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Favorite back-to-school books

NYC librarians reveal the best get-psyched-for-class titles.

Few childhood milestones elicit as many butterflies as the first day of school. Just like an encouraging parent, the right story can help ease the way. Whether your little one is heading back to the grind after a long and lazy summer or is about to walk through those preschool doors for the very first time, these titles—handpicked by librarians from all five boroughs—will offer plenty of reassurance...to both of you.

Froggy Goes to School

By Jonathan London Illustrations by Frank Remkiewicz. Puffin, $6. Ages 2 to 6.
A great story for reading out loud, this fourth book in the Froggy series offers plenty of "lively prose, peppered with sound effects," says Susie Heimbach of the New York Public Library's Mulberry Street branch. Spirited Froggy gets dressed with a "zip, zoop, zup" and heads to school with a "flop, flop, flop." Despite making "mistakes," like yelling too loud, interrupting and daydreaming, Froggy manages to charm his classmates—and even teaches the principal to swim (on dry land) before the day is done.

I Am Too Absolutely Small for School

By Lauren Child Candlewick, $7. Ages 3 to 6.
All our librarians agree: The third book in Lauren Child's popular series is a winner. When Charlie tries to reassure his little sis about starting preschool, feisty Lola isn't convinced: After all, if she never eats more than ten cookies, why should she learn to count to 100? Ever patient, Charlie finally finds one argument that Lola can't refute. Mixed-media illustrations blend photos, fabric and cartoonlike drawings that Bronx Library Center senior librarian Sarah Belanich calls "just as spunky as Lola herself."

Don't Go!

By Jane Breskin Zalben Clarion, $16. Ages newborn to 3.
Daniel the elephant is starting preschool. When mom drops him off, all he can say is "Don't go!" She calmly reassures him that she'll always come back—and of course at day's end, she does. Delicate watercolor drawings show Daniel gradually gaining confidence in class activities like playing in the sandbox and collecting leaves. Carol Goldman, assistant manager of youth services at Queens Central Library, describes the tale as a "very sweet and honest depiction of the trepidation so many kids feel." The book ends with a checklist of helpful tips for parents—and a recipe for the pumpkin cookies that Daniel proudly presents to his mom at the end of the day.

Wemberly Worried

By Kevin Henkes Greenwillow, $18. Ages 4 to 9.
The title mouse is anxious about everything: the crack in the living room wall, spilling grape juice on her favorite doll—and, naturally, all the things that could go wrong on her first day of preschool. Happily, caring parents, a patient teacher and a hippie grandma who wears a go-with-the-flow sweatshirt eventually help Wemberly do just that. Heimbach admires the book's humorous text and intricate pen-and-watercolor illustrations, calling it "a comforting read for children entering school." Bonus: Kid-lit star Lilly (she of the purple plastic purse) makes a clever cameo.

On the Way to Kindergarten

By Virginia Kroll Illustrations by Elizabeth Schlossberg. Puffin, $7. Ages 3 and up.
Judy Zuckerman, the Brooklyn Public Library's assistant director of neighborhood services, calls this tale about kindergarten the perfect choice for parents who want to avoid stories about a nervous kid. As Bear prepares for his first day, his parents remind him of all the wonderful things he has accomplished since his birth—blowing his first bubble, riding a tricycle and now, going to kindergarten. Bright pastel illustrations complement the bouncy, rhyming text.

Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid

By Megan McDonald Illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds. Candlewick, $5. Ages 5 to 8.
Judy Moody's younger brother James (a.k.a. Stink) may not actually be shrinking, but he is the shortest kid in his second-grade class. Set off by black-and-white panel drawings, this humorous chapter book follows Stink as he learns about the shortest U.S. President, James Madison; unsuccessfully cares for the class's pet lizard; and records it all in his very own comic book, The Adventures of Stink. Heimbach recommends this one particularly for "kids who enjoy Captain Underpants and Geronimo Stilton."

It's Back to School We Go! First Day Stories from Around the World

By Ellen Jackson Illustrations by Jan Davey Ellis. Millbrook, $16. Ages 4 to 8.
Goldman adores this "easy-to-understand picture book" that depicts children from 11 countries, including Kenya, Japan, Germany and Peru, who describe what their first day of school was like. On each two-page spread, a child says "hello" in his or her language and describes local school and community customs. "Ellen Jackson does a wonderful job of finding similarities among a wide range of cultures," adds Bridget Salvato, senior children's librarian at Staten Island's Richmondtown branch. Colorful, stylized borders and illustrations help bring each story to life, and a list at the back of the book offers Web resources for games, recipes and e-pals from across the globe.

Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten

By Joseph Slate Illustrations by Ashley Wolff. Puffin, $7. Ages 4 and up.
As Miss Bindergarten goes about transforming her empty classroom with goldfish, posters and a few surprises, "young children will find it encouraging to see that the teacher has to get ready for school, just like them," Belanich says. Each of the 26 students is rendered in vibrant watercolor as an animal whose name corresponds to a letter of the alphabet: Adam Krupp is an alligator, Brenda Heath is a beaver and so on. For the identities of less obvious animals, like Yolanda Pound the yak, curious kids can peek at a key in the back of the book.

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little

By Peggy Gifford Photographs by Valorie Fisher. Yearling, $5.50. Ages 7 to 11.
Fans of Junie B. Jones and Ramona Quimby will find a fun new heroine in the appropriately named Moxy, says Heimbach. There's only one day left before Moxy starts fourth grade, and much to her mom's chagrin, she still hasn't finished her summer reading (you guessed it: E.B. White's classic about an NYC mouse). Though she has good intentions, there's just too much else to do—clean her room, plant a peach orchard and train her dog Mudd for the Westminster Dog Show. Photographic evidence provided by Moxy's brother accompanies short, funny chapters that young readers will devour.

The New Girl...and Me

By Jacqui Robbins Illustrations by Matt Phelan. Atheneum/Richard Jackson, $17. Ages 4 to 7.
This sincere story about shy Mia and midyear transfer student Shakeeta offers "a realistic portrayal of the classroom social scene and the rocky road to finding a friend," says Zuckerman. As the two girls bond over pet iguanas, they find the strength to navigate bullies and cliques with humor. Pale watercolor illustrations depict a multiethnic set of characters with body language and facial expressions that pop off the page. The girls' interracial friendship is handled matter-of-factly—a nice touch.

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