Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Back to School Picture Book Read Alouds

Kids and teachers all over the country are returning to school. For some, it began in mid-August, for others, it won't be until September 8th. It's always sad to say goodbye to summer, but there are lots of wonderful picture books to help make the transition back to school a good one. Here are a few that I particularly enjoyed this year. 
One Boy Watching
written and illustrated by Grant Snider
Chronicle Books, 2022, 60 pages
Early in the morning, a young boy watches as the Number Four school bus approaches. He's the first one on the bus and as it travels along the country roads, he catalogues all that he sees out the window, like a gnarled tree, three deer, four rusty cars, seven wild sunflowers, three pecking chickens. It is "one bus ride at sunrise under an infinite sky" and "one boy daydreaming" as more and more kids climb aboard the bus. It is a long bus ride into town and school and eventually there are "Forty-eight kids packed like crayons in a crayon box" by the time it reaches school in the city. School buses are usually portrayed and noise, chaotic, or a land of bullies, but in the reflective story, readers see another side of a long ride to school and seem to be encouraged to observe instead and to see what there is out there in both nature and the man made world. The text is simple and lyrical, with just a few words on each page, and relying on the illustrations to complete each observation. I love the colorful color pencil and marker illustrations. They have an innocent childlike feel to them, almost as if they were done by our young observer himself. Perhaps that is because so much of this story is autobiographical for the author, recounting his ride to and from school each day.  

Creepy Crayon! (Creepy Tales #3)
written by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown
Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2022, 48 pages
Jasper Rabbit is back with a third creepy tale to tell. He not doing too well in school, failing all his subjects except art. It's just Tales from the Carrot Patch is too good a TV program to miss and that leaves not time for studying. Then, one day, Jasper finds a purple crayon that, oddly enough, seems very happy to see him. And it doesn't take long for Jasper to discover that when he uses the purple crayon, he gets all A's on his schoolwork, leaving him plenty of time for TV and video games. But as the purple crayon gets more and more possessive of Jasper, he begins to feel very creeped out. But it seems that no matter what he does to get free of the crayon, it always comes back, more possessive that before. As Jasper's guilty conscience begins to really bother him, he finally takes drastic measures to get rid of the purple crayon and finally do his own work in school - for better or worse. The story and pencil illustrations are just creepy and sinister enough not to scare young readers (like mine) too much but to give them that thrill that makes stories like this so much fun to read. My young readers love the previous two Jasper Rabbit books, Creepy Carrots and Creepy Pair of Underwear, so I can't wait for them to come back to share Creepy Crayon with them. I'm just guessing, but I think I won't be seeing too many purple crayons in their crayon boxes this year. 

School Is Wherever I am
written and illustrated by Ellie Peterson
Roaring Brook Press, 2022, 40 pages
When most of us think of school, we picture a blackboard, a teacher and a classroom filled with diverse students learning, creating, writing, having fun, and wondering about the world. And that is just how the young narrator in this contemplative story describes his classroom. But, then he wonders: where else is school? Are there other classrooms in which to learn new things? Can it be found at the zoo, the aquariums, museums, in Nana's kitchen, or Papa's workbench? On hikes or bike rides, around a campfire or up in the stars? Thinking about all the places where he can learn about life and the world around him, our narrator decides that school is wherever he is. And the best part is that the things that are learned at school-outside-of-school can even be shared with family and friends. There's just so much to learn and enjoy out there. Teaching kids to look beyond the classroom, to develop a healthy curiosity about things will help them become lifelong learners. This is another book I am excited about sharing with my young readers in September. I'm curious to see how they respond and talk about some of the things they have done that are in the book and what they think. I love books like this that generate thoughtful and meaningful conversations with my young readers. 

Tomatoes in My Lunchbox
written by Costantia Manoli, illustrated by Magdalena Mora
Roaring Brook Press, 2022, 32 pages
Things are difficult for a young girl whose family has just immigrated and nothing feels the same, but especially not her name. Back home, her same sounded like "soft like summer and round with love and color and light" but now, when her teacher or the other kids at school say her name, it just doesn't fit in their mouth. But one thing does feel like home even if it is weird in her new country: the whole tomato she brings to school in her lunchbox. If only she had a different name, perhaps a name like Emma, she wouldn't feel so different from the other kids. Then one day, she smiles at Chloe and they begin to talk. Soon, Chloe can say her name so that it feels right. And they have things in common, too. So when Chloe forgets her lunch, she offers to share her tomato. The friendship is sealed and before she knows it, she and Chloe part of a group of friends, who all learn how to say her name correctly. And her new country begins to sound like home. The message here is clear: don't try to someone you aren't, be yourself and everything that means. The vibrant mixed media illustrations really captures all the different emotions the main character goes through and, wisely, the author never gives her character's name or where she comes from, making this a story that can be read and appreciated by children from anywhere who are in the same situation. I'm excited to share this with my young readers soon. They all come from different places, and some have names that aren't familiar to Americans. Back matter consists of an Author's Note about her own experience as a newly arrived immigrant with an unfamiliar name.    

Lunch from Home 
written by Joshua David Stein, art by Jing Li
Rise/Penguin Young Readers Group, 2022, 40 pages
This is an unusual book in that four diverse chefs contributed their own childhood experiences to its creation. It begins on Monday at lunchtime. Most kids have sandwiches, except for Preeti, who brought soft dhokla cake topped with spices, her favorite lunch. After the kid next to her says it smells stinky, Preeti begins to bring sandwiches, too. On Tuesday, Mina brings gimbap, neat green-edged rolls of rice with carrot, radish, and ham in the center, the boy next to her make fun of her lunch, and the rest of the week, Mina brings a sandwich. On Wednesday, Niki brought a bagel with everything: lox, cream cheese, capers, and tomato. The boy next to her said cheese and fish are just weird. The next day, Niki brought a sandwich. On Thursday, Ray brought a chopped-up hot dog with scrambled eggs and cheese wrapped in a tortilla. The girl next to him said hot dogs belonged in buns, not tortillas. On Friday, Monday, and Tuesday, everyone in class ate sandwiches for lunch. But on Wednesday, Mina brought gimbap again and really enjoyed it. Before long, Preeti, Niki, and Ray were also enjoying their favorite lunches again. Who are these kids who grew up to become chefs? Preeti Misty, Mina Park, Niki Russ Federman, and Ray Garcia.

πŸ“šπŸšŒπŸ““More Back-to-School book suggestions can be found here:

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