As my own brood heads off to middle school and high school this year, kindergarten seems like a very long time ago. Starting school is such a milestone, and those first few days are filled with excitement, jitters and sweetness.

Antoinette Portis’ Kindergarten Diary is a great way to get youngsters ready for their big day. Written in diary form by a young student named Annalina, it covers her first month of school with humor and insight. Annalina voices her fears (of school, of the teacher, of other children), but gradually discovers that she loves everything about her school, and by the end of the month, she is “Too busy to write any more!”

Even older kids who’ve already aced kindergarten will enjoy Annalina’s observations, such as what she plans to wear on her first day (bathing suit, ballet skirt, plaid shirt, cowboy boots, no socks), and what her mother makes her wear (nice blue sailor suit dress). Portis’ lively illustrations combine drawings and photographs in a style that resembles a kindergartner’s diary, right down to the wide-lined paper.

Another lively kindergartner is “Adventure Annie,” who made her debut in Adventure Annie Goes to Work. Toni Buzzeo brings this delightful character back to life in Adventure Annie Goes to Kindergarten. Dressed in a red cape and red boots, Adventure Annie is always on the lookout for great excitement, so she stuffs her backpack with her zookeeper hat, high wire slippers and walkie-talkies, “just in case.” This exuberant girl is every kindergarten teacher’s nightmare as she paints the hamster cage (to make the habitat look “natural”) and sneaks out to the jungle gym by herself. However, Annie and her walkie-talkies come to the rescue when two of her more timid classmates get lost while fetching milk cartons for lunch. This fast-paced tale will have readers chuckling, and Amy Wummer’s pencil and watercolor illustrations reveal the unfolding action and make Annie’s red cape fly.

While Annie is obviously ready for kindergarten (and more!), young readers will enjoy pondering this question: Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? As with the beloved Clifford the Big Red Dog, size is a bit of an issue for a buffalo kindergartner. However, Audrey Vernick’s witty text makes this shy student a super-sized hit as he adjusts to his new classroom. Daniel Jennewein’s simple illustrations give this buffalo big, winning eyes and lots of lovable expressions. Little ones about to spend their own first days in kindergarten will be reassured by this big guy’s successful efforts to fit in.

There’s another fluffy, floppy face in Kindergarten Cat. Found outside and rescued by Mr. Bigbuttons, this lucky feline gets a new name (“Tinker Toy”) and a new home in a cheery kindergarten room, making a bed in the paintbrush drawers. In J. Patrick’s Lewis’s rhyming text, Tinker Toy proves to be a whiz, giving all the right answers with carefully enunciated “meows.” Ailie Busby’s mixed media illustrations are clever kindergarten-style creations that bring the classroom in focus.

These picture books will get prospective students in the right frame of mind for their own monumental quests. As Adventure Annie’s mother advises, “Sometimes kindergarten is its own adventure.”

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