Back to School Books by Kevin Henkes

Are you looking for some back to school books by Kevin Henkes? He is hands down one of my favorite authors! Kevin Henkes is a brilliant author and he is also the illustrator of his own stories, which I find amazing! Not to mention he is both a Caldecott Medal winner and Newbery Honor winner. Most of the characters in his books are animals that act as humans and I believe that young children actually relate to these characters quite a lot. Henkes’ work is best known for touching on hot-button topics such as new siblings, the first day of school and deceased grandparents. Again, these are super relatable topics to children, which makes his stories great to read aloud in the primary grades. Kevin Henkes has two books that are perfect, in my opinion, for back to school time in the classroom or library. (Note: This post contains affiliate links.)


Chrysanthemum is written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. It is the story of a sweet young mouse who thinks her name is absolutely perfect...that is, until she heads to her first day of school. The other children in her class tease her and make fun of her name all day long. Luckily, Chrysanthemum meets one of her wonderful teachers-who has just as unique of a name as her.

This is a perfect break-the-ice book for the first week of school. It gets children thinking about and bonding with their own names and the names of everyone else in the class, and it’s the perfect vehicle for starting a discussion about treating classmates with tolerance, kindness, and compassion.

If used with preschool and kindergarten students, there are tons of follow-up name activities that you can do with this Kevin Henkes book if your students are working on writing or spelling their name. 

In addition, you can use this Chrysanthemum Book Companion Pack for many more ideas with K-2 students. This pack has EVERYTHING you need to make your life easier and have the first month of school planned using the story, Chrysanthemum in your ELA block:

  • Set of 24 comprehension questions for the book Chrysanthemum, recording sheet, answer sheet and game board to use with the questions (comes in color and b/w)
  • I Have, Who Has game. Cards have a picture of something typically found in a classroom (comes in color and b/w)
  • Find Someone Who worksheet with words and images to make it easier for younger students. Use this as an icebreaker on the first day of school!
  • Friendship Venn Diagram
  • Wanted poster (for students to write/draw about what they want in a friend)
  • Friendship acrostic poem template
  • My New Friend worksheet (Have students work on this in groups of 2. Students write their names on the Polaroid picture and draw a picture of themselves and then fill-out the bottom questions.) 1st graders especially love this activity!
  • My Special Name worksheet
  • Text-to-self connection
  • Wanted: Friend worksheet
  • Graphing student names activity

Kindness and friendship are great themes to have at the beginning of the school year as you are encouraging students to make new friends and working on procedures with them. 

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

In addition to Chrysanthemum, my other top Kevin Henkes book is Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. Lilly loves school, dressing up and her baby brother. She really just loves everything! Lilly considers herself a Queen and one day brings her purple plastic purse to school and cannot wait until sharing time to show it off (along with her movie star sunglasses). Her favorite teacher, Mr. Slinger takes away her prized possessions. Lilly is so mad that she draws a very mean picture of her favorite teacher. He returns her unkindness with a nice note and snacks and it’s not until then that Lilly realizes that she owes Mr. Slinger an apology. 

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse is great to read to primary students to show them expectations for the school year, what happens when you break them and how kindness can go a long way. Plus, I love the simple message it sends of how much teachers always care for their students- even when those students aren’t acting the nicest.

Grab the Companion Pack to go with it and you are all set on activities for your students. They’ll love these Kevin Henkes book activities!

Here is what’s included with the Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse Companion Pack:

  • Set of 24 reading comprehension questions, game board, and recording sheet (comes in color and b/w)
  • Author’s purpose worksheet 
  • 2 writing worksheets (text-to-self connections)
  • Character worksheet
  • Story sequencing booklet (students cut out the pages, put them in order and then staple together)
  • Writing a friendly letter (planning page, review of the parts of a friendly letter, worksheet to write a letter to Mr. Slinger)
  • Coin identification cut and paste
  • Write around the room cards and a recording sheet
  • Icebreaker game. Students play the game with 2-4 players. Players take turns answering the questions and move around the game board. (comes in color and b/w)

Tell me-What is your favorite book written by Kevin Henkes and will you be reading it at back to school time?

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