First Night of Howlergarten

Penguin Workshop. Aug. 2023. 32p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593521274.
PreS-K–On the first night of Howlergarten, Sophie, a young tan-skinned girl with reddish brown hair worries that she won’t transform into a werewolf under the full moon. Sophie’s parents assure her that they will love her whether or not her tail and paws appear. At school, the half-canine class jumps into werewolf exercises; tracking scents; honing their hearing; and perfecting galloping, trotting, and pouncing on all fours. To her dismay, these basic skills do not come naturally for Sophie, and she fears exclusion from the class pack if she doesn’t transform. At recess, Sophie hears a classmate shedding tears over the same worries, and offering them some wolfie grahams sparks a fast friendship that rapidly spreads to include the entire class. The rise of the full moon at dusk finally ushers in the awaited moment. Drawing up courage, Sophie counts to three and greets the moon with a howl. The moonlight reveals something quite unexpected. Colorful, animated illustrations rendered in watercolor and outlined in black ink with digital effects play nicely with and expand on the third-person narrative and dialogue. An uproar of giggles will ensue from the illustrations of the human children pouncing and digging for bones. This delightful story entertains while acknowledging the fear of exclusion children may experience before starting kindergarten.
VERDICT A feel-good story of solidarity and acceptance, this first day (or night) of school story offers the lesson that things are not always as they appear.

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