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Friday, August 10, 2012

Books for Back-to-School

Third and fourth grade students of LaMoille, IL, 1914
(My grandpa is the tallest boy standing in the back, and
my grandma is also in the back, 4th from the right.)

I can't believe it's back-to-school time already, can you?  My kids will be returning to class in about a week and a half. They will be in 11th, 8th, and 1st grade this year.  (Boy, do I feel old!)  My youngest, Ben, and I have been getting ourselves in a scholarly mood by reading some books we found at the library.  Here are the ones we enjoyed the most, starting with the picture books:

I Am Not Going to School Today!,
written by Robie H. Harris
and illustrated by Jan Ormerod, 2003

A little boy does not want to go to his first day of school -- he doesn't know anyone, he doesn't know where anything is, he doesn't know the rules.  It takes much convincing from his parents, but finally he agrees to give school a try, provided he can take his stuffed monkey Hank along.  During his first day, the boy makes a new friend (another boy who brought along his teddy bear).  His teacher shows the students where everything is and explains all the rules, too.  In the end, the boy (and Hank!) decide they like school, and are eager to go back the next day.

Many young children will be able to relate to the main character and his fears.  This gentle book will help ease those concerns.  I like the sweet illustrations and the reassuring tone of the story.


Little Rabbit Goes to School,
written and illustrated by Harry Horse, 2004

It's Little Rabbit's first day of school, and he takes his favorite toy, Charlie Horse, along with him.  Charlie Horse (or is it really Little Rabbit?) has a difficult time behaving in school, getting into all kinds of mischief.  The teacher seems to take it all in stride, though, and by the time Little Rabbit goes home for the day, he realizes that it's best if Charlie Horse stays home from now on.

When I read this to Ben, he kept pointing out that Charlie Horse couldn't misbehave all by himself, and that Little Rabbit must be "helping" him.  I don't know if younger readers would understand that, or be confused by it.  The message that these are not appropriate behaviors for school is clear, however, and the illustrations are delightful.


Eliza's Kindergarten Surprise,
written by Alice B. McGinty
and illustrated by Nancy Speir, 2007

It's Eliza's first day of Kindergarten, and she misses her mother.  She has the kiss that Mommy slid into her pocket, but the pocket still feels empty.  Throughout the day Eliza finds things that remind her of her mother -- buttons, shiny and blue, like her mother's shoes, golden yarn like her mother's hair, and more. She collects these items, eventually using them all to create a little doll that she can tuck into her pocket.  She can't wait to show her mother after school, and it turns out that Mommy has a surprise for Eliza, too!

This is a good book for children experiencing separation anxiety as they begin school.  It lets them know that they are not alone, and that there are ways to feel connected to a loved one even when they can't be together.


Eddie Gets Ready For School,
written and illustrated by David Milgrim, 2011

As the title suggests, Eddie gets himself ready for school, using a handy-dandy checklist.  Some of the items on the list may not be parent-approved, however!

Ben and I giggled throughout this book.  It is short on words, but the hilarious pictures tell the rest of the story.


Jack's Talent,
written and illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2007

On Jack's first day of school, Miss Lucinda asks her students to share their special talents with the class.  Alex is good at building sandcastles.  Kristin likes to sing for her friends. But Jack is worried.  He can't think of anything special that he can do.  Miss Lucinda can, though, and points out something that Jack is very good at, a skill that will definitely come in handy at school!

This cute story reinforces the idea that every person is unique and special, and has something to contribute.


Sammy Spider's First Day of School,
written by Sylvia A. Rouss
and illustrated by Katherine Janus Kahn, 2009

Sammy the Spider wants to go to school, even though his mother insists that school is not for spiders.  He hides in Josh's backpack, and the two head off to the boy's Jewish school.  Josh's teacher, Miss Sarah, reads  a book about Noah's ark to the class, then talks with them about being kind to animals.  Meanwhile, Sammy is learning why school might not be the best place for spiders as he narrowly avoids all the children's feet and some blocks that come tumbling down.  When a child spots the spider on the floor, some of the kids are afraid.  They want to stomp on it, but Miss Sarah reminds the students about being kind to all creatures.  Josh carefully takes Sammy outside, but the spider sneaks back into Josh's backpack where he can wait safely to return home.

Ben and I liked the "be kind to animals" theme in this book, and also the vibrant illustrations.


