35 Books For That Back-to-School Mood (Whether or not You’re in School)

We had a few days where we could keep the windows open and walk around without sweating. I searched out the fall-smelling candles and baked scones and muffins. I couldn’t help it.

We’re back to the heat, but there’s still that sense of change in the air.  It’s inevitable- September rolls around and whether I’m a student or a teacher or now at home with our daughter, even without going into stores and seeing those new school supplies and clothes, I always feel that pull of freshness and anticipation and, I don’t know, need to suddenly pretend I’m living in a fall L.L. Bean catalog.

These are books that make me feel those back to school feelings.  That buzz.  The first grouping consists of middle grade, YA, and adult and the second grouping is picture books.  I think they’re all wonderful, but of course, and I hope you find some in there to love, too!  There are so many more, but even writing reviews for 35 books takes a lot longer than I thought!

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  • Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor
    • I cannot rave about this book enough.  Please ignore the cheesy cover and know that you’re about to go into, well, basically perfection.  If you at all like Harry Potter or world building or adventure or fun characters or, basically, if you’re not a monster, you need to read this.  See also: Wundersmith, the sequel, and Hollowpox, the third in the series, which comes out October 27.
  • Maud Hart Lovelace’s Heaven to Betsy
    • Hi, nice to meet you. My name is Erin and my evangelism of choice is the Betsy Tacy books.  Betsy’s high school years start with this one and always put me in the perfect back to school mood. I’m ready for some of Anna’s first day of school muffins and to walk to school with Tacy.  The Ray family is the best fictional family out there and I love going through high school with Betsy and her “crowd”- good wholesome fun at its best.  If you’re starting these for the first time, please feel free to message me about the order of reading them!
  • Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High
    • I’m always here for books with lots of food, especially as the weather gets cozier, and if you give me a strong female lead, I’m sold.  This book’s rhythmic prose and realistic tensions and relationships for this high-schooler trying to balance taking care of her child and grandmother will give you lots to think about, plus it’s beautifully immersive.
  • Kate Milford’s The Thief Knot
    • Thank you to Clarion for my copy.  Earlier review here, so I’ll leave it at the fact that the school in this middle grade book is one of my favorites.  I mean, it’s got an orangery and three gardens. Cozy and full of adventure = my kind of back to school fun.
  • Donna Tartt’s The Secret History
    • Is this THE ultimate campus novel?  This book is so eerie and absorbing and meant to be read in the fall.
  • Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped
    • The history many of us need to re-learn. If I could, I would make this required reading for white people.  I read the remix, co-authored by Jason Reynolds, which is for young adults, because it was the one available at my library.  It was fantastically done- so engaging and informative. I’ll be checking out the adult version as soon as I get my hands on it.
  • Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl
    • This funny and tender story follows Cath and Wren, twins who are attending the same college, but with Wren seemingly leaving Cath behind.  One I’ve been wanting to reread for a long time because I remember finding it so realistic and wonderful.  Maybe I will this month?
  • Robin Steven’s Murder is Bad Manners
    • This is a middle grade mystery series written by an author inspired by the Golden Age mysteries and Enid Blyton’s use of boarding schools and as many food mentions as possible, so you know you’re in for some cozy goodness that’s perfect for this time of year.
  • Rosamund Pilcher’s September
    • You’ve got to read September in September, right? Transport yourself to cozy Scotland and see if you can get Earth, Wind, & Fire out of your head every time you see the cover.
  • Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind
    • This is my equivalent of that super nerdy feeling of excitement I would get about the first homework assignments.  Sometimes you want to GET TO WORK and this tome can be intimidating.  That being said, it’s so absorbing and if you want to try out some nerd sanctioned high  fantasy, this one is excellent.
  • Deborah A. Miranda’s Bad Indian’s: A Tribal Memoir
    • For memoir lovers, this one, described as “required reading for anyone seeking to learn about Californian Indian history” will be one you’ll want to read with a pencil in hand.  Perhaps from your bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils.
  • Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half
    • This book doesn’t have to do with school or a snug setting, but there’s something about this one that feels right for September. Maybe it’s that it reads like a future classic?  Maybe I just want you to read it if you haven’t already.  Worthy of the hype.
  • Sharon Creech’s Bloomability
    • I would like to go to this boarding school in Switzerland, please and thank you.  This book was a favorite of mine as a kid and still is.  So much wisdom. So much heart.  Beautiful through and through.
  • Angie Thomas’s On the Come Up
    • Utterly absorbing YA with so much insight and heart that follows Bri in her sophomore year of high school.  Thomas really knows freestyle, which adds brilliant layering to an already brilliant book.
  • Jean Webster’s Daddy Long-Legs
    • If you love children’s classic and haven’t read this one, do yourself the favor and pick it up.  This epistolary novel follows Judy as she begins college, so go along with her for the college experience told through the lens of an absolutely delightful character.
  • Emma Lord’s Tweet Cute
    • I fell in love with this one earlier this year. Its You’ve Got Mail vibes make it a must for September, plus there’s school and stuff, but mostly it’s just so stinking cute and I want to eat alllll the food.
  • Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes
    • What can I say, I am a sucker for an unusual school setting and this ballet school is certainly that.  If you haven’t read the Shoe books yet, start with this one.  They’re delightfully charming.
  • Gary D. Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars
    • Bittersweet beauty at its best, much like fall itself, as we follow Holling Hoodhood through his year of 7th grade.  I don’t think I would have liked this one as a kid, but, as an adult, I was so moved.  Such a special one.
  • Gretchen Rubin’s Outer Order, Inner Calm 
    • Thank you to Harmony for my copy.  September is the other January and I really enjoyed Rubin’s practical approaches to getting that inner calm from some outer order.  I have a longer review here, but, basically, consider this the perfect kickstart to some order!

