Typically when I think about books that prepare children for school, stories about starting school come to mind. However, when I received a couple of books encouraging self reflection for older children and teens, I was inspired to compile a list that could prepare children of all ages to face the challenges of the school year ahead. I was helped in this endeavour by literary expert Sally Allen. A writer and speaker, Allen advocates for reading books that inspire us to think more deeply about our world and to empathize with others’ experiences. In her latest book, Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers (Griffins Wharf, 2015), she explores these beliefs while providing reading lists that deliver on the promise of inspiring empathy. Sally’s recommendations are in the chapter book section. The list also includes recommendations from my 12-year old daughter.
Not to leave out books about starting school for the first time, my favourite starting school book is ‘I am too absolutely small for school‘ by Lauren Child. Narrated by the charming and comical Charlie and Lola, it is a wonderful book for children who are anxious about starting school for the first time.
Ming goes to School by Dierdre Sullivan
This picture book with simple text is perfect for younger readers or perhaps those who are beginning to read on their own. The beautiful watercolour illustrations are delightful and tell the story of events in an ordinary school day.
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
This classic back to school book deals with separation and the reassurance that you are loved, as you leave for your first day of school.
Something Else by Kathryn Cave
A heartwarming tale about being different and making friends and one of my personal favourites.
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
This children’s classic encourages children to share and find happiness through making friends.
The Clarice Bean Trilogy by Lauren Child
This trilogy deals with many issues from childhood in a wonderfully humorous and endearing way. The third book in the Trilogy ‘Don’t Look Now’ finds Clarice in a turmoil when her best friend moves to a different country.
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Ten-year old Auggie wants what most kids want, but a facial deformity has kept him apart from his peers. Told from multiple points of view, his story of seeking acceptance and community unfolds as he enters a regular school to attend fourth grade.
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The first in Stewart’s series brings together a group of gifted children who go on secret missions to save the world. Beautifully written and moving, the story highlights how even the smartest among us benefit from friendship and teamwork to overcome challenges.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Witty and touching, this graphic memoir is named for the superhero personal Bell crafted for herself in childhood. She recounts her early hearing loss, growing up with a Phonic Ear and hearing aid, and the challenges of young friendships and first crushes.
Liesel and Po by Lauren Oliver
Oliver’s mesmerizing and brilliantly plotted story about loss has heavy and difficult but ultimately rewarding moments. With the help of a ghostly figure called Po, orphaned Liesel escapes her bleak existence and sets off on a mission to bury her father’s ashes at the place he most loved.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Autobiographically inspired, this poignant verse story describes the narrator’s last days in Saigon, fleeing from Vietnam, and struggling to adapt in a new country.
Give Me Liberty by L. M. Elliott
In the early days of the U.S. revolutionary war, a young indentured servant grapples with the contradictions and injustices contained within the emerging country’s battle for sovereignty.
A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley
A young girl, Penelope, travels spontaneously between her time (the 1930s) and the 1580s, where a plot is underway to save Mary, Queen of Scotts. In this potent meditation on the power of witnessing, Penelope cannot bring anything from one world into the next or affect the outcome of the doomed plot.
Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead
Seventh grader Georges struggles to face up to bullies at school and a frightening situation at home. This heartening story is about learning to face up, speak up, and take control when faced uncomfortable and scary situations.
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson’s moving and eloquent memoir in verse follows her from Ohio, to the Civil-Rights era South, to Brooklyn in the 1970s. Her exquisite sensory poems touch on race and injustice, friendship and family, and finding one’s purpose.
Books for Older Readers
How to be You by Jeffrey Marsh.
This is an interactive book that is warm and upbeat and shares a clear message ‘There is nothing wrong with you’. It invites readers to write, colour and engage with the activities within to internalise the concept presented in the book. Interlaced with stories from real lives, a humorous voice and reminders that they are not alone, it is the perfect book for those who feel like an outsider.
Start Where You Are – a Journal for Self Exploration by Meera Lee Patel
My personal favourite because it is visually stunning and includes inspiring quotes from many of my favourite authors and artists. It features Meera’s hand lettering and watercolour illustrations on every page, alongside exercises to spark reflection through writing, drawing and chart-making. I found it difficult to give this one up to my daughter. It would make a wonderful gift for anyone who wishes to reflect on life and get to know themselves better. The exercises would be valuable start of term activities for older children and teens.
Very Good Lives by JK Rowling
This is JK Rowling’s inspirational commencement address at Harvard University, in book form. It is perfect for anyone who finds themselves at a turning point in life.
The Cupcake Queen by Heather Helper
When her mother moves to start a new venture, Penny is made to leave her lifelong friends and city life to start again in a small town. This book deals with transition, change and friendships and the uncertainty and hope that accompanies a new life.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Copies of some of the books on this list were received for review purposes. All books in the list are personal recommendations and no payment was received for writing this post.