The Wheels on the School Bus,
written by Mary-Alice Moore
and illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith, 2006

In this book, Moore takes the well-known song "The Wheels on the Bus" and changes the lyrics to fit a school bus.  Not only are there students on this bus, but also teachers, the librarian, lunch ladies, the custodian, and more -- all on their way to school.  Sheet music for the song is provided at the end of the book.

Fun pictures and enthusiastic lyrics work together to create a sense of excitement for the school year to begin.  Ben loved singing along!


Dinosaur Starts School,
written by Pamela Duncan Edwards
and illustrated by Deborah Allwright, 2008

A young boy and his dinosaur head off to school for the first time.  Dinosaur is full of worries, but the boy reassures him and helps him through this new experience.  In the end, the two decide that school is fun, and can't wait to return the next day.

This book addresses many common fears children have when going to school for the first time, and offers good advice for handling new situations.  The colorful pictures of Dinosaur and his friend compliment the story perfectly.


Froggy Goes to School,
written by Jonathan London
and illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz, 1996

Froggy is nervous about his first day of school, and even dreams that he goes to school in only his underwear.  It's hard to sit still and pay attention to the teacher, but Froggy manages to make it through the day with only a few embarrassing moments.

My family and I are fans of all the Froggy books by London and Remkiewicz.  (There are at least 16 of them.)  I especially like all of the onomatopoeia that London uses (zip! zoop! zup! flop flop flop) and the silly situations that Froggy always finds himself in.  Ben and I just can't get through a Froggy book without laughing, and this one is no exception.


How Do Dinosaurs Go to School?,
written by Jane Yolen
and illustrated by Mark Teague, 2007

Do dinosaurs stomp and make a fuss when they go to school, interrupting the class and treating other students rudely?  Of course not.  Dinosaurs raise their hands when they want to talk, help their classmates, and tidy their desks, just like all good students should.

Ben and I enjoyed the antics of Teague's dinosaurs on every page (the mischief-makers and the well-behaved ones), as well as as Yolen's rhyming text.


Enrico Starts School,
written and illustrated by Charlotte Middleton, 2004

Enrico is good at lots of things, but when he goes to school for the first time, he isn't sure how to make friends.  His first day doesn't go so well, but then his younger brother suggests that Enrico just try being himself when he returns to school. It turns out to be good advice, and soon Enrico makes a new friend.

Ben and I especially liked the humor in this book, including the way that Middleton labels many of the objects in her illustrations.


Mr. Ouchy's First Day,
written by B. G. Hennessy
and illustrated by Paul Meisel, 2006

Students aren't the only ones who feel nervous on the first day of school.  It's Mr. Ouchy's first day as a teacher, and he is worried.  What if he can't remember the kids' names, or find the bathroom?  Mr. Ouchy and his class help each other through their first day together, and by the end of the day, they are all excited about the year ahead of them.

I like that, even though this story is told from the teacher's perspective, kids will be able to connect to it.  It shows (in an amusing way!) that teachers are people, too, with hopes and fears of their own.


Louise the Big Cheese
and the Back-to-School Smarty Pants,
written by Elise Primaera
and illustrated by Diane Goode, 2011

Louise Cheese is excited for school to start.  She's planning to get straight A's, which should be a cinch, and maybe she will even get to skip a grade or two.  But then she discovers that her new teacher, Mrs. Pearl, is strict and actually wants her students to work hard for their grades.  By October, Louise is sure she'll never get an A, and that she'll have to spend her whole life in second grade!  Then one day, there is a substitute teacher.  Miss Sprinkles is nice.  She lets the students do whatever they want, and she even gives Louise an A -- in fact, she gives everyone an A.  Louise begins to realize that Mrs. Pearl's high expectations might be a good thing....

Ben and I loved the expressive drawings in this book and all the funny exaggeration.  I also liked the message that when you work hard for something, you appreciate it more.


Ten Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break
if You Want to Survive the School Bus
written by John Grandits
and illustrated by Michael Allen Austin, 2011

Kyle has never ridden a school bus before, and he's nervous. He's heard about all the things that can happen on the school bus from his big brother James, things like kids making fun of other kids, pounding them, or stealing their lunches.  James gives Kyle a list of rules for surviving the bus ride, including advice like "never talk to big kids" and "never touch anyone's stuff".  The only problem is, it's nearly impossible to follow these rules to the letter.  As Kyle relies on his own common sense to get through his first day, he discovers that the bus really isn't so bad after all.  He even comes up with his own rule, which he shares with James.

