Nontraditional #BackToSchool Book List: Illustrated Chapter Edition

As I mentioned in last week’s post, this year’s back-to-school book list is a little different. The 6 picture books in the collection covered themes of fear of change, being the new kid, and friendship … all without bringing “school” into the story.

For this list, it wasn’t as easy to find books that didn’t involve some aspect of a school setting. Even more surprising was how few illustrated chapter books we have that fit the criteria: stories that engage kids and help them deal with their worries and anxieties. I’m specifically looking for books that have a grounded reality (not magic or fantasy), so if you have some favorites PLEASE add them in the comments. I will put them on my TBR.

If I didn’t include an aspect of school in the plot, I wouldn’t have a list for newly independent readers and upper elementary students. These two books made the list because of the way they honestly, directly, and accurately deal with the main character’s thoughts, anxieties, and/or fears. School just happens to be one of the places where they are figuring out those emotions.

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Themes: friendship, teamwork, compromise

andy shane delores starbuckleAndy Shane and the Queen of Egypt
written by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Andy Shane is excited about the culture fair and the opportunity to study Egypt. Before he could his pick, Delores Starbuckle stepped in to announce she was the queen of Egypt. Andy really wants to do an Egypt project, so he didn’t give in to his bossy “friend.” Now, he and Delores are going to have to figure out how to do this project together. Andy and Delores are typical kids, without being caricatures or stereotypes.


Themes: family (siblings), fear, friendship, personal safety

bubba begoniaBubba Begonia You’ll Be Sorry
written by Gerry O’Brien

On his first day of fourth grade, at a new school, with a teacher that looks like Barbie, Bubba wants to make a good impression. But he is so nervous that he does what he always does when he gets scared: stick his finger up his nose. Now, everyone at Deerwatson Elementary knows about his embarrassing habit.



Although not an illustrated chapter book, I would also recommend Just My Luck by Cammie McGovern. It is the story of rising fourth grader Bennie Barrows, whose best friend has moved away. Now he is trying to figure out who his next best friend is going to be. The reading level is 4.9, so if your young reader isn’t ready to try it as an independent read, you might try the audio book (free with an Audible trial at or as a bedtime read aloud.