It’s back to school time and we’re of course prepping for a successful year by reading great books! It feels a little weird prepping for a new school year when there’s so much uncertainty surrounding education right now. On top of all of the new safety protocols we have to follow due to the pandemic, we also have to reckon with racism and injustice in our education system. Thankfully there are scores of us fighting to bring about change and equity . All of that could dampen some of the joys of schooling — if we let it. But we won’t.
We’ve curated this list of amazing books that remind us of the goodness of teaching, learning, and growing together. And as always, representation matters! Diversify your bookshelves with these back to school books that are sure to motivate, affirm, and inspire. Let’s commit to making this a great school year no matter what.
Helping Kids Rise believes all children deserve access to books that educate, empower and inspire and all of these books fit that mission! Follow us over on Instagram for our latest book recommendations.
I Got the School Spirit by Connie Scholfield-Morrison, Illustrated by Frank Morrison: This exuberant celebration of the first day of school illustrated by award-winning illustrator Frank Morrison will have every kid cheering for school to begin!
Summer is over, and this little girl has got the school spirit! She hears the school spirit in the bus driving up the street — VROOM, VROOM! — and in the bell sounding in the halls — RING-A-DING! She sings the school spirit in class with her friends — ABC, 123!
The school spirit helps us all strive and grow. What will you learn today? (Ages 3–6)
The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton: A confident little boy takes pride in his first day of kindergarten, by the Newbery Honor-winning author of Crown.
The morning sun blares through your window like a million brass trumpets.It sits and shines behind your head — like a crown. Mommy says that today, you are going to be the King of Kindergarten!
Starting kindergarten is a big milestone — and the hero of this story is ready to make his mark! He’s dressed himself, eaten a pile of pancakes, and can’t wait to be part of a whole new kingdom of kids. The day will be jam-packed, but he’s up to the challenge, taking new experiences in stride with his infectious enthusiasm! And afterward, he can’t wait to tell his proud parents all about his achievements — and then wake up to start another day.
Newbery Honor-winning author Derrick Barnes’s empowering story will give new kindergartners a reassuring confidence boost, and Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s illustrations exude joy. (Ages 3–6)
Fresh Princess by Denene Millner, Illustrated by Gladys Jose: Based on The Fresh Prince created by Will Smith, Destiny is the Fresh Princess.
Meet Destiny—a cool, energetic, and strong-willed young girl who approaches every day with her own signature style! That is, until she moves to a brand-new neighborhood, where nothing looks quite the same as it did at her old house.
Even with new challenges and new friends to make, Destiny always has a plan. With a few reminders from her loving family and after remembering what being the Fresh Princess is all about, she may just take the leap and jump right in!
Written by celebrated author, blogger, and editor Denene Millner and illustrated by Gladys Jose, Fresh Princess is the perfect book to encourage kids to proudly stand out and be themselves! (Ages 4–8)
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by Rafael Lopez: National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner Rafael López have teamed up to create a poignant, yet heartening book about finding courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.
There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.
There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.
Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael López’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway. (Ages 5–8)
Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, Illustrated by Luisa Uribe: Frustrated by a day full of teachers and classmates mispronouncing her beautiful name, a little girl tells her mother she never wants to come back to school. In response, the girl’s mother teaches her about the musicality of African, Asian, Black-American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern names on their lyrical walk home through the city. Empowered by this newfound understanding, the young girl is ready to return the next day to share her knowledge with her class. Your Name is a Song is a celebration to remind all of us about the beauty, history, and magic behind names. (Ages 5–10)
I Believe I Can by Grace Byers, Illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo: I Believe I Can is an affirmation for boys and girls of every background to love and believe in themselves.
Actress and activist Grace Byers and artist Keturah A. Bobo return with another gorgeously illustrated new classic that’s the perfect gift for baby showers, birthdays, or just for reading at home again and again.
My presence matters in this world. I know I can do anything, if only I believe I can. (Ages 4–8)
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi: The new kid in school needs a new name! Or does she?
Being the new kid in school is hard enough, but what about when nobody can pronounce your name? Having just moved from Korea, Unhei is anxious that American kids will like her. So instead of introducing herself on the first day of school, she tells the class that she will choose a name by the following week. Her new classmates are fascinated by this no-name girl and decide to help out by filling a glass jar with names for her to pick from. But while Unhei practices being a Suzy, Laura, or Amanda, one of her classmates comes to her neighborhood and discovers her real name and its special meaning. On the day of her name choosing, the name jar has mysteriously disappeared. Encouraged by her new friends, Unhei chooses her own Korean name and helps everyone pronounce it — Yoon-Hey. (Ages 3–7)
I Promise by Lebron James, Illustrated by Nina Mata: A perfect BACK-TO-SCHOOL tool for students and teachers who need an encouraging boost to start the year!
NBA champion and superstar LeBron James pens a slam-dunk picture book inspired by his foundation’s I PROMISE program that motivates children everywhere to always #StriveForGreatness.
