Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Back to School Picture Book Round-Up

A new school year is always exciting.  It means new school supplies, a new teacher, maybe some new friends, and some new books along with some old favorites.  Here are some of our favorites that we read to get in a school mood.

I'm New Here written and illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien
Charlesbridge, 2015, 32 pages, age 5+

Starting school can be hard for kids, so imagine starting school in a new country, not knowing the language, or any of the other kids.  Three kids - Maria from Guatemala, Jin from Korea, and Fatimah from Somalia - feel sad, lonely and confused in their new elementary school.  They had felt so confident in their own countries, but here the words fly by, and it's hard to understand what is being said.  Little by little, however, as the language begins to make sense, friends are found and confidence returns.  Luckily, they are in an open-minded, accepting classrooms with an understanding, patient teacher.   And while this is a nice book for kids like Maria, Jin and Fatimah, it is also excellent for helping American kids develop empathy for these new arrivals in a country where the language and culture are so different from their own.  Simple text is complimented with simple, colorful watercolor illustrations.

First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by Judy Love
Charlesbridge, 2000, 32 pages, age 5+

When Mr. Hartwell goes in to wake Sarah Jane Hartwell up for the first day of school, he is met with a lot of resistance.  Sarah just does not want to get up.  If she can stay under the covers, she won't have to start a new school - again.  No one will know her, she won't know anyone, it's just better to stay home. But when Mr. Hartwell finally puts his foot down, Sarah reluctantly gets up and gets dressed.  Mr. Hartwell hands Sarah some toast and her lunchbox, and the two head off to school, where Sarah is enthusiastically welcomed by the principal, Mrs. Burton, who takes her to new classroom.  Yes, we've all felt those first day jitters and even though I figured out the twist before the end of this story, I still thought it was pretty funny, and I can see where kids would love it.  I loved the way the whimsical ink and watercolor illustrations captured all the emotions of that first day, including the chaos in the hallways of the school.  What I also like is that this book is available in Spanish: ¡Qué nervios! El primer dia de escuela

Spoiler Alert: What was the giveaway?  Sarah wears a slip, but kids don't anymore.  I haven't worn one since I was a classroom teacher.

The Class by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kimberly Gee
Beach Lane Books, 2016, 40 pages, age 4+

Written in a light-hearted rhyme, twenty diverse kids get ready for their first day of school - each in their own way, some slow and sleepy, some bouncing with energy and get-up-and-go.  Everything is covered here from getting up, to deciding what to wear (Six have clothes laid on a chair/Three don't have a thing to wear/Five pull on their favorite jeans/ Two are fashionista queens), to combing hair, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, packing backpacks and lunches (Pack up backpacks! Ten have new/Three get hand-me-downs. One makes do), to getting on the bus or walking to school, and then Over concrete, asphalt, grass, through the doors, they all must pass.  And then...Welcome, students, to our class. Ashburn has managed to capture the individual personalities of 20 kids with humor and more than a touch of reality, so there is someone for everyone to identify with in this charming first day of school book.  Young readers will have fun following the different kids throughout the book.  It took a few readings to figure out the twenty different kids at the beginning, and because of the way it is done, you could even use it as a counting book, albeit it's not the usual counting book fare.  But that was part of the fun.  The digitally colored illustrations are simple and nicely diverse.  And there's lots of white space on each page, what I like to think of as "speculation space" for young readers.  This has definitely become a new favorite.

Danitra Brown, Class Clown by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Amistad, 2005, 32 pages, age 5+

It's a new school year for Zuri Jackson and her best friend Danitra Brown.  Zuri is dreading it, but Danitra is excited. And even though these two friends couldn't be more different, Danitra always has her friend Zuri's back. When their strict new teacher separates them in class for talking, and Zuri's note to Danitra get snatched by a boy, Danitra stands up and acts like a clown to save Zuri from being embarrassed.  When math confuses Zuri, Danitra is there with help and encouragement.  And when a big math test looms, and Zuri feels sick about it, it is Danitra who is sticks by her, helping her through her case of nerves. Grimes has really captured and defined their friendship despite their differences - Zuri, so shy and introspective, not a girl who embraces new situations easily, and Danitra, a happy, confident girl, who embraces each day with joy. The 14 poems included here are all written in Zuri's voice, so readers really get to experience how a friend can help someone face their fears. Grimes is a poet par excellence and knows just how to give the reader the story she wants them to have with a minimum of very carefully chosen words, words complimented by the realistically painted illustrations of E.B. Lewis.

