11 best books about starting school: Reassuring reads for you and your little one

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Calm those first day nerves with a choice of gorgeous illustrations, fun activities and encouraging storylines   (iStock/The Independent )
Calm those first day nerves with a choice of gorgeous illustrations, fun activities and encouraging storylines (iStock/The Independent )

If you have a child starting school this September, you might be feeling a mixture of emotions, as will your little one. This year is a particularly peculiar time to be sending your child off to school – you might not have ever seen the school or met your child’s teachers in person. It’s natural that there might be some nervous feelings arising.

A great way to prepare your child, and spend special time together, is by reading about what school might be like. It will help them to understand what to expect, and can often be a great conversation starter to delve into what school might be like for your child.

There are plenty of books out there about starting school, from the practical and straightforward, to titles that explore the more emotional side of the transition. Along with our pre-school testers, we spent months working through a pile of books that are written to help your child transition to school, to find the very best ones.

Penny Tassoni MBE, renowned early years expert and president of Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) says, “Sharing books about school can prompt children to ask questions about things that may seem trivial or obvious but have been bothering them. I would choose books that are realistic, as children may feel quite let down if their actual experience does not marry up to what they were expecting.”

We looked for stories that engaged our children, first and foremost, from original stories to illustrations that made us smile and had messages that resonated with us. Here are our top picks.

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The best books about starting school for 2021 are:

  • Best overall Tilda Tries Again, by Tom Percival: £5.94, Whsmith.co.uk

  • Best activity book Wipe-Clean All You Need to Know Before Your Start School Activity Book, by Holly Bathie: £5.94, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best realistic storyStarting School, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg: £6.50, Bookshop.org

  • Best for inclusivity All Are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman: £5.57, Blackwells.co.uk

  • Best keepsake book The Tale of Starting School by Natalie Talisman and Kirsten Taylor: £21.99, Talesofmebooks.com

  • Best funny story The Colour Monster Goes to School by Anna Llenas: £6.26, Bookdepository.com

  • Best for behaviour When a Dragon Goes to School, by Caryl Hart and Rosalind Beardshaw: £3.99, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best illustrations Mooncat and Me by Lydia Corry: £8.45, Blackwells.co.uk

  • Best for adults Five Minute Mum: Time for School by Daisy Upton: £10.96, Agreatread.co.uk

  • Best for nervous school startersMouse’s Big Day by Lydia Monks: £5.33, Blackwells.co.uk

  • Best for nostalgia Lucy and Tom at School by Shirley Hughes: £6.99, Waterstones.com

Tilda Tries Again, by Tom Percival, published by Bloomsbury

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

We are huge fans of Tom Percival’s Bright Feelings storybook series, which help children process and explore different emotions – each story tackles a different feeling young children might be struggling with. One book in the series, Tilda Tries Again, looks at how a little girl’s life changes dramatically, and she struggles to be able to do things before giving up. That is until she realises she just has to try again and again until she can master it. We found this book is perfect for four-year-olds who are suddenly being asked to learn lots of new skills: writing their own name, getting dressed independently, using a knife and fork… the list goes on.

The illustrations are gorgeous, with bright colours directing the eye to the main part of the action on each page. The pacing of the book is perfect, with a handful of words on each page – this allowed adults space to pause and talk to our child about how the story relates to them. And the language is simple and joyful – no mean feat when explaining such tricky concepts to kids.

Buy now £5.94, Whsmith.co.uk

Wipe-Clean All You Need to Know Before Your Start School Activity Book, by Holly Bathie, published by Usborne

Best: Activity book

Rating: 8/10

This wipe-clean activity book encourages children to use the pen attached to the cover to complete tracing, writing and drawing tasks that will help them work on their pen control. The bright, friendly pages cover loads of new things children will experience at school, such as break time, PE classes and registration. As soon as our four-year-old tester laid eyes on this book he was engrossed and thoroughly enjoyed all the activities – it’s great that it’s wipe-clean as he could do them again and again and again. This book was a huge hit with us!

Buy now £5.94, Amazon.co.uk

Starting School, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, published by Puffin

Best: Realistic story

Rating: 8/10

Simple yet adorable, this book follows a group of children from their first day of school through to the end of the autumn term. It sees them on their first day, second day, first week and then celebrating Christmas. The story uses reassuring repetition without being tedious. We loved that it covered lots of different elements from school, such as class pets, assemblies, class parties and scrapes in the playground. As the story runs, the children settle into their school life, and it subtly reinforces the idea for our four-year-old that they will be going to school long term. We found this book gentle and considered, and the illustrations offered plenty of different things to chat about each time we read it.

Buy now £6.50, Bookshop.org

All Are Welcome, by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman, published by Bloomsbury

Best: For inclusivity

Rating: 9/10

A celebration of a school community, this book made us a bit emotional. Using the repetition of “All are welcome here” on each page, the rhyming story takes the reader through moments in the day. It focuses on how a community of children with a wide range of backgrounds and abilities come together to create a welcoming place for everyone. We found this book really uplifting, with bright simple drawings, and plenty to look at and talk about on every page. It was a great jumping off point into conversations with our preschoolers about different family dynamics and what their friends at school might be like.

