to feel nervous or upset.

A note for Australian readers:
The text does use the American spelling of “mommy”, however, the beautiful vibe of this book will be perfect for those who are looking for a calm way to explore what it is like to start school.

“The Kissing Hand” Activities

This book lends itself to an activity that provides individual children with a hands-on coping strategy for “the morning goodbye”.

Our Special Goodbye

Complete this activity with your child at home before they start school, or in a classroom setting.

  1. Read or listen to “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn.
  2. Discuss what Chester racoon and his mother did to make saying goodbye in the morning a little easier?
  3. Watch the “Morning Good-bye” video from Sesame Street.
  4. Create your own special goodbye to do each morning that you start school (children who create their ‘Special Goodbye’ at school can take it home to teach their parents and carers!).

First Day
by Margaret Wild and Kim Gamble

Ages 3-7
First Published in 1999 by Allen & Unwin
Hardcopy and Kindle Edition available on
eBook available on iBooks and Google Play

Another wonderful ‘first day of school’ book by Australian children’s author Margaret Wild, this story outlines each character’s day with a perfect amount of quirky detail.

With each character’s family, their journey to school and their ideas and understandings different and unique, it’s a wonderful way to show children just how different our lives can be. Without force, it shows how each character finds the joy in their first day regardless of any initial fears or nervousness.

“First Day” by Margaret Wild Activity

This book provides a great outline for students to use in reflection of their own first school day. This activity can be completed at home or in the classroom.

“My First Day” Mini-Book

You will need a copy of this [FREE] Blank Mini-Book Template, scissors, pens or pencils.

How to create a “My First Day” Mini-Book:

  • Using the template provided (printed onto A4 or enlarged onto A3 paper), students create a 9-page book that follows the same timeline as the picture book.
  • Before folding and cutting the mini-book, each child can write or draw onto each ‘page’ something that they remember from the following times in their first day:
  1. Title Page
  2. Before School
  3. Going to School
  4. Starting School
  5. In the Morning
  6. During Lunch
  7. In the Afternoon
  8. Home Time

First Day at Bug School
by Sam Lloyd

First Day at Bug School Book

Ages 3-5
Published in 2016 by Bloomsbury
Available in paperback from Booktopia
eBook available on iBooks and Google Play

“First Day at Bug School” lets readers explore what it’s like to start school in the fantastic imaginary world of ‘Bug School’. With music, sport and other classroom lessons illustrated in a fun and exciting way, this story helps kids to see that no matter their interest or skill they are likely to find something they love at school.

Lunch, playtime, storytime and other familiar markers (such as using the toilets!) of a typical school day are also introduced in the narrative in a fun and creative way.

“First Day at Bug School” Activities

You can use this book as an introduction to some of the previous starting school activities on this list. The Feelings Map activity, the Paper School Bag craft activity and the “My First Day” Mini-Book activity are all great ones for kids to do at home in preparation for starting school, or in the classroom during their first few weeks.

For some gorgeous activity sheets illustrated to match the book by Sam Lloyd, head to the publisher’s website to download a “First Day at Bug School” Activity Pack for free.

The Exceptionally, Extraordinarily Ordinary First Day of School
by Albert Lorenz

The Exceptionally Extraordinarily Ordinary First Day of School

Ages 6-12
Published in 2010 by Harry M. Abrams
Available on

Here’s one for older kids who are starting at a new school, created by American author and illustrator Albert Lorenz. In this story, John is the new kid at school. He’s hoping for an extraordinarily ordinary first day because his old school was, well, out of this world!

John tells outrageously imaginative stories and tall tales to his new classmates. Describing his old school as a castle where worms were on the lunch menu and his old school bus a safari jeep pulled by wild animals. This story looks at the experience of changing schools and conquering ‘new kid’ nerves and isn’t really one for littles who are beginning school for the first time.

The text and illustrations in this book are detailed and busy. Speech bubbles and side panels make reference to and explain elements of the artwork and story. This makes Lorenz’s book not so great for reading aloud in a classroom scenario, but wonderful for reading with a child individually or in a pair.

“The Exceptionally, Extraordinarily Ordinary First Day of School” Activity

Write a Tall Tale

Kids will have fun taking inspiration from John’s tall tales to create their own wild story about something that happened to them at school during the previous year.

You will need:

  • pen or pencil
  • lined paper OR
  • a lined writing sheet template.

Write a “tall tale” that tells the story of something that happened to you during school the previous year!

There are so many more amazing picture books about school that you can read with your kids! Hopefully, this list has given you some idea of the variety of ‘starting school books’ and the subtle differences in the focus and the themes of each one.

Selecting a picture book about school, and a matching activity that is just right for your child or your class ensures that you can draw out the information that you know will benefit them the most!

The first day of school is nerve-wracking. There’s no two ways about it.

But like anything that’s hard at first, with time and practice it will become easier… even fun!

You don’t need to take my word for it either!


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