Tuesday, August 14, 2018

📓2018 Back-to-School Picture Book Roundup📓

Summer is almost over and pretty soon it will be time for school once again. School can feel pretty daunting to young beginners and here are some picture books that may help these new students and some to tickle the funny bones of seasoned students.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
Alfred A. Knopf, 2018, 44 pages

It's the first day of school and the endpapers of this lovely book show a large group of wonderfully diverse kids and their parents/caregivers walking to a school with a big "All Are Welcome" banner across the entrance. Inside, kids spend their day getting to know each other and learning about their different cultural backgrounds through music, art, and stories. Even their lunches reflect their heritage and who they are. School here becomes what school should be everywhere: "We're part of a community/Our strength is our diversity/A shelter from adversity/All are welcome here." Besides cultural diversity, there is a blind student and one on a wheelchair, and there are a variety of families: single parents, moms and dads, two moms, two dads, and mixed race parents. The story is told in a three line rhyme that never falters and always end in the fourth line"All are welcome here" and no, it won't take kids long to begin chiming in on that line. The mixed-media illustrations are as bright and happy as the children and adults they depict. But wait, there's more: the back end paper shows the kids and their parents/caregivers leaving school at the end of the day, and if you take off the dust jacket, you will see each child up close and personal. This book should generate lots of conversations and there is much for kids to discover and talk about long after the first day of school is over.

Hello School! written and illustrated by Priscilla Burris
Nancy Paulson Books, 2018, 32 pages

It's the first day of school and young readers can follow a class of new students through a typical day, from meeting their new teacher and making new friends, to finding their cubbies and seats. Included are general activities such as circle time with singing, listening time, snack time, recess, exploring nature, learning numbers and letters, and of course, coloring. This particular class is friendly, diverse, and excited to be in school. The teacher's name is Mrs. Friend, giving her a nice positive image for young readers to take away as they begin their own school journey. The book follows a typical day, but the different activities unfold over the course of the first few months, by which time kids would know what the daily routine is. This is a wonderful book for talking about what happens when kids begin school and ideal for reading long before they start kindergarten, and even after. The mixed media illustrations are simple and uncluttered, with lots of white space, so kids can focus on what the class is doing. Each topic is introduced, highlighted in yellow, and give a short description. The kids all have speech bubbles, and Burris really has captured how kids think in them. This is a book every parent/caregiver/teacher will want to read to their beginning kindergarteners, and every young reader will benefit from knowing what to expect as they begin school. I say kindergarteners, but it works equally as well for pre-K and even first graders.

Lena's Shoes are Nervous, a First-Day-of-School Dilemma by Keith Calabrese, illustrated by Juana Medina
Atheneum BFYR, 2018, 40 pages

On the morning of the first day of school, Lena is very excited to begin kindergarten. She has picked out all of her favorite clothes, including her headband with the green flower, but now Lena has a problem - her shoes are nervous, and as she tells her dad, she can't go to kindergarten without her shoes. Lena's shoes need some reassurance and encouragement and Lena knows just the thing that can help her shoes work through their anxiety over starting school - the headband with the green flower. Even after shoes' fears are talked about, they are still hesitant to go to kindergarten, but when Lena thinks maybe she should wear her slippers, all works out in the end. The two things I really liked about this book are 1- that the dad is so understanding and patient and lets Lena work out she issues in the time and the way she needs to; and 2- how Calabrese has really captured the way Lena has projected her own anxiety onto her shoes (the things that would literally take her to school). Kids will often project their feelings onto an object as a way to cope with them, and here an understanding dad deals with it so well. It also means that this is a good book for whenever projected feelings arise in a child. The digitally created illustrations are somewhat cartoonish, and done in a mix of black and white and bright colors.

No! I Won't Go To School by Alonso Núñez, illustrated by Bruna Assis Brasil, translated from the Spanish by Dave Morrison
Tilbury House Publishers, 2018, 32 pages

It's the first day of school and one little boy already knows two letters - N and O and they spell NO. No, he will not go to school. Even though his mom says he will like it, our young man knows that he won't, that the teacher will be a monster, that school is a prison, and the principal is mean. But wait, after he gets there, he notices that there are lots more letters on the board besides the N and O, and school isn't a dungeon after all. In fact, at the end of the day, our young man has made six new friends and learned more letters, numbers, and two new Spanish words, and maybe, just maybe, he tells his mother, he will even go back again tomorrow. Told in verse, much of it rhyming with the word NO, Mexican-born author Núñez has adeptly created an imaginative look at that big unknown - the first day of school and the fears it can generate in some kids before the big day. And if Núñez has successfully captured first day jitters in his text, artist Brasil has matched them with her stylized mixed-media illustrations that include cleverly embedded photographic elements. This is a playful look at school that never minimizes first day fears or condescends to its young readers.