An A from Miss Keller written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
Putnam's BFYR, 2015, 40 pages, age 5+

Young Trisha has been accepted into Miss Keller's writing class, but everyone knows she is "killer Keller" who never ever gives anyone an A.  Trisha is a little nervous and talks to her neighbor Pop Schloss about it.  He knows all about Miss Keller since both of his sons had her.  When her first writing assignment isn't well received, he gives her his son's  old Thesaurus to use.  Miss Keller is hard on Trisha, but thinks she has some real writing talent, if she could only emotionally connect with her readers.  Trisha knows that Pop Schloss has something wrong with him because he keeps putting little pills under his tongue.  But when Miss Keller takes Trisha to the office at school one day, she is devastated when she is told that Pop Schloss had passed away from a heart attack that morning.  That night, in her grief, Trisha starts writing and writing, handing in her work long after the assignment was due.  Will this be the paper in which she connects with her reader?  This is one of six picture books Patricia Palacco has written that pays homage to the teachers who made a difference in her life, and it is a sad, but inspiring story. The illustrations, done in pencil and markers, are done in Palacco's signature style, and she most definitely emotionally connects to her readers.

Miss Nelson is Back written by Harry Allard, illustrated by James Marshall
HMH BFYR, 1982, 32 pages, age 5+

When Miss Nelson tells her class she will not be in school for a week, they are warned by the older kids about Miss Swamp, the substitute they had when Miss Nelson disappeared.  But instead they get Mr. Blandsworth, the principal and a big BORE.  After a few days of this, the kids decide it is time for Miss Nelson to return, or at least a close facsimile  of her.  And when Mr. Blandsworth falls for their version of Miss Nelson, the class figures they are home free.  There's a trip to the movies, then to the sweet shop, then back to school.  But when they pass Miss Nelson's house, and she sees her facsimile, she decides it is time to bring back substitute teacher Miss Swamp to teach these smart-alecky kids a lesson they won't forget.  This is the second story in the Miss Nelson is Missing trilogy and it is just as funny as the first story.  This was one of my Kiddos favorite books and I was very surprised to see that when I read this to my 4th grades kids in school, they also loved it (but I suspect that I loved it more).     

Teachers Rock! written and illustrated by Todd Parr
Little, Brown BFYR, 2016, 32 pages, age 3+

I know from experience how much teachers do for the kids in their classes, all those simple everyday things that make school a more pleasant environment for their students.  Sometimes, especially at the end of summer vacation, it's good to remind kids about the positive aspects of school and teachers.  And that is just what Todd Parr has done in Teachers Rock!  Parr has included all the big things and the small ones that teachers do, from helping kids to learn and be creative to buying supplies for their classroom (and often using their own money to do that) and arranging fun field trips.  But, as Parr reminds his young readers, teachers are people, too, just like everyone else.  Most importantly, he wants kids to know that teacher's really want them to succeed.  This is a delightful book for young kids just starting school, or kids going from pre-K to Kindergarten or even first grade.  The nicely diverse illustrations done in a palette of bright colors that reminded me of a box of crayons were Photoshopped in, and look like they might have been done by a young school child.  Pair up Teachers Rock! with Reading Makes You Feel Good and It's Okay to be Different for a nice Welcome (Back) to School trilogy.

School's First Day of School written by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Roaring Brook Press, 2016, 40 pages, age 4+

Anyone who has gone to school knows what that first day is like, but in this clever reversal, readers learn all about that important first day from the school's perspective.  Built over the summer on an empty lot, and named Frederick Douglass Elementary, for a while the only person the school sees is the janitor, who says soon there will be lots of kids and not to worry, the school will like them.  On the first day of the new school year, there is a nicely diverse group of kids everywhere and the school slowly adjusts to have them around, though school's feeling are hurt when one freckle-faced little girl has to be carried in by her mom because she doesn't want to be there.  But by the end of the day, the school wants to invite everyone back the next day, so things work out pretty well for the new Frederick Douglass Elementary School.  This is a great book for kids just beginning school and having some first day jitters. Christian Robinson's folk art style acrylic paint and college illustrations give this book just the right about of whimsy so that none of the seriousness of beginning school gets lost.  And sometimes a change in perspective is just what's needed to make a potentially scary first school day a little easier for everyone.  



  1. In "First Day Jitters...", she is greeted by the princiPAL! Remember the principal is your PAL!!

    1. Thanks, Anonymous, I didn't realize I had done that and I proof read every post.

  2. Love ¡Qué nervios!. I have not see Mrs. is back, I have to give it a try. I will check the other ones as well.

  3. Patricia Polacco's picture books always leave me a little teary-eyed - she makes me so proud to be an educator!!


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