Back to School 2017: Librarian Hacks

August 28, 2017 | Maria Samurin

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Looking for some last minute back to school advice? The Toronto Public Library’s got you covered.

In this post, I’ve put together a guide filled with librarian hacks: tips and ideas I've come across at the library that will make going back to school this September a breeze. As a librarian, I have a unique take on back-to-school because I spend my entire day surrounded by books (and DVDs, online resources and library programs too). Whenever I have a problem to solve, or I'm not sure how to tackle something new, they're my go-to resources.

When it comes to back to school, most people don't even realize (or they forget) how many hidden gems we have at the library. If you're new to Canada and unsure of what to expect at Canadian schools, you can come to the library and talk to a settlement worker or librarian who can help you prepare. The library also has a collection that can help you get excited about school and combat those first day jitters. It can also help you get a head start before the first day. Plus, the library's a great place to make friends your age from the neighbourhood, which can really help if you won't know anyone at your new school. If you need inspiration (or money saving tips) to ace back to school shopping, the library's got you covered too.

Get Excited About School

Excited Teen

Nervous about starting school? Not sure what to expect? Don’t worry! There’s tons of information out there (and here at the library) that can help you get you ready and excited for back to school.

I don't mean research about schools in Toronto, or your school’s or school board’s website—although those are great places to start. I'm talking about novels (and movies and TV shows) that will get you excited about going back to school. If you're new to Canada or starting at a new school, novels are also a great way to find out what school life in Canada is like. Fiction isn’t always realistic—in Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, some of the kids are zombies—but many books, TV shows and movies do a great job or representing school experiences. 

Below, you'll find some recommendations, divided by school type (Preschool and Elementary SchoolMiddle SchoolHigh School, and Different Types of Schools). They are not necessarily set at Canadian or Toronto schools, and they're only a small sample of all the recommendations I wanted to include, but they're a great place to start. If you're looking for more (or more specific) back to school reads, stop by your local library and ask a librarian. We love to recommend books (and movies and TV shows too)! 

Preschool and Elementary School

Kid Reading

Parents, one of the best ways you can prepare your little ones for school is through stories. Going to school for the first time can be scary for both you and your child, but it doesn’t have to be. If you need some tips on how to deal with your child’s separation anxiety, I highly recommend the blog Back to School Anxiety by fellow librarian Jeannette. There are also many picture books about school, which can show your child what to expect and get them excited about their first day.

Back to school with BigfootDavid goes to schoolFranklin goes to schoolHow do dinosaurs go to school

There are some great TV shows about going to school too: 

Timothy Goes To SchoolArthur goes back to schoolThe first day of schoolSpot goes to school

Your local library's children's librarian can help you find many more school-themed books for preschool or elementary school kids. 

Middle School

Boy Reading

School-themed books are also a great way to get older kids excited about going back to school. They can help kids look forward to the first day of school instead of dreading it or feeling sad about the end of summer vacation.

The losers clubThe Manny filesClass dismissedCharlie Joe Jackson's guide to not reading

Charlie Joe Jackson's guide to not reading by Tom Greenwald (pictured above) is a great choice for reluctant readers, and there are also many TV shows and movies about going back to school: 

Middle school - the worst years of my lifeHarry Potter and the philosopher's stoneSchool of Rock Diary of a wimpy kid

There are many more books, movies, and TV shows about middle school; ask for some more recommendations at your local library.

High School

Teens with Books

Starting high school can be intimidating, so it helps to know what to expect. The great thing about books is that they can draw you in so you actually feel like you're experiencing what you're reading; so if you read about high school, books can trick your mind into thinking you’ve already been there, even though you haven’t... and by the time you start school, high school classrooms, teachers, hallways, lockers, classmates and cafeterias all feel so familiar there's nothing left to be nervous about.

Paper TownsTwilightTo all the boys I've loved beforeWhat to Say Next

TV shows and movies are also a great way to get ready and excited about going to high school: 

The DuffDegrassi season 12ZappedBefore I Fall

Stop by your local library for more recommendations. 

