A backpack full of school books and a tummy full of butterflies: It’s that time of year again! Whether the upcoming school year means back to babysitter or back to school for your children, these books are sure to help ease them into independence.
The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn (Tanglewood Press, 2006, ages 4-8) Not only is this an endearing tale for children and adults alike (just try reading it without getting a lump in your own throat!), it helps establish a routine that can get an anxious child through the day with a minimum of worry. In the book Mrs. Raccoon’s kiss stays in Chester’s hand all day long and reminds him of how much he is loved; in an especially poignant moment, he returns the gesture before his first day of school and gives his mother a Kissing Hand of her own. Touching without being saccharine, and charmingly illustrated, it is deservedly beloved. Where to buy
Llama Llama Misses Mama, by Anna Dewdney (Viking Juvenile, 2009, ages 4-8) It’s hard to go wrong with a riot of color and rhymes that beg to be chanted aloud, but this book does a great job of illustrating both in words and in pictures the varying moods of a child leaving the nest for the first time—fear, isolation, confusion—while simultaneously validating and easing them. This is the most recent of Dewdney’s bestselling “Llama Llama” series. Where to buy
Mommy, Don’t Go, by Elizabeth Crary and Marina Megale (Parenting Press, Inc., 1996, ages 4-8) This book directly addresses children’s mixed feelings about being left with a caregiver, and its “choose your own adventure”-style layout allows them to make choices for the protagonist and see the outcomes for each. Consider it a trial run for real-life separation—when children choose to have main character Matthew cling to his mother in an attempt to keep her at home, they turn a page and see that he’s still feeling sad and frustrated by this choice. The problem-solving format empowers kids to make their own decisions and compare the benefits and consequences of each beforehand in a non-threatening way. Where to buy
I Love You All Day Long, by Francesca Rusackas and Priscilla Burris (Harper-Collins, 2004, ages baby-preschool) Affectionately illustrated, the porcine characters in this book guide children through their first days at school. Instead of focusing on the separation itself, the book cleverly refocuses on the ups and downs of different scenarios that children may encounter while in school: “I’ll love you when you make a new friend – or when you make a mistake.” I Love You All Day Long balances its gentle humor with encouragement.
First Day Jitters, by Julie Danneburg and Judith Dufour Love (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2000, ages 4-8) She hates school, no one will like her, and it’s just too hard—children will empathize with Sarah Jane Hartwell as she hides under the covers in the hopes of evading another school year. What they won’t see coming is the end of the book: Sarah Jane Hartwell is the teacher! A great reminder to children that adults can also get those first day jitters, this book is affirming, funny and a delightful revelation for kids. Where to buy
I Don’t Want to Go to School: Helping Children Cope with Separation Anxiety, by Nancy Pando and Kathy Voerg (New Horizon Press, 2005, ages 4-8) Aside from having an adorable and engaging main character in Honey Maloo, a winsome bee who tries every trick in the book to keep off the school bus, this book is a winner because of how it enables kids to focus on their strengths to get them through what might otherwise be a challenging situation. It offers good aid for parents trying to make parting a little easier on their children—and on themselves. Where to buy
Will I Have a Friend?, by Miriam Cohen and Ronald Himler (Star Bright Books, 2009, ages 4-8) Finally, a book about separation/back-to-school anxiety that involves a father! While the story itself is essentially enduring (Jim shares his fears about not having a friend on the first day of school with his father), recently updated illustrations make it contemporary and easy for children to relate to. Where to buy
Separation anxiety is a common occurrence, but with these seven titles kids will be trading grimaces for grins in no time. In fact, parents with lumps in their throats as the school bus pulls away on that milestone first day might even want to give them a second read, too.