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Facing Fears and Starting School: Books For Kids

“I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life." So writes Yann Martel in his classic, Life of Pi. Fear can be terribly debilitating in our lives, no matter our age. Children (and adults!) can have fears of all kinds of things, from big things, like fear of failure, to little things, like fear of bugs.

If fear is life's opponent, books may be life's best ally. As C.S. Lewis stated, “Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” Children's literature provides a powerful resource for helping children face and overcome fears and challenges. In these books and stories, children will see characters who have challenges or fears similar to their own. They'll see how the characters face these fears and challenges and what they do to manage or overcome them. These characters provide children with someone who understands their fears and challenges yet has also successfully overcome them and can inspire courage and offer comfort and reassurance. In other words, stories provide parents and loved ones a framework for talking about fears in a way that is less personal yet still relatable to children.

In this list, we highlight books about overcoming fears of all varieties. Books cover all kinds of challenges, like leaving home, being alone, stage fright, the dark, or even getting a haircut and more. You can use our table of contents to navigate to specific topics that are relevant to helping your reader overcome a fear, such as having courage to start school, overcoming the monster under the bed, being brave while learning to swim, and many others. You can also limit the list to certain book types: board books, great for babies and toddlers; picture books, perfect for toddlers through elementary school age; and chapter books, best for advancing readers through early middle school age.

We hope you can use this list to help children overcome their fears, whatever they may be. If you have a book that is not on the list that has been helpful in overcoming a fear, please share it in the comments below.

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.

The Night Before First Grade book
#4
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.

So Big! book
#5
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

  1. Roar and Sparkles Go to School - 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.

  2. Me and My Fear - "With its warm palette and gentle scenes of the worried child being comforted, this book could function as a sequel to Sanna's astounding debut picture book, The Journey, which recounted a family's dangerous flight from their home in a war zone. Sanna provides an empathetic exploration of the adjustment to a new land that all migrants experience."--New York Times Book Review Introducing a companion picture book to the award-winning picture book, The Journey, from rising star Francesca Sanna. When a young immigrant girl has to travel to a new country and start at a new school, she is accompanied by her Fear who tells her to be alone and afraid, growing bigger and bigger every day with questions like "how can you hope to make new friends if you don't understand their language?" But this little girl is stronger than her Fear. A heart-warming and timely tale from the bestselling author and illustrator of The Journey, this book shows us the importance of sharing your Fear with others--after all, everyone carries a Fear with them, even if it's small enough to fit into their pocket!

  3. Butterflies on the First Day of School - 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.

  4. Splat the Cat - 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
#10
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
#11
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.

Lily's Cat Mask book
#12
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
#13
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.

    Did you enjoy our children's book recommendations? Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!