November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Bouncing Back to School | Great Books for Easing First Day Jitters

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From what to wear to following rules to making friends, these engaging picture books address common beginning-of-the-year concerns with solid storytelling, genuine empathy, and upbeat resolutions. Selected from the vast array of offerings available on the topic, the list includes titles both new and tried-and-true that will reassure youngsters that their apprehensions are shared by others.

Display these tales in school and public libraries, recommend them to anxious parents and caregivers, and read them aloud in freshly minted classes to kick off a great school year.

Foxy.
By Emma Dodd. illus. by author. HarperCollins. 2012.
Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-0-06-201419-1. PreS–Gr 1.

Tucked between her cozy flowered sheets, Emily worries that she does not have everything she needs for her first day of school. Never fear, for her friend Foxy arrives and waves his gigantic magical tail to make the supplies appear. Though it takes a few tries (giggles will ensue as he produces a penguin instead of a pencil case, or a pirate flag in place of a school bag), she is soon properly provisioned. When Emily expresses one final concern—“What if nobody likes me?”—Foxy assures her that she requires no magic to make friends. Vivacious artwork matches the verve of the text, and Dodd’s mix of silly and sincere imaginings will chase away night-before qualms.

Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?
By Audrey Vernick. illus. by Daniel Jennewein. HarperCollins/Balzar & Bray. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-176275-8; ebook $11.99. ISBN 978-0-06-206719-7. PreS–K.

This burning question is answered when a bulky buffalo—wearing a too-tiny backpack and can’t-wait-to-please smile—follows a pigtailed girl into a classroom. Though he’s shy at first (after all, he’s “the only one with horns. And a mane. Okay, and a hump”), his irresistible furry face soon wins friends. Throughout the day, he bravely puts his best hoof forward, taking on new challenges (using scissors) and social situations (sharing), and learning an essential kindergarten lesson: “Everyone’s special in his or her own way.” Breezy text and dynamic cartoon artwork provide a tongue-in-cheek take on first day worries that entertains while it reassures.

Kindergarten Diary.
By Antoinette Portis. illus. by author. HarperCollins. 2010. Tr $12.99. ISBN 978-0-06-145691-6; ebook $8.99. ISBN 978-0-06-206558-2. PreS–K.

Beginning on the day before the big day, Annalina’s brief entries express her trepidation about going to “Big School.” However, before month’s end, she has become comfortable with her “very un-scary” teacher, conquered the monkey bars, and made some new friends. Featuring brightly clothed characters and crisp photo collage images, the artwork bursts with color and motion. Delightful visual details make this book a read-again-and-again charmer.

Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are You Going to School?
By Bill Martin Jr. & Michael Sampson. illus. by Laura J. Bryant. Amazon/Two Lions. Aug. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4778-1722-3. PreS–Gr 1.

A huggable young feline enjoys a busy day at school, singing, learning, playing, and interacting with others. The simple rhyming narrative is presented in a musical call-and-response cadence (“Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat,/time to have a treat.’/‘Yum yum, Teacher,/I always like to eat”) and the warm-hued artwork is filled with charm. It’s sweet, soothing, and just right for use as a cuddle-together bedtime book or a classroom read-aloud for the very youngest new scholars.

Llama Llama Misses Mama.
By Anna Dewdney. illus. by author. Viking. 2009. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-670-06198-3.PreS–K.

Lilting rhymes and color-drenched paintings touch upon little Llama’s first-day woes as he bids a wide-eyed goodbye to Mama, remains shyly aloof from morning activities, is comforted by a caring teacher, and eventually begins to feel at home. Llama’s expressions are convincingly childlike, from his stubborn I-don’t-want-to-participate pout to his joyful smile upon Mama’s return, and the emotions in both text and artwork ring true.

Monstergarten.
By Daniel J. Mahoney. illus. by Jeff Kaminsky. Feiwel & Friends. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-250-01441-2. PreS–K.