No Frogs in School A. LaFaye, illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans
Sterling Children's Books, 2018, 32 pages

No school jitters for Bartholomew Botts. He really likes school, but he just can't bear to leave all his pets at home, after all, they're his best friends. And he has lots of friends - hairy friends, hoppy friends, and scaly friends. So, on Monday, he decides to take Ferdinand the frog to school with him. But after Ferdinand gets loose, Bartholomew's teacher Mr. Patanoose rules "no frogs in school." Each day that week, a different pet goes to school with Bartholomew, and each day a new rule is made. By Thursday, the new rules is a doozie: "No snakes...No turtles. No lizards. No cold-blooded animals with scales. No reptiles!...No amphibians. No rodents. No dogs. No cats. No fish. No more of YOUR pets!..." Each day, Bartholomew had figured out how to circumvent Mr. Patanoose's rules, can he do it again on Friday after promising to obey Thursday's rule? Yes, indeed, and it's the perfect solution for everyone. And how did he do it? By knowing his animal categories, and so will young readers by the time Friday comes around. Bartholomew is a smart, optimistic character, and one never gets the sense the he is trying to outsmart his teacher, merely wanting the pets he loves to not be lonely. The detailed mixed-media illustrations are colorful, engaging, and fun, and young readers will no doubt want to spend time exploring and talking about them. This is a nice back-to-school book and a perfect opening for teachers to begin discussing class rules and maybe even if and what kind of class pet they should think about having.

Dear Substitute by Audrey Vernick, and Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Chris Raschka
Disney-Hyperion, 2018, 40 pages

Having been both a classroom teacher and a substitute teacher, I found this epistolary picture book just delightful. When a young girl discovers that her teacher, Mrs. Giordano, is out for the day and there is a substitute named Miss Pelly instead, she is completely thrown off course, documenting it all in letters written to the sub. And it seems Miss Pelly can't get anything right, from mispronouncing unfamiliar names, to cancelling a library visit, to putting off cleaning the class turtle''s tank until Mrs Giordano returns, to not recognizing our letter writer as the week's line leader, and to almost bringing her to tears at lunch over a sandwich swap. But after lunch, there's an extra story time. Miss Pelly reads some poems to the class and WOW! maybe our letter writer likes poetry and maybe Miss Pelly isn't so bad after all. The letters our narrator writes are full of emotion ranging from surprise to misgiving to critical to embarrassment. But these negatives all turn around in the afternoon, thanks to Miss Pelly's funny poems. The watercolor and gouache illustrations add needed humor to the situation, while cleverly catching the narrators changing emotions and perceptions of Miss Pelly throughout the school day. Although this is a book dealing with substitute teachers, it is also a good lesson in developing flexibility and accepting change and people's differences. I would recommend this be part of every elementary school classroom library since subs are a basic fact of school life.

Click, Clack, Quack to School by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2018, 40 pages

On Monday, Farmer Brown receives an invitation to visit the Dinklemeyer Elementary School and to "bring the animals, too!" When Farmer Brown tells the animals, they are so excited, the cows moo, the chickens cluck, the pigs oink, and the duck - well, the duck is meditating, and Farmer Brown just tells him not to be so duck-y. But when Farmer Brown tells them that school is quiet and serious, all that excitement deflates. The next day, they are a somber group as Farmer Brown pulls into the school yard. But then recess begins and the kids race out wiggling and giggling, thunking and clunking, squeaking and squealing, zooming and zigging, and the animals, well, they just join right in, getting all mooey, and clucky, and oinky...and duck-y. And everyone had a great visit with Farmer Brown's animals at school (even the mice who under the seesaw reading graphic novels). The watercolor illustrations are friendly and colorful, and the addition of kid-like drawings and a thank you note on the endpapers adds to the appeal.This is a jolly back to school book with simple text and repeated refrains that not only invites kids to interact with the story, but also teaches/reminds them that school can be serious, but there's room for fun as well. Those kids familiar with this series will find it a charming addition, those new to it will want to read more about Farmer Brown and his animals. and find out what makes duck so duck-y.


  1. Another great book to add to this list would be Jerry Barret's WIDE MOUTH FROG STARTS KINDERGARTEN. I've given this book to my two nieces when they started kindergarten and they loved it. Also, kudos to those listed. All great books!

  2. Thanks so much for including Dear Substitute. I can't wait to read these books!


Imagination Designs