Preschoolers and Kindergartners might be even more worried about getting on a bus after reading this book, but older kids will understand the irony and wit of Grandits's plot.  Even my two teenagers (who are school bus-riding experts) got a kick out of the story and Austin's illustrations.


The Secret Science Project That 
Almost Ate the School,
written by Judy Sierra
and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, 2006

In this rhyming story, a young girl wants to do a science project that no one will ever forget.  When she sends away for some mutant slime, she learns first hand what people mean when they say, "Be careful what you wish for!"

Gammell's colorful, splashy paintings are perfect for this entertaining tale of a science project gone wrong.  Ben and I loved reading through this, wondering how it would all turn out in the end.

In addition to the picture books above, I've also been reading some school-related poetry:

Hello School!: A Classroom Full of Poems,
written by Dee Lillegard
and illustrated by Don Carter, 2003

Thirty-eight brief, playful poems introduce young children to the world of a school.  I loved the three-dimensional artwork on every page and the images that Lillegard creates with her rhymes.


The Bug in Teacher's Coffee
and Other School Poems,
written by Kalli Dakos
and illustrated by Mike Reed, 1999

This is the first book of poetry that I've ever seen for beginning readers.  (I'm sure there are others, and you can bet I'll be keeping an eye out for them from now on!)  Kalli Dakos brings ordinary classroom objects to life in twenty-three short rhyming poems, with help from Reed's illustrations.


The Goof Who Invented Homework
and Other School Poems,
written by Kalli Dakos
and illustrated by Denise Brunkus, 1996

This collection of 36 poems leads readers through the school year, painting a picture of daily life in the classroom.  I like Dakos's lighthearted verses, as well as her insights into the education system.


Put Your Eyes Up Here
and Other School Poems,
written by Kalli Dakos
and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, 2003

Again Dakos delights her readers with wit and understanding.  Most of the poems in this book are narrated by a young student named Penny, who describes her days in the classroom with her unusual teacher, Mrs. Roys.


Countdown to Summer:
A Poem for Every Day of the School Year,
written by J. Patrick Lewis
and illustrated by Ethan Long, 2009

For those kids who are already looking forward to next year's summer vacation (and for anyone who enjoys fun poetry), this book offers a poem for each day of the school year. Many of the poems are not about school itself; instead they focus on the seasons, special holidays, and a variety of subjects that kids are interested in.  Some are serious, but most are very silly!


I also read two middle grade novels about school this week:

The Best School Year Ever,
written by Barbara Robinson, 1994
The six Herdman kids' outrageous behavior always ends in disaster for everyone around them.  They lie, steal, smoke cigars -- even bite other kids.  Now Miss Kemp has given her students a year-long project, to write down special compliments for every single person in class.  How will Beth and the rest of her classmates ever come up with something nice to say about Imogene Herdman?

This madcap tale is laugh-out-loud funny, and a treat for all ages!  It is actually the sequel to Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1972), which I have never read... but have now put at the top of my "to read" list.  I read this one to myself and thoroughly enjoyed it, laughing from beginning to end.  I'm sure Ben will love it, too -- it's going to be our next bedtime book.


NO Talking,
written by Andrew Clements
and illustrated by Mark Elliott, 2007
The fifth-graders at Lakewood Elementary are loud and disorderly.  Their teachers and principal try to teach them to be quiet and considerate of others, but nothing seems to work.  On top of that, the boys and the girls view each other with disdain.  One day, Dave Packer -- certified loudmouth -- decides to emulate Mahatma Gandhi, and tries going one whole day without talking.  It turns out to be easier than he thought it would be -- until Lynsey's jabbering at lunchtime aggravates him too much.  A heated argument between the two turns into a contest of silence for the whole class, boys against girls.  How will the teachers and principal react? And who will win?

I really loved this clever, thought-provoking story about the power of words and unspoken language.  I think it makes a great book for teachers to read aloud and discuss with their students.  Clements keeps the story interesting throughout, adding just the right amount of comedy in all the right places.


Have you read any of the books mentioned here?  If so, what did you think? What are some of your favorite books about school?  I always love to hear recommendations for new books to try!