Sunday, August 29, 2021

#IMWAYR: Welcome Back to School - Picture Books

New York City kids don't go back to school until next week, and even though my young readers class is not part of the public school system, we do follow the same academic calendar year. I always like to meet with my new young readers (4-6 years-old) before the official start of school, and do some book talking. This year, I chose a diverse collection of school books, all of which are good classroom resources.  

School is Cool! (A Hello! Lucky Book)
written by Sabrina Moyle, illustrated by Eunice Moyle
Harry N. Abrams, 2021, 32 pages
"You're chilling out./ Everything's cool/ But wait. / Tomorrow is the first day of school!" This jolly, enthusiastic picture book really captures those feelings of anxiety and nervousness as school approaches and what it will be like on that first day. Told in a rhyme, with a diverse group of anthropomorphic animals, Moyle begins with the unofficial start of school - the night before, worrying about fitting in, will the other kids like you, picking out what to wear, and followed by the official first day - getting to school, meeting new kids and the teacher.  This is a happy, positive book that even reminds kids that feeling sad leaving mom is ok: "It can be sad to say goodbye./ But just you wait - the time will fly!/ The love you feel when you're at home/ will be with you wherever you roam." Later, it reminds readers that it is ok to make a mistake, after all, school is for learning. These are the kinds of reassurances that lots of kids need to hear. The digitally created illustrations are colorful and friendly, adding to the sense of reassurance the text imparts. I will definitely be sharing this with my young readers when we meet again in September.      

Becoming Vanessa 
written and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Alfred A. Knopf BFYR, 2021, 40 pages
Everyone wants to feel special and make a good impression on the first day of school, which is why young Vanessa chooses her first-day-outfit so carefully - her pink tutu, her yellow boa, her green hat, and her red shiny shoes. And Vanessa does feel special by the end of her first day, but it isn't the good feeling she was hoping for. Unlike the other kids with short names, her name is long and looks sloppy when she writes it down, her shoes are too shiny, her green hat is in the way, and her boa has too many feathers. But when she gets home, she tells her mom and dad about her day and that she wants a shorter name. So, mom explains that Vanessa learns that her name means metamorphosis and they chose that name because she is so special to them. Are first impressions lasting, or can Vanessa recoup, change into her real self and have a great second day of school using what she has learned from the first day. This is a great book to share with kids because it addresses something that is often not part of first-day-of-school picture books when everything goes wrong despite trying to make it special, that nothing is forever, including getting off to a bad start, and what is important is to always be yourself. The illustrations, done using a variety of mediums including Posca pens, acrylic paint, Magic Markers, crayons and watercolor, have a lovely textured and layered feeling to them that give depth and detail to Vanessa's story. I read this to my young readers over the summer and they all give it a thumbs up (and one little girl wished Vanessa could be her friend).  
My First Day by Phùng Nguyên Quang, 
illustrated by Huỳnh Kim Liên
Make Me a World, 2021, 40 pages
Living in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam can make going to school a very different kind of journey for the young boy who narrates this story. He tells readers that school begins during the rainy season, when the rivers flood, and that this year, for the first time, he is allowed to go by himself. Stepping into his little flat boat, and using a long stick to help him navigate the waters, he waits for the tide. On his way, he encounters rough waves, more rain, and a variety of animals in the jungle he passes through. As he journeys through the floodwater, he describes what he sees using language common to school, for example: "The sky is a crayon box full of colors for me to take flight. Schools of fish glint beneath the waves." The spectacular illustrations, created using Adobe Photoshop, are bold and colorful, capturing not just the danger and anxiety of the narrator's trip to school, but also the beauty of the Mekong Delta landscape and river. Back matter includes information about this part of the world, to understand how water shapes people's relationship to every aspect of this daily lives, including going to school. 

Let's Play! A Book About Making Friends
written by Amanda McCardie, illustrated by Colleen Larmour
Candlewick Press, 2021, 32 pages
Sometimes, it is so difficult to have to make friends at a new school because your family has had to move  to a new place. And that's just how Suki feels when it happens to her. Everyone seems to already know each other and have friends, but soon kids begin to be friendly toward Suki and she naturally wants to be friendly back. When Suki meets a shy boy named Joe, they slowly become friends, and soon friends are making friends with the friends of their friends! But this book isn't just about Suki's journey towards making friends, it also shows how friends can be good to each other, helping them by listening to confidences, standing up for each other when someone's being mean, supporting them when they need it, and just having fun with each other. It also points out that kids are different from each other - Stan doesn't worry like Suki does, Joe is always on time, Suki is sometimes late, and Poppy does hand stands when happy, while Suki makes people laugh when she's happy. This is a gentle story that celebrates the joys of good friendships and how to make them. The text and mixed media illustrations completely harmonize with each other and Suki's class is nicely diverse. We all know that sometimes friends don't get along but the focus of this book is the positive aspects of friendships. 

Clayton Parker Really Really Really Has to Pee
written by Cinco Paul, illustrated by Gladys Jose
Harry N. Abrams, 2021, 40 pages
If you've ever gone on a class trip with your students, you know it is very likely you will have a Clayton Parker among them. Just before Clayton's class heads off for a visit to the San Francisco Zoo, his teacher tells everyone to be sure to go to the bathroom. But Clayton doesn't have to go, so he just gets on the bus. Sure enough, riding to the zoo, Clayton realizes he really has to go. Clayton hopes to be able to use the zoo's restroom as soon as the school bus arrives there, but nope! It's closed for repairs. The rest of the book focuses on all of Clayton's efforts to find a working bathroom and his fears of what could happen if he doesn't. There is a brief digression from Parker's problem to explain the biology of how what you drink travels through your body to your bladder which sends a message to your brain that it's time to get to a bathroom. Both the story and the illustrations are humorous, but the message is important to always remember - use the bathroom before a trip, no matter how short the journey and even if you think you don't have to go. When I book talked this to my new young readers this summer, they all thought it sounded pretty funny, and apparently, they have all experienced Clayton's problem. Certainly, any teacher who has taken their younger students on a field trip, has also had at least one kid who insisted they were ok, and then couldn't wait to find a restroom when they reached their destination. I know I have. 

Other books I read last week:
A Boy is Not a Ghost (sequel to A Boy is Not a Bird) by Edeet Ravel
Pax, Journey Home (sequel to Pax) by Sarah Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Equal (the fifth book in the Bakers Mountain Stories series) by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

What I am reading this week:
Threads of Peace by Uma Krishnaswami 

It's Monday! What are you reading? is the original weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey and is now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date.  It's Monday! What are you reading? - from Picture Books to YA is a kidlit focused meme just like the original and is hosted weekly by Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers. The purpose is the same: to recap what you have read and/or reviewed and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week.


  1. I am excited about the new Pax, have plans to get it when it comes out! I just saw about My First Day, looks like a must to get. Thanks for all the others, too, Alex. Have a great week ahead!

  2. Oh my goodness, Clayton Parker Really Really Really Has to Pee sounds so cute! And I'm hoping we'll be getting Becoming Vanessa very soon. I just placed a hold on My First Day, so I'll look forward to that one in the next month or so. Thanks for all the shares, Alex!

  3. What a wonderful set of books! I really want to try Becoming Vanessa now that you've reviewed it—I'll see if I can find it. My First Day sounds lovely as well, and the other books look great too! Thanks so much for all the great picks!


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