Buy now £5.57, Blackwells.co.uk

The Tale of Starting School by Natalie Talisman and Kirsten Taylor, published by Tales of Me

Best: Keepsake book

Rating: 9/10

While not a traditional storybook, we loved this gorgeous little milestone book. Created by a teacher and an illustrator, the book is designed to help children and parents navigate starting school. There are spaces in the book to stick in photos of your child, their uniform and their teacher, and so on. There are also spaces to write what your child is most excited about doing at school, a message from someone on their first day and a little tick list of things to practice before starting school. Our four-year-old loved working through this with us – we didn’t do it all in one go, but it was nice to fill out gradually. Once school starts, there’s also space to stick in reports, parents’ evening feedback and official school photos. This is a beautiful keepsake – the pages are thick and luxurious, and it’s bound in a ring binder so it’s easy to flick between pages for little fingers. A book to be treasured.

Buy now £21.99, Talesofmebooks.com

The Colour Monster Goes to School by Anna Llenas, published by Templar Books

Best: Funny story

Rating: 8/10

A funny and cheeky book, this story elicited plenty of giggles at bedtime. The story follows a little girl and her friend, Colour Monster, on the first day of school. The narrator gently encourages Colour Monster through his classes and activities, watching as he creates mayhem. At the end of the day, Colour Monster has had a brilliant time and is thoroughly exhausted. The illustrations in this book are full of life and use a retro-feel collage style. The pages are filled with colour, while the text is brief and to the point, with visual gags for the parents and kids.

Buy now £6.26, Bookdepository.com

When a Dragon Goes to School, by Caryl Hart and Rosalind Beardshaw, published by Nosy Crow

Best: For behaviour

Rating: 8/10

This fun little rhyming story follows a dragon through a day at school. The pacing makes this story fun – there are regular pauses, where the story asks if the dragon behaved properly, only for you to turn the page and find the dragon is cast against type and is actually very well behaved. This made for a fun read for adults and our mini tester too. It’s ideal for explaining what behaviour is and isn’t OK at school in a gentle and fun way. The illustrations are warm and charming, with plenty to look at on each page. We found this was one of the most requested bedtime reads by our four-year-old tester, which means it got a big tick from us too.

Buy now £3.99, Amazon.co.uk

Mooncat and Me by Lydia Corry, published by Two Hoots Best illustrations

Best: Illustrations

Rating: 9/10

We admit that we fell in love with this story, and rejoiced inside when it was picked for a bedtime story. Mooncat and Me follows a little girl, Pearl, who has moved to a new city and is starting at a new school. She is anxious about all the change, but a mysterious giant cat (spoiler alert: it’s imaginary) visits her. The giant white cat stays by her side and gives her the confidence to explore her new city and tackle her first day at a new school. It’s such a sweet, gentle story. Our preschooler loved looking at the immersive illustrations, which are quite otherworldly. This is a gorgeous story about the power of imagination and overcoming anxiety.

Buy now £8.45, Blackwells.co.uk

Five Minute Mum: Time for School by Daisy Upton, published by Penguin Books

Best: For adults

Rating: 9/10

If you’re feeling a little nervous about what lies ahead for you as an adult when your child starts school, what with home learning and reading to do, this book will calm any concerns. Written by educator, mum and Instagram superstar Daisy Upton, this book gives you loads of information about what your child will be learning at school, and how to support them in their learning. And most importantly – it’s fun. The book is packed with heaps of ideas of easy games to play with your child, which can help back up what they’re learning at school. From a parent’s perspective, we loved this book – the tone is perfectly pitched and is informative yet fun, while the games are brilliantly simple to set up. Kids love us having this book because it brought new games into the house and, shhh, they didn’t even realise they were learning while we played.

Buy now £10.96, Agreatread.co.uk

Mouse’s Big Day by Lydia Monks, published by Macmillan

Best: For nervous school starters

Rating: 7/10

Our preschooler loved this book about a mouse that is reluctant to go to school. It sweetly explores those first-day nerves while not making school seem too terrifying. Anything Mouse is asked to do, she replies she doesn’t want to. That is until towards the end of the day she finds that she is enjoying herself and yep, you guessed it, she doesn’t want to go home. The illustrations of anthropomorphised woodland animals are extremely cute (the book is written and illustrated by the illustrator of What The Ladybird Heard, and follows that style). Our four-year-old was particularly taken with the cross-sections of Mouse’s subterranean home. We really enjoyed this cheerful tale.

Buy now £5.33, Blackwells.co.uk

Lucy and Tom at School by Shirley Hughes, published by Red Fox

Best: For nostalgia

Rating: 8/10

First published in 1973, this book stands the test of time remarkably well. Of course, it’s hugely nostalgic for adult readers. The illustrations are charmingly retro, while the language feels from another era too. Yet children will get lost in Lucy and Tom’s cosy little world quickly. The story follows Lucy starting school while her younger brother Tom misses her at home. Eventually, Tom starts playgroup too. It’s an especially sweet story if you have older children at school and younger preschool children at home who are missing the daily rowdiness of their older siblings.

Buy now £6.99, Waterstones.com

The verdict: Books about starting school

For a thoughtful and smart message about perseverance without hammering home the back to school thing, Tilda Tries Again is brilliant. We found we talked about the book a lot while getting our child ready for starting school. And we also loved The Tale of Starting School keepsake book. Putting it together brought up great conversations and we feel it really helped prepare our child.

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