Picture Books

  • Eoin McLaughlin’s and Marc Boutavant’s NOT An Alphabet Book: The Case of the Missing Cake
    • Thank you, Candlewick! This one is an absolute delight.  We could all especially use books that bring us big smiles right now, right?  The details and humor in this are fantastic.  It follows Bear as he tries to figure out who stole “the world’s most completely delicious, tongue-jingingly chocolaty cake”.  You may start to suspect someone right away, especially when you get to “B is for Bear. This is my page. Move along.  Nothing to see here,” but he’ll keep you entertained the whole time (the V is for violin page gets me every time). Books like this make you remember how fun learning is and you’ll be happy to keep reading this one aloud..
  • Jacqueline Woodson’s and Rafael Lopez’s The Day You Begin
    • I stumbled on this one at the library when the cover caught my eye (back when we could explore libraries) and was delighted to realize that Woodson had written a picture book.  It begins: “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” A wonderful way to begin so many important conversations with kids.
  • Gabriel Evans’ Ollie and Augustus
    • Thank you, Candlewick!  There is something about a giant dog that is just so right.  The illustrations immediately grabbed my heart and then the book just sank its teeth in even deeper with this adorable storyline about a boy wanting to make sure his dog isn’t lonely when he’s gone for school.  Definitely a hit around here.  Our daughter has been asking for a big dog to come to our yard for her to pet, so if anyone knows Augustus, please bring him by.
  • Sophie Blackall’s If You Come to Earth
    • Thank you, Chronicle! It was love at first sight with this book.  The darker tones of the illustrations feel very autumnal and the message about taking care of one another and the Earth is exactly what I think we all ultimately want kids to learn.  I feel like I can’t say enough about this book- its details, its inspirational quality, its heart.  Basically, this is a plea to put it on your shelf!
  • Julia Denos’ and E.B. Goodale’s Here and Now
    • You may recognize this writing and illustrating duo from another favorite of ours, Windows. This book is all about, well, being in the here and now.  We’re all experiencing a lot of extra stressors, kids included, and this book serves as a beautiful meditation on presence, perfect for both you and your kid as you get into whatever your new school routines may be.
  • Adam Rex’s On Account of the Gum
    • Thank you, Chronicle!  Our daughter keeps saying, “I love this title” as she carries this one around the house.  It is a great title, plus, as I’ve been saying, I think it’s important to have some ridiculous, silly books in your back-to-school repertoire.   See also: talking about the ways in which things, shall we say, pile up, and what we can do to prevent that.
  • Empathy
    • Thank you, Milet!  We love these bilingual board books that cover different topics like friendship and feelings.  Getting to teach your kids qualities like those while also practicing a new language is special.  Plus, all of the books feature people of different races, backgrounds, and abilities. Wonderful.
  • Julie Fortenberry’s Pearl Goes to Preschool
    • Thank you, Candlewick! Pearl feels comfortable and confident attending her mom’s ballet classes, even if she is the tiniest one there, but when her mom asks her if she wants to go to pre-school, she isn’t so sure. From the soft palette to the tender message, this is such a sweet one.
  • Charlotte Voake’s Some Dinosaurs Are Small
    • Thank you, Candlewick! Why am I including this in a back-to-school round-up? 1) Let’s get these kids plenty of humor! The pacing works so well in this story.  2) Positive conversation opportunities abound!
  • Tony Yuly’s Play Day School Day
    • Thank you, Candlewick! Caught our daughter hugging this one the other day.  This one tells the story of Mona, who is going back to school, answering her little brother’s questions about what it’s like.  With both spare art and text, we see that play is a whole lot like learning, which might be a needed message for all of us.
  • Gaia Cornwall’s Jabari Jumps
    • I know this is a book about swimming and might feel more summer-y in that regard, but I love the message about overcoming your fears and taking that jump. Feels so right for all the newness right now.
  • Atinuke’s and Angela Brooksbank’s Catch That Chicken
    • Thank you, Candlewick!  I love the opportunity that this book presents, in a fun way, of talking about how different people are good at different things.  We’ve also used it as a chance to talk about how people live in different ways (Lami lives in a Nigerian village)  and the idea of working smart vs. working hard.  All that, plus lively illustrations, a snappy read-aloud quality, and, well, joy.
  • Yangsook Choi’s The Name Jar
    • I remember in fourth grade when a new girl came to our school and decided to go by a different name, worried we wouldn’t be able to pronounce hers.  This story has a similar beginning, but an ending I like much more.
  • Aya Khalil’s and Anait Semirdzhyan’s The Arabic Quilt
    • Another story about embracing our cultural differences.  I love this one and hope you accompany its reading with a kofta sandwich because I’m really craving one.  Home-schoolers, take advantage of all the wonderful books like this to build out some amazing units!
  • Adam Rex and Christian Robinson’s School’s First Day of School
    • Adam Rex, again, but of course.  Creative and quirky mixed with heart at its best, plus perspective is always good to talk about.

Are you feeling that back-to-school buzz?  What’s this time of year looking like for you right now?

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