Different Types of Schools

The books I've recommended so far represent the public school experience, but there are many different types of schools. There are faith-based schools (e.g., Catholic School, Jewish School, etc.), Montessori schools, all-girl and all-boy schools, boarding schools, gifted schools, art schools, sports schools... you get the picture. I've included a few sample reads below, but you can always ask a librarian for more specific recommendations. 

  WingerUngiftedThe worst witchBrutal youth

Get a Head Start

Teens Studying

To do well in school, it's a good idea to get ahead before the first day. If you're new to Canada, start by talking to staff at your local library. They can recommend books and programs that can help you prepare and even get ahead.

Becoming familiar with Brainfuse is a great way to get a head start. It's a free online service available from the library website, that provides online homework help for students in grades K-12 daily between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m. It also includes practice tests, writing assistance, skills building and more. Try Brainfuse on your own, or visit Joanne's blog post, Summer School Students - Get Online Homework Help with Brainfuse, for more information.

Did you know the library also carries many different types of school textbooks? Many of these are marked as "reference" and cannot be borrowed, which means you can come in and use them in the library at any time. You can review last year's textbooks to make sure you're ready for back to school; or if you know what books the school will be using this year, you can get ahead.

If you'd like to get a head start by developing some new tech skills, the library has some great maker programs for children and maker programs for teens. Kids and teens can learn to 3D print, design websites, make and edit videos, use an Arduino and more. If you're not sure where to start, contact one of our Digital Innovation Hubs for more information. 

For High School students who need volunteer hours to graduate, it's always a good idea to apply early. Some great places to volunteer include your local library or at one of the locations listed in our library guide to volunteer opportunities in the community.

Make Friends


If you're new to Canada, or you've moved to a new neighbourhood, you may not know anyone at your new school—and going to a school full of strangers can be scary. Luckily, the library has some great ways to make friends. 

If your local library is throwing an End of Summer Party or Summer Reading Club Party, that's a great place to meet other kids from the neighbourhood who may be starting at the same school. Call or stop by your nearest branch and find out if there's something fun scheduled. 

If you’re a teen (ages 13-19), a great way to make friends in your area before the first day of school is at your local library’s youth hub. The library currently has six locations (Cedarbrae, Centennial, Fairview, Maria A. Shchuka, Sanderson and York Woods), with three more launching in September (AlbionBarbara Frum and Malvern). If your library doesn't have a youth hub, they may still have other teen programs coming up. 

Ace Back to School Shopping


Back to school shopping can get expensive, and it's not easy finding good stuff on a budget. This is especially true if you're new to Canada and don't know where to look. You can search online (or ask friends, family and neighbours) for good sales, promotions and deals on back to school outfits and supplies; and you can save money by going the DIY (do-it-yourself) route.

Before you start, I recommend going through current issues of magazines for ideas. The library offers two free emagazine subscription services that allow you to access current issues of popular magazines on your computer, tablet or phone: RBdigital Magazines (formerly Zinio) and Flipster eMagazines. Many September issues of children's, teen and parenting magazines contain back to school articles and lots of great back to school shopping ideas.

Girls' WorldSeventeenToday's Parent

If you’re fashion conscious, magazines are a great way to find out what’s in style. You can look at different outfits (unless you’re lucky, or unlucky, enough to have school uniforms), and you can learn about hairstyles and makeup. Plus, magazines are a great place to look for lunch ideas. As you flip through them, I recommend making a list of the things you'll need for back to school, or to take pictures of items you love.

Once you have a list of everything you’ll need, you can hit the stores or do it yourself. Even if you’re not crafty or creative, there are many simple DIY instructions in books and on the internet. It doesn’t necessarily mean making backpacks or clothes from scratch; you can get creative with items you already own and repurpose old school outfits and supplies to make them look new.

Duct tape engineerProject teenWeelicious lunches Maker projects for kids who love fashion

Have a great school year! 

I hope you have a great first day of school and a wonderful school year.

If you have any questions, comments, or tips for back to school, post them below. 

More Back to School Blogs From Our Librarians:

Back to School at Any Age
        Back to School at Any Age                                                                                    


Back to School Anxiety
          Back to School Anxiety