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12 Kids Books About Facing Fears & Starting School

Updated Jan. 19, 2019

Fear is one of those things that is common to the human experience and plagues both children and adults alike. When you are scared of something, regardless of your age, reason and logic can give way to an irrational fear that it seems impossible to conquer. In these moments, we crave someone who understands, empathizes and yet is simultaneously above this fear and can also provide comfort and reassurance. Parents and other mentors can help fill this role for children, and stories can help. They provide a framework for talking about fears (whether a specific fear the child shares with a book character or fears in general) and how to conquer them in a way that is less personal and thus more accessible. Then when situations arise in everyday life, parents and children have a common point they can start from—"Remember what Orion did when he was scared of the dark?"—and work from there. Whether you're tackling anxieties about the dark, starting school, leaving home, getting a haircut, being alone, stage fright or anything else, these books can help bridge the gap and start to quell those fears—seriously, some of our very favorites on this list.

Wemberly Worried book
#1
Wemberly Worried
Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Wemberly worried about everything. Big things. Little things. And things in between. Then it was time for school to start.And Wemberly worried even more. If you ever worry (or know someone who does), this is the book for you.

Mae's First Day of School book
#2
Mae's First Day of School
Written and illustrated by Kate Berube
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-7

The first day of school can be scary for everyone--not just the students. As Mae gets ready for her very first day, she reflects on all the things she's afraid of. What if the other kids don't like her? What if she can't learn to read? What if she misses her mom? On the way to school, she decides that instead of facing all the unknowns, it would be much easier to climb up into her favorite tree and wait there until school is over. As other kids pass by, they, too, share their own fears with Mae, and she learns that everyone gets nervous about trying new things, even her teacher! Together, Mae and her new friends decide to face the day and celebrate new beginnings, hand in hand.

Not This Bear book
#3
Not This Bear
Written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and illustrated by Lorna Hussey
picture book
Recommend Ages: 2-6

It's Bear's first day of school, and he's a bit reluctant to go. Mama says all bears love school; Bear isn't so sure. But school turns out to be full of fun--painting pictures, listening to stories, and making new friends. Maybe this bear will like school after all.

So Big! book
#4
So Big!
Written and illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-6

A simple, clever text paired with utterly adorable animal characters makes school-day jitters seem not so big after all! Bear is so big, and he's ready to start school! But even if you're SO BIG, you might feel a little nervous at times. Can Bear brave his first day and find a way to make it feel just right? A clever and charming story, So Big! will help young readers through all the important first steps in life. Acclaim for Dad's First Day Bank Street Best Children's Books of 2016--outstanding merit title Acclaim for Moo! An ALA Notable book A BCCB Blue Ribbon selection

Roar and Sparkles Go to School book
#5
Roar and Sparkles Go to School
Written by Sarah Beth Durst
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

Roar is worried about his first day at school. He's worried that he'll have to do really hard things, like molt his scales and fly over a volcano. His big sister Sparkles reassures him, but Roar still worries. The first day of school arrives and Roar is pleasantly surprised! Instead of having to breathe fire, he gets to kick fireballs in gym class. He also gets to make popsicle-stick caves in art and to listen to stores about Johnny Apple-dragon and Cinder-dragonella during circle time. And when he's asked to draw something he loves before the day is over, he figures out just how to thank Sparkles for her sisterly support. Roar and Sparkles is a sweet story about the anxieties children may feel about attending school for the first time, as well as a comforting tale about the bond between siblings. Sarah Beth Durst's imaginative and playful script is enhanced by Ben Whitehouse's modern and fresh illustrations to create a book that's sure to squelch first-day-of-school worries for children.

Butterflies on the First Day of School book
#6
Butterflies on the First Day of School
Written by Annie Silvestro and illustrated by Dream Chen
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-6

Rosie's excited to start kindergarten--she's had her backpack ready for weeks. But suddenly, the night before the big day, her tummy hurts. Rosie's mom reassures her that it's just butterflies in her belly. Much to Rosie's surprise, when she greets a new friend, a butterfly flies out of her mouth! Soon, Rosie frees all her butterflies . . . and helps another shy student release hers, too.

Splat the Cat book
#7
Splat the Cat
Written and illustrated by Rob Scotton
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

It's Splat's first day of school and he's worried. What if he doesn't make any new friends? Just in case, Splat decides to bring along his pet mouse, Seymour, and hides him in his lunchbox. The teacher, Mrs. Wimpydimple, introduces Splat to the class and he soon starts learning all his important cat lessons. But when Seymour escapes and the cats do what cats do (they chase mice!), Splat's worried again. Maybe now he'll lose all his friends, old and new! Just in time, wise Mrs. Wimpydimple takes charge and teaches everyone an important new lesson. Maybe Cat School is going to be okay after all!

The Night Before Preschool book
#8
The Night Before Preschool
Written by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Amy Wummer
picture book
Recommend Ages: 3-5

It’s the night before preschool, and a little boy named Billy is so nervous he can’t fall asleep. The friends he makes the next day at school give him a reason not to sleep the next night, either: he’s too excited about going back! The book’s simple rhyming text and sweet illustrations will soothe any child’s fears about the first day of school.

The Night Before Kindergarten book
#9
The Night Before Kindergarten
Written by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Julie Durrell
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

‘Twas the night before kindergarten, and as they prepared, kids were excited, and a little bit scared. It’s the first day of school! Join the kids as they prepare for kindergarten, packing school supplies, posing for pictures, and the hardest part of all—saying goodbye to Mom and Dad. But maybe it won’t be so hard once they discover just how much fun kindergarten really is! Colorful illustrations illuminate this uplifting takeoff on the classic Clement C. Moore Christmas poem.

The Night Before First Grade book
#10
The Night Before First Grade
Written by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Deborah Zemke
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-6

It’s the night before the Big Day—first grade. Penny is excited to start the year with her best friend right beside her in the same classroom. This humorous take on Clement C. Moore’s classic tale has a perfect twist ending that will surprise readers—as well as the “heroine” of the story—and help all about-to-be first-graders through their own back-to-school jitters.

Lily's Cat Mask book
#11
Lily's Cat Mask
Written and illustrated by Julie Fortenberry
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-6

Armed with a vivid imagination and her trusty cat mask, Lily can take on anything–even a new school… But when her teacher tells her no masks allowed in class, Lily worries, can she make friends without it? Anyone who has been daunted by a new experience, or struggled to put on a good face, will relate to Lily. Whimsical art brings Lily, her father, and her new classmates to life, with text that begs to be read aloud. Perfect for Father’s Day, back to school, and even Halloween–Lily and her grinning cat mask are sure to make you smile back.

On the First Day of First Grade book
#12
On the First Day of First Grade
Written by Tish Rabe and illustrated by Sarah Jennings
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

On the first day of first grade, there will be lots of fun! This is the perfect book to share with a kindergartner getting ready for the step up to "big kid" school! From choosing books to read to building things with clay to performing in a play, there are many exciting firsts to look forward to. Saying good-bye to mom and dad can be hard, but when the school bus pulls up, it’s time for some first-grade fun! This engaging, vibrant adaptation of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” helps show parents and children alike that there is no place cooler than a first-grade classroom. Tish Rabe, a seasoned children’s book author of over 160 books, puts a novel spin on a first-day-of-school classic with On the First Day of First Grade.

Have a suggestion for a book to add to this list? Send an email to [email protected]!