Children’s book blog: Getting ready for kindergarten

[This is the latest in an occasional series by Beth Melo, a Southborough mom who loves to read to her kids. In this installment, Beth shares recommendations for your little ones about to start kindergarten. This post was originally published on the Southborough Library website, and has been reposted here with permission. For more of Beth’s book recommendations, click here.]

I try to base most of my book recommendations on my families’ experiences. Last summer, as my daughter prepared to start Kindergarten in the fall, I reflected on preparing her to start preschool one summer long ago. Now, that she‘s graduated from Kindergarten, I’d like to share what I learned last summer.

It felt like a long journey. She started stressing out the year before. She hated the idea of leaving preschool. While she was dead set against it, I mostly avoided the topic. When she finally came around to the idea toward the end of preschool, I found books to reinforce her positive feelings and avoid her regressing. In the end, she was excited about everything, including her first bus ride, which she gleefully breezed onto.

By reading about kindergarten throughout the summer, I was able to read a number of books while still just sprinkling them in among books on other topics. Reading unrelated books can be good preparation, too. For instance we just stumbled on, Pomelo Begins to Grow by Ramona Badescu. This is an odd little book about a tiny “garden elephant” who realizes he is growing and has questions about it. In the end, he realizes that he is ready to deal with goodbyes and to face new adventures.

When I researched kindergarten books, I discovered a slew of stories about the first day. What I was disappointed to discover was how many of them focus on negative experiences, especially with unfriendly classmates. While most show how the children handle these experiences (often turning enemies into friends), I worry that these would make children fear their unknown classmates. These seemed better suited to reading to children already attending kindergarten.

I also found many books that showed a version of kindergarten that doesn’t reflect the true experience, or at least Southborough public kindergarten. I tried to avoid reading ones that gave her a false image of what school would be like. (Though nothing is 100% accurate.)

Fortunately, that still leaves plenty of good books. Here are the ones that I like the most:

Books that explain Kindergarten, or follow a child’s happy, first experience:

  • Welcome to Kindergarten by Ann Rockwell is a straightforward look at what school is like. It’s not especially exciting, but it is reassuring. (This one was actually a gift she received from her teachers after school started.)
  • My First Day of School by P.K. Hallinan follows an enthusiastic boy through his day.
  • Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? by Audrey Vernick is a fun book. The kids get to laugh at the buffalo’s antics. And while the animal’s readiness is questionable, it’s a given that the girl who owns it is ready.
  • Does a Panda Go to School? by Fred Ehrlich is an amusing way of helping children decide for themselves that they are ready for Kindergarten (certainly better prepared than a wild animal.)
  • Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate shows the teacher and eager new students all preparing for the first day of kindergarten. Bonus, an ABC format and rhyming text make this a good pre-reading book. There are also several follow up Miss Bindergarten books. But since the classroom activities don’t reflect what kindergarten is really like, I think these are better to read to children already in kindergarten.
  • Amelia Bedelia’s First Day of School by Herman Parish follows the traditional format of the very literal Amelia humorously misunderstanding expressions and instructions. Unlike other books that show kindergartners making mistakes that embarrass them, this story shows resilient Amelia keeping her sunny disposition through the day.
  • Meet the Barkers by Tommy DePaolo is a cute story about twins who have different positive experiences at school. I wasn’t fond of the way Moffat would shout out answers in class, but I consider that a teaching opportunity. I used it to point out to my children that she should have raised her hand and waited for the teacher to call on her.
  • The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing shows happy students preparing for and enjoying school. It’s the over-emotional parents who have trouble saying goodbye. (If you think your child might see you crying when they get on the bus or go to their rooms, this might be a good way to make it humorous so they don’t react negatively.)
  • In Tiptoe into Kindergarten by Jacqueline Rogers, a student’s younger sibling sneaks into the class to join in the kindergarten fun.
  • I.Q. goes to school by Marion Fraser shows kindergarten through the eyes of the class pet mouse.
  • Elisa in the Middle by Johanna Hurwitz is a chapter book from her Riverside Kid Series. (I love most of these, except for a shocking Tooth Fairy spoiler in Nora and Mrs. Mind Your Own Business). The book isn’t about kindergarten. It’s about a cute girl with many fun adventures who happens to be a kindergartner. In the chapter “Elisa’s Chickens”, Elisa is excited to have started kindergarten. The first day experience is absent. It moves right into her being well-adjusted to school. It includes a good description of what her day is like and the activities she enjoys.

Books that encourage kids to be excited about taking the school bus

I find some bus books to be too chaotic (boisterous children running around or throwing toys, etc.) to encourage a child who will be stepping on to the bus without mom for the first time. These books make the bus look fun or routine:

  • Wheels on the Bus by Ann Owen. This version uses a school bus for the illustrations and unlike some others seems close to what kids can expect to see on a bus – except for moms with babies (I assume because those lyrics are popular.) I simply say, “Wait, do babies go to school on a bus? Nooo!”
  • The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom shows kids waiting at a bus stop with an overeager girl hoping every vehicle is their bus.

Books that are meant to overcome fears about Kindergarten

I think that the value of these books depends on your child’s state of mind. These books show children who start out afraid to go to Kindergarten, then learn to love it. I don’t believe in introducing fears that children don’t already have. I also worry about reinforcing fears that may otherwise pass. But, if as school approaches your child is anxious and the books above don’t help, these books might be helpful:

  • Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! By Nancy Carlson features a mouse eager to start his first kindergarten day. But when he reaches the room and sees all the strange faces, he panics and wants to go home. When the teacher convinces him to look around, he finds the room so much fun, he wants to stay. What I liked most about this book is that it seemed to reflect the setting and activities of Finn kindergarten more than many other books I read.
  • Kindergarten Rocks! by Katie Davis is about a boy whose older sister guides him through the experience, reassuring him along the way. This book includes the bus ride.
  • Off to school, Baby Duck! by Amy Hest shows the scared duck being steered by her grandfather to realize she will enjoy school.
  • Little Brown Bear Won’t Go to School teaches that not only are there important things Bear needs to learn from school, but that it’s where he should want to be.

Good luck to everyone preparing for their families’ kindergarten journeys. I hope it as enjoyable for your family as it turned out to be for mine.

As always, if you have any questions for me, feel free to e-mail If you have any suggestions for other parents, you can post a comment below.

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