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The books recommended below were published within the last several years. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.

Suggested grade level for each entry: K–3

Miss Brooks Loves Books! (and I don’t) by Barbara Bottner, illus. by Michael Emberley (Knopf)
A first grader finds her librarian’s passion for books “vexing” and her classmates’ reading selections lacking. But when her mother brings out Shrek! she finally meets a book she can love. 32 pages.

Hornbooks and Inkwells written by Verla Kay, illus. by S.D. Schindler (Putnam)
Brief quatrains and lively, detailed illustrations evoke a mid-eighteenth-century one-room school. The school year passes with a sampling of lessons (written on birchbark) and recess (playing marbles, ice skating). 32 pages.

Follow the Line to School by Laura Lungkvist (Viking)
Trace a continuous line as it meanders through classrooms, cafeteria, and playground. The text’s direct questions (i.e., “What colors are the jump ropes?”) are easily answered by looking closely at the art. 32 pages.

The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray, illus. by Mike Lowery (Putnam)
The Gingerbread Man springs out of the oven to find himself in an empty classroom. He journeys across the school to be reunited with the kids. Cartoon-panel illustrations imbue the cookie with personality. 32 pages.

The Little Red Pen by Janet Stevens Susan Stevens Crummel (Harcourt)
With a stack of papers to grade, Little Red Pen calls for help from her friends the stapler, scissors, etc.; their excuses mount up. After Little Red falls into the trash, though, the lazy office supplies rescue her. 56 pages.

Homework by Arthur Yorinks, illus. by Richard Egielski (Walker)
While Tony snoozes, his school supplies tackle his writing assignment; the problem is the abundance of desk-top know-it-alls. Expressive cartoons and spirited dialogue give each a personality befitting its function. 32 pages.


Suggested grade level for each entry: 1–3

Where the Steps Were
by Andrea Cheng (Boyds/Wordsong)
This novel in free verse traces growing relationships between students and their teacher over a year at an inner-city elementary school slated to be torn down. Eloquent woodcuts accompany the poems. 143 pages.

Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade by Stephanie Greene, illus. by Stephanie Roth Sisson (Putnam)
First-grade teacher Miss Lee compliments Posey on her tutu, which Posey’s mom won’t let her wear to school. The next day Miss Lee invites students to wear their favorite clothes to express their individuality. 83 pages.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look, illus. by LeUyen Pham (Schwartz & Wade)
Fearful second-grader Alvin doesn’t speak in school, though his voice works everywhere else. There’s no miracle cure, but by story’s end he’s made a friend. 172 pages.

Fractions = Trouble! by Claudia Mills, illus. by G. Brian Karas (Farrar)
A new tutor manages to make learning fractions painless for apprehensive third-grader Wilson. Helpful math explanations are integrated into the readable narrative, enhanced by warmly humorous pencil sketches.  116 pages.


Suggested grade level for each entry: 4–6

How Tia Lola Learned to Teach by Julia Alvarez (Knopf)
Miguel and Juanita are adjusting to life in small-town Vermont without their father. Meanwhile, the principal asks Tía Lola to teach Spanish at school. Easy-to-understand Spanish phrases are sprinkled throughout.  135 pages.

What’s Bugging Bailey Blecker? by Gail Donovan (Dutton)
Fifth-grader Bailey, a Maine islander, must not only cope with going to a new school on the mainland but also with the ferocious itchiness on her head: lice. A solidly realistic school story with lots of humor. 197 pages.

We the Children by Andrew Clements, illus. by Adam Stower (Atheneum)
The school custodian presses a mysterious coin on sixth-grader Ben, then dies, leading Ben to investigate the plan to tear down his old school. 146 pages.

The Fabled Fifth Graders of Aesop Elementary School by Candace Fleming (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
Adventurer-turned-teacher Mr. Jupiter has agreed to stay on to teach the most dreaded students at Aesop Elementary. The escapade is told in connected short stories, each of which ends with a moral. 170 pages.

Big Nate: In a Class by Himself by Lincoln Peirce (HarperCollins/Harper)
Big Nate is convinced he’s destined for greatness—but he seems destined for trouble. Nate’s sarcastic-yet-optimistic voice and cartoons balance fast-paced hijinks and clever commentary on the monotony of school. 216 pages.

Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg (Simon/Aladdin)
Milo is starting seventh grade at a new school. He’s also beginning to deal with his mother’s death a few years earlier; slipped in among droll descriptions of everyday life and wry cartoons are poignant memories. 273 pages.

Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail, illus. by Matthew Cordell (Feiwel)
Justin shares his third-grade year in an illustrated diary of drop-dead funny observations. He reveals his endless worries but, predictably, third grade isn’t the disaster Justin imagines. 246 pages.

Rex Zero, the Great Pretender by Tim Wynne-Jones (Farrar)
Rex’s family moves (again)—just across town, but to a new school district. Rex pretends to go to his new school but shows up at his old one instead. This story of coping with growing up is told with intelligent humor. 215 pages.

The Detention Club by David Yoo (HarperCollins/Baltzer + Bray)
Peter finds his elementary-school antics won’t cut it in middle school. His schemes to regain his social standing (e.g., getting popular kids in trouble, then befriending them in detention) take a toll on his academics. 300 pages.


Suggested grade level for each entry: 7 and up

Tales of the Madman Underground: (An Historical Romance 1973) by John Barnes (Viking)
Karl relates his efforts to be “normal” over the first six days of the school year; as his narrative meanders into flashbacks and reveals his participation in a high school therapy group, the difficulty becomes clear. 534 pages.

You by Charles Benoit (HarperTeen)
Tenth-grader Kyle is always on the verge of flunking out. School becomes a bit more interesting with the arrival of Zack, kicked out of private school, who helps Kyle when the jocks decide he needs a lesson. 223 pages.

Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O’Roark Dowell (Atheneum)
When Janie was little, she convinced her parents to start a goat farm. Now a ninth-grader, Janie narrates her eventful first year in high school in a sure, smart, and sarcastic voice. 211 pages.

Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol by Jim Krieg (Penguin/Razorbill)
Griffin Carver, new boy at Rampart Middle School, joins the hallway patrol and exposes a fake-hall-pass production ring in this hilarious parody of the hard-boiled detective genre. 226 pages.


Suggested grade level listed with each entry

Messing Around on the Monkey Bars: And Other School Poems for Two Voices Betsy Franco, illus. by Jessie Hartland (Candlewick)
School poems for multiple voices, characterized by steady rhythms and humor, are presented in a clear, interactive format. Whimsical paintings (featuring a multi-ethnic cast of kids) add to the playfulness. Grade level: K-3. 48 pages.



  1. Upper elementary and middle suggestions might be the Andrew Clements’ books and Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea which is outstanding.

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  1. […] What’s Bugging Bailey Blecker? is on a list of back-to-school books recommended by the Horn Book, along with titles by two of my favorite authors, funnyman Lincoln Peirce, and master of the school […]

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