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What the US is reading in nervous preparation for the first day of school

Room full of desks
AP Photo/Brian Bohannon
Ready to be filled.
  • Thu-Huong Ha
By Thu-Huong Ha


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

As August draws to a close, the back-to-school frisson is palpable in the US, especially when it comes to family spending. Parents and kids want to make sure they’ve stocked up on what everyone else is reading and buying, and Amazon’s top 100 bestselling books offers a touching snapshot of the nation’s nervous first-day-of-school preparations.

For little ones, bedtime stories are tense with first-day jitters, while high schoolers and their parents are buying up classic novels by the droves, and college-bound kids appear to be forking over cash for style guides and SAT prep.

Here’s how the US is girding itself for September, in books:

Curious George’s First Day of School by Margaret and H. A. Rey (2005)

Courtesy HMH Books for Young Readers/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

George goes to school and causes trouble with some paints.

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, with illustrations by Judy Love (2000)

Courtesy Charlesbridge

Sarah is terrified of her first day at a new school, and has to be dragged from bed.

The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing, with illustrations by Julie Durrell (2011)

Courtesy Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin Random House

A book of nerves, in verse: “They tossed and they turned / about in their beds / while visions of school supplies / danced in their heads.”

Kindergarten, Here I Come! by D.J. Steinberg, with illustrations by Mark Chambers (2012)

Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin Random House

Extended checklists by kindergarten-bound kids.

The Amazon bestsellers list, which updates hourly, also captures American students shuffling for their lockers. While the top 100 list is usually dominated by new releases, cook books, self-help, a few classics, and recently, coloring books, right now a sizable portion of Amazon’s top sellers resemble required reading at your local high school:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Night, by Elie Wiesel
  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  • Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  • The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton
  • 1984, by George Orwell
  • Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger
  • The Giver, by Lois Lowry
  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell

And also in the top 100, the most common style guides and textbooks for the college-bound:

  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
  • MyMathLab: Student Access Kit
  • Official SAT Study Guide
  • Campbell Biology
  • The Official ACT Prep Guide, 2016
  • The Elements of Style
  • How to Read Literature Like a Professor
  • MLA Handbook
  • The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation

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