Patrick, a fuchsia monster with striped horns, is worried that he won’t be scary enough to attend Monstergarten. He and his toothy pal Kevin practice their moves on Snowball the cat (who fluffs up to giant size and displays pointy teeth), try to frighten Kevin’s sister and her friend (unfortunately garnering giggles rather than gasps), and even consult books about the pros (Frankenstein, etc.). Though still anxious, Patrick follows his mother’s advice—”Just be yourself”—making for a successful first day. Shown flashing their fangs, twisting their tongues, and striking all manner of menacing poses, the brightly colored beasties are a hoot, and the empowering message is delivered with a light touch.

A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade.
By James Preller. illus. by Greg Ruth. Feiwel & Friends. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-312-36928-6; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-1-250-02721-4. K–Gr 2.

A red-headed, pirate-loving boy navigates the first day of school accompanied by a crew of sea rovers. Generously salted with tongue-tingling buccaneer lingo, the text describes how he shines his “snappers,” gets “dressed double quick,” boards his “jolly boat” (yellow bus), and “drops anchor” at school. Throughout the day, ordinary routines and experiences are transformed into an imagination-fueled adventure. Lush colors delineate the real-world scenes while bronze-toned drawings depict the corsairs in all of their eye-patch-wearing, sword-swinging, trouble-making glory.

This School Year Will Be the Best.
By Kay Winters. illus. by Renée Andriani. Dutton. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-525-42275-4; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-14-242696-8. K–Gr 2.

On the first day of school, a teacher asks her students to share their hopes for the coming year. Varying from the feasible (“I won’t lose things in my desk”) to the far-fetched (“We’ll have a chocolate fountain at lunch!”), the wishes are presented along with breezy illustrations that expand the text with imaginative details and humor. Parents or teachers can share this book to encourage children to discuss their expectations, think about setting personal goals, and jump into the year with a smile.

Tony Baloney: School Rules.
By Pam Muñoz Ryan. illus. by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic. 2013. Tr $6.99. ISBN 978-0-545-48166-3. K–Gr 2.

Teeth brushed, backpack filled, and blue-and-white checkered high-tops securely tied, this high-spirited macaroni penguin is ready to dive right into his first day at James Cook Elementary. Though things don’t go quite as planned—particularly in the rule-following department—Tony Baloney’s amiable nature and willingness to learn from his mistakes guarantee a positive experience. Commonplace concerns are effectively expressed through the protagonist’s chats with his beloved stuffed animal (Dandelion is a bit apprehensive). Gentle humor abounds in the easy-reader text and in the artwork, which features bold primary colors and appealing characters.

Wow! School!
By Robert Neubecker. illus. by author. 2007. Hyperion/Disney. pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-3854-9. PreS–Gr 1.

Curly-haired Izzy faces her first day with boundless enthusiasm and a contagious smile. From “Wow! Classroom!” and “Wow! Teacher!” to “Wow! Playground!” and “Wow! Science!,” each new experience is gleefully embraced and depicted in effervescent spreads. Packed with dazzling hues and bustling activity, the artwork portrays plenty of classroom details, goings-on, and objects for parents and children to identify and discuss. Perfect for starting off the year with a “Wow!”

You’re Wearing That to School?!
By Lynn Plourde. illus. by Sue Cornelison. Hyperion/Disney. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-5510-2. PreS–Gr 1.

Penelope, a free-spirited hippo, can’t wait for the big day and plans to wear her “sparkle rainbow outfit,” pack a picnic-style feast for lunch, and bring her beloved stuffy Hugsy Hippo for show-and-tell. However, her friend Tiny, a worry-wart mouse who started school last year, frets about her fitting in and advises a plain outfit, PBJ, and a much-less-babyish rock for classroom sharing. Though appreciative of his concern, plucky Penelope ultimately goes her own way, and the final double-fold-out spread shows the smiling youngster surrounded by new school friends. Lively text and endearing artwork convey the beauty of individuality and the importance of remaining true to oneself.

Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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