Thursday, September 10, 2020

😷2020 Back to School Picture Book Roundup

"Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address."

Nora Ephron had it right. I do love fall and back to school time. It always makes me think of going shopping with my mom for a new dress and shoes for school, and school supplies from the dime store. And I found myself doing the same with my Kiddo - well, not the dress and shoes part, that was more like jeans and sneakers. But the feeling of excitement and possibility was the same. The start of the school year may not be like another other we've ever had, but that's no reason not to enjoy some great school picture books now.
We Will Rock Our Classmates (Penelope Series #2)
written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins
Disney-Hyperion, 2020, 48 pages
Now that she's learned not to eat her classmates, Penelope the dinosaur loves playing with them. The only problem is that no matter what they play, she's always the dinosaur. Which is too bad, because Penelope loves to do all kinds of things, especially making rock and roll music with her guitar. So when Mrs. Noodleman announces a class talent show, a very excited Penelope is the first to sign up. Here's a chance to rock and roll her classmates with her musical talent. But when her classmates begin to question whether dinosaurs can even play guitar or rock and roll, Penelope's joy is replaced with self-doubt and she freezes. The next day, she removes her name from the talent show. Can her father convince her to try again? Though there's plenty of humor in this second installment of Penelope the dinosaur's school days, the story also has a very important, serious side to it, showing how easy it is for kids to have their confidence shaken and the seeds of self-doubt planted when they are stereotyped. Penelope's class is wonderfully diverse, yet they only see her as a dinosaur, as expressed in their belief that dinosaur's can't rock and roll or anything else. Higgins has really captured Penelope's excitement and disappointment perfectly, and those nascent feelings that she can't be anything other that a dinosaur. Luckily, she has a dad that sees things differently, but I wondered about all those kids in school who are also stereotyped and who don't have an adult in their lives who can support and encourage their talents. This is a book that should begin much needed discussions in the classroom (in whatever form that make take right now) and at home.

Pearl Goes to Preschool
written and illustrated by Julie Fortenberry
Candlewick Press, 2020, 32 pages
Pearl's mom is a ballet teacher, and Pearl, who loves everything about dancing, and her stuffy Violet go to dance class everyday with her. So when her mom suggests that she might want to go to preschool, Pearl isn't too keen on the idea. After all, she can already count - 1st position, 2nd position, 3rd position. Pearl and her mom talk about preschool and all the things Pearl could do there as they go about their day - riding home on the subway, getting dressed up and going to the ballet, and later while reading a bedtime story. The next morning, Pearl and Violet are ready to give preschool a try. And it's everything her mom said it would be - there are other kids, and there's all kinds of things to do, like painting, building blocks, making music, dressing up, and making a new friend. Not surprising, all Pearl's activities revolve around ballet. And her favorite part of the day - dancing, of course. If you are looking for a book that explores preschool anxiety and jitters, this is not it. Pearl seems pretty open to new thing and her adjustment to preschool goes smoothly. It simply explores all the different things kids can do in preschool that make it a fun place to be without having to give up other favorite things. I really liked a number of things about this book. First, the way Pearl's mom didn't force preschool on her, but gently led her to accepting the idea of going to school. Second, the way Pearl held on to her love of ballet and incorporated it into her day, while learning new things at the same time. Third, I liked that there are two boys in her ballet class instead of all girls in pink leotards. And finally, that the dancer who is the Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker, " the ballet Pearl and her mom go to see, is a dancer of color. The soft, digitally painted illustrations are as sweet and gently as the story itself. 

