It’s that time of year. Kids and parents are doing back-to-school shopping and one thing that should definitely be on the list are books to get kids in that back-to-school mood. There are many picture books that are perfect for just that purpose, and they will motivate and excite readers to begin learning and imagining and creating.
A book that legions have been anxiously awaiting (at least my 1st grade students who begged me to bring it to school and read it to them) is the ever-popular pigeon in “The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!” by the prolific and popular Mo Willems. Pigeon isn’t convinced that he wants to go to school, but by the end of the book, he’s all in. Kids will enjoy hearing about how Pigeon’s argument about not going to school backfires. The end papers are worthy of note, as usual, with empty school desks and chairs at the start of the book while on the end papers, they are populated with pigeon’s new classmates. Kids will definitely want to read this one over and over and over again. And it’s perfect for kids who aren’t quite sure they are ready for school, or who might be — dare I say it — scared to go. They will certainly understand Pigeon’s feelings. Definitely put this title on your back-to-school shopping list! (Hyperion Books for Children)
“Bunny’s Book Club Goes to School” by Annie Silvestro is about a group of forest animals who befriend a girl, Josie, at the local library, where they love reading books. Every week they meet at the library and return books and check out new ones. One day Josie tells them she’s starting school and she’s scared. Being good friends, all the animals decide to go with her so she’s not alone. But when they get there, Josie has already gone in. So being good friends, they go in to the school to find her. What happens when a bunch of forest animals attend school? Adults and kids will laugh at the antics, but they will also love seeing how no matter your size or shape or the color of your fur (or hair), you will make friends at school. (Doubleday Books for Young Readers)
In “The King of Kindergarten,” author Derrick Barnes starts with a blast of figurative language with trumpets and a crown and a child who Mommy says will be the King of Kindergarten! The text is paradoxical because while it’s simple, it’s also filled with references to royalty, as befits the King of Kindergarten. It’s also written in second person, an unusual choice, so that the reader is talking directly to the listeners. “You’ll dress yourself neatly in handpicked garments from the far-off villages of Osh and Kosh. B’gosh! You’ll be ready to reign!” The first day of school flies by with lots of learning, playing, and making new friends. The language is beautiful with fabulous vocabulary: “At the end of it, your teacher will wish you all a magnificent evening and bid you farewell until dawn.” The illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton who is the illustrator and author of “Grandma’s Purse,” which was included in “7 Fabulous Choices in Children’s Picture Books for Black History Month,” are worthy of note. They feature diverse faces and myriad colors. On one page, the children’s tables have realistic wood surfaces, but the floor is a riot of purple and blue and red splotches, which fit the illustration perfectly. All together, it’s a lovely book that kids will love. (Nancy Paulsen Books)
“First Day of Groot” by Brendan Deneen is one that superhero fans will adore. Groot and Rocket are getting ready to set off into space to learn. The lessons are universal and start with learning to share. They also learn about numbers and letters, but when someone attacks (no violence, don’t worry), there’s a reminder about teamwork and working together like a super family. Marvel heroes and an adorable Groot, rhyming text and colorful illustrations make this a book that is fun to share. (Marvel Press)
A picture book with a subtle message is “Lawrence in the Fall” by Matthew Farina and illustrated by Doug Salati. Lawrence is a fox and he attends school with a pig, a turtle, a cat, a duck and a sheep. Their teacher is a badger, and she frightened Lawrence when she asked the class to bring in something they collect. The other animals talked about their coin collections and marbles, but Lawrence doesn’t collect anything! Parents make things right, and his papa tells him they will find something for Lawrence to collect in the forest. But when Lawrence gets lost, it’s a bit scary. Sometimes, however, out of scary situations, good things happen. When he’s alone, Lawrence finds the perfect items to collect! This is a great story to begin a discussion about what to do when you feel left out or when you need inspiration or even when you are lost in the forest. (Disney-Hyperion Books)
“Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend!” by Cori Doerrfeld is all about how difficult change is for children, but how changes can lead to new, wonderful things. On the first page, a young girl clings to her mother as the school bus approaches. She says, “Bye, Mom.” The text says, “Every goodbye…” and on the next page the same girl meets a new girl who says, “Hi, I’m Charlie!” and the text says, “…leads to a hello.” And the changes continue with no more sitting alone but sitting together, and as the weather changes it’s “Goodbye to outside…is hello to inside.” And as change leads to change, the readers learn that while change might be difficult, there is always something new and different to look forward to. This is a story that would be a perfect choice in the classroom when new students arrive or when there are changes for the students to deal with. It’s about resilience and learning to accept new situations — and it’s a fabulous message for us all whether we are five or fifty. (Dial Books for Young Readers)
“If I Built a School” by Chris Van Dusen is the latest in his “If I Built” series, and it’s all about being creative and thinking big. Told in rollicking rhyme, Jack’s musings to his teacher, Miss Jane, encompass a school that would be the envy of every student and teacher. The rhyme makes it truly fun to read, and the humor and creativity shine from every line. “All of the classrooms are built onto towers that sprout from the schoolyard like colorful flowers. And like giant petals that welcome the day, the roofs open up in a similar way.” The learning would be better, the test taking better, the science experiments better! When it’s built, here’s one teacher who wants to apply! The illustrations are reminiscent of “The Jetsons,” and the colors are bright and the sky is always blue. I love Jack’s world! (Dial Books for Young Readers)
“My Teacher is a Robot” by Jeffrey Brown is exactly the kind of picture book kids love to look at. It’s filled with illustrations that have everything imaginable including the kitchen sink. Even the endpapers featuring Fred’s room have drawings on the wall, a rug filled with dinosaurs, books on the shelves, and a cat in the closet. The use of the book jacket is part of the story as it shows Fred saying, “School is BORING. Mr. Bailey wants us to be robots just like him!” The dad drops Fred off at school, where he complains about how boring everything is. Throughout the day, he explains that their teacher is a robot, while he also manages to distract the class with spiders and thoughts of dinosaurs. Kids will giggle and adults will smile at the illustrations with kids interacting with the dinosaurs in their classroom. An astute reader will note that one dinosaur is biting a child on his bandaged arm, and a small dinosaur is eating the teacher’s apple! During creative writing, the class goes berserk, and the two page illustration is so bright and filled with different robots, a unicorn, a dragon, a knight, a rainbow, and more robots that it’s hard to figure out what is going on. The teacher definitely looks like a robot here! In spite of all the excitement, after school when Fred’s dad asks him how school was, there’s only one answer. A clever nod to the robot teacher is what he is writing on the board at the end of the day. Ask the kids if they know why Mr. Bailey is doing that. (Crown Books for Young Readers)
“Look! I Wrote a Book! (And You Can Too!)” by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Neal Layton is filled from start to finish with truth presented in an hilarious fashion. Truly hilarious. But it’s also truly true. This is a fabulous book to read to kids and to use as a primer so that they will write their own book. I absolutely plan to use this book for that very purpose and will update with ideas. Obviously, don’t let the kids write a book about writing a book because they will just copy this book. (Trust me, some kids will try to do that!) But if they follow the plan, they will end up with a good book. For example, the book begins by saying, “When you want to write a book, first you need a Good Idea. You can get one from: …” and the labeled illustrations show “Your brain” and “Your notebook” and “Staring out the window” and “People” and “All around you wherever you go…” There are more steps, and wonderful details explaining the steps and the “dos and don’ts” of writing. Also, there is the extremely cute cover with the girl holding the book in a book in a book. Not only would this book be an absolutely magnificent gift for a teacher or parent, it would also be a funny, fabulous gift to an author. A real, adult author, who would get a real, adult kick out of its cuteness. (Schwartz & Wade Books)
Hurry and order these so that your young reader will be ready, willing, and able to be there excited on the first day of school!
Please note: These reviews are based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.