Just a kid from Akron, Ohio, who is dedicated to uplifting youth everywhere, LeBron James knows the key to a better future is to excel in school, do your best, and keep your family close.
I Promise is a lively and inspiring picture book that reminds us that tomorrow’s success starts with the promises we make to ourselves and our community today.
Featuring James’s upbeat, rhyming text and vibrant illustrations perfectly crafted for a diverse audience by New York Times bestselling artist Nina Mata, this book has the power to inspire all children and families to be their best.
Perfect for shared reading in and out of the classroom, I Promise is also a great gift for graduation, birthdays, and other occasions.
Plus check out the audiobook, read by LeBron James’s mother and I Promise School supporter Gloria James! (Ages 4–8)
Speak Up by Miranda Paul, Illustrated by Ebony Glenn: When something really matters, one voice can make a difference. This spirited, vibrant picture book celebrates diversity and encourages kids to speak up, unite with others, and take action when they see something that needs to be fixed.
Join a diverse group of kids on a busy school day as they discover so many different ways to speak up and make their voices heard! From shouting out gratitude for a special treat to challenging a rule that isn’t fair, these young students show that simple, everyday actions can help people and make the world a better place. (Ages 4–7)
My Name is Bilal by Dr. Asma Mobin-Uddin, Illustrated by Barbara Kiwak: A young boy wrestles with his Muslim identity in this picture book for children written by Dr. Asma Mobin-Uddin, with illustrations by Barbara Kiwak.
When Bilal and his sister Ayesha move with their family, they have to attend a new school. They soon find out that they may be the only Muslim students there. When Bilal sees his sister bullied on their first day, he worries about being teased himself, and thinks it might be best if his classmates didn’t know that he is Muslim. Maybe if he tells kids his name is Bill, rather than Bilal, then they would leave him alone. Mr. Ali, one of Bilal’s teachers and also Muslim, sees how Bilal is struggling. He gives Bilal a book about the first person to give the call to prayer during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. That person was another Bilal: Bilal Ibn Rabah. What Bilal learns from the book forms the compelling story of a young boy grappling with his identity. (Ages 2–5)
The Noisy Classroom by Angela Shanté, Illustrated by Alison Hawkins: The first day of school is coming… and I’m going to be in the noisy class. Any class but the noisy class will do!
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. (Ages 6–8)
Stella Díaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez: In her first middle-grade novel, award-winning picture book author and illustrator Angela Dominguez tells a heartwarming story based on her own experiences growing up Mexican-American.
Stella Diaz loves marine animals, especially her betta fish, Pancho. But Stella Diaz is not a betta fish. Betta fish like to be alone, while Stella loves spending time with her mom and brother and her best friend Jenny. Trouble is, Jenny is in another class this year, and Stella feels very lonely.
When a new boy arrives in Stella’s class, she really wants to be his friend, but sometimes Stella accidentally speaks Spanish instead of English and pronounces words wrong, which makes her turn roja. Plus, she has to speak in front of her whole class for a big presentation at school! But she better get over her fears soon, because Stella Díaz has something to say!
Stella Díaz Has Something to Say introduces an infectiously charming new character with relatable writing and adorable black-and-white art throughout. Simple Spanish vocabulary is also integrated within the text, providing a bilingual element. (Ages 6–9)
A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee: From debut author Lisa Moore Ramée comes this funny and big-hearted debut middle grade novel about friendship, family, and standing up for what’s right, perfect for fans of Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and the novels of Renée Watson and Jason Reynolds.
Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)
But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?
Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum.
Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real. (Recommended for Middle Grades)
The New Kid by Jerry Craft: Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Gene Luen Yang, New Kid is a timely, honest graphic novel about starting over at a new school where diversity is low and the struggle to fit in is real, from award-winning author-illustrator Jerry Craft.
Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.
As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds — and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?
This middle grade graphic novel is an excellent choice for tween readers, including for summer reading. (Ages 8–12)
Everything a Band-aid Can’t Fix by Nicole Russell: Dear ______,
This book was written for YOU and all the curious young adults who are looking for an instruction manual on how to deal with the craziness of the teen years. It’s a set of guidelines for understanding how to cope with feelings and experiences that aren’t always easy to share. It will help you master the ability to defeat adversity with or without the help of others; it will encourage you to speak out against the wrongs in your world and help protect yourself from them. A band-aid can’t fix family issues, feelings of insecurity, the loss of loved ones, bullying and everyday challenges.
With this book, you will uncover things you wish to hide and begin your journey to self-comfort through it all. (Recommended Teens and up)
You can find more great affirming, motivating, and inspiring Back to School themed books in our online bookstore. Disclosure: We earn a small fee for any purchases made through our online bookstore. There is no additional cost to you.
Helping Kids Rise is on a mission to improve the lives of children and the people who love them through literacy, education, and social justice awareness. We do this by highlighting diverse and inclusive children’s books and resources that promote education, literacy, and social justice awareness. We also partner with schools, families, and children’s advocacy organizations to promote access to children’s books for under-served and underrepresented communities. To learn more or to partner with us, connect with us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and our website: www.helpingkidsrise.org.