I'm Afraid Your Teddy is in the Principal's Office
written by Jancee Dunn, illustrated by Scott Nash
Candlewick Press, 2020, 40 pages
He's baaack! That's right, that trouble-making teddy has returned and, no surprise, he's making trouble again. After causing all that ruckus at home, teddy has made his way to school by hiding in his child's backpack. But not for long. Teddy and all the other stuffies who have secretly come to school via backpacks, wait until the kids were at assembly and make their escape. Beginning at the cafeteria, followed by a trip to the gym, and the music room, then into the teachers' lounge, and finally the art room creating havoc everywhere they go. The stuffies try to make their escape from school via pipe cleaners, but end up in the principal's office instead and in big trouble...maybe. The story and the stuffie crimes are narrated by the principal while addressing the owners of the naughty toys. But, let's face it, stuffies are really cute and it turns out this principal has a soft spot for stuffed teddies. This book is laughs all the way though. I especially liked the portrayal of the teachers' lounge - would that they were really like that. The digitally created illustrations are fun and colorful and really manage to capture the glee on the faces of the stuffies as they create mayhem and mess (I may never eat sloppy joes again). I zoom read this to my young readers and they loved it. 

Play Day School Day
written and illustrated by Toni Yuly
Candlewick Press, 2020, 32 pages
It's the day before the first day of school and older sister Mona is excited to be going back, while younger brother Milo wants to know just what she does there. Playing in the backyard, their little red wagon becomes a pretend school bus as Mona describes the things she does in school, and Milo uses nature to imagine doing the same things. He write his names by connecting flowers on the fence when she says in school, they practice reading and writing. Milo counts birds to simulate math, and science becomes the plants and insects in the yard. They practice music, and sitting quietly and listening carefully, then running around and being noisy with friends. In the end, Milo says school sounds like fun, and Mona tells him that playing school with him is fun, too. This is a sweet story about what a younger child can expect when they finally begin school. It isn't about anxiety or jitters, but a straightforward description of Mona's school day, which is pretty typical. Older and younger siblings often play school based on experience of one of them and is a really common form of pretend play. My Kiddo, an only child, played school with her dolls. This would be a great book to incorporate into that kind of playing, so when the older sibling heads off to that first day, the younger one can continue playing. The illustrations, created with ink, pencil, pastel, cut and torn paper and digitally collaged, are simple, bright and colorful, and mainly in a palette of primary colors. This will probably appeal to the preschool set, but kindergarteners will benefit from it, too. 

Ollie and Augustus
written and illustrated by Gabriel Evans
Candlewick Press, 2020, 40 pages
Ollie is a small and Augustus is his very large pet and companion. Despite the disparity in size, the two do 'most things' together. although Ollie prefers digging while Augustus likes to collect sticks. And sometimes Ollie is annoying to Augustus, and other times, Augustus can be irritating, but even when they get mad at each other, they usually make up by lunchtime. Now, however, it's time for Ollie to begin school and he worries that Augustus might be lonely with him gone all day. The solution - advertise for a companion for Augustus. But none of the dogs who show up are just what Ollie is looking for. On his first day of school, Ollie spends time sad and worrying about Augustus. And Augustus? How does he spend Ollie's first day of school? Well, not the way Ollie thought he would, that's for sure. This is an amusing look at separation anxiety and school, and shows readers that even if circumstances change, best friends are always there. The visually pleasing pencil, watercolor, and gouache illustrations are done in a palette of earth tones, and each one compliments the spare text, capturing all aspects of Ollie and Augustus's days together. A perfect book for helping sooth first day of school jitters. 

When My Brother Gets Home
written and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
HMH Books, 2020, 40 pages
It's hard on younger siblings when their older brother or sister goes off to school, especially after having them home for the summer, or in our new reality, since last March. In this story, a young girl and her dog imagine all the exciting, fantastic adventures they will have once her brother comes home from school. There are a few things I really like about this book. One involves imaginative play. As the girl imagines what they are going to, the reality of how it happens is illustrated. Climbing up Mount Kilimanjaro is really climbing up the slide, exploring the rainforest in exploring a local creek, build a castle is done with a bunch of different sized cardboard boxes. Given that the girl isn't in school yet, it is clear some of these ideas came from a very companionable big brother. The other thing I liked is that every time she says "When my brother gets home..." the illustration over the words shows the school bus leaving school and getting closer and closer to home, building the excitement. And kids can trace the route on the end papers. The illustrations were done with pencil, watercolor and colored pencil, then digitally enhanced making them as sweet and warm as the story itself.   

Whether you go to school in person or remotely, I hope it's a great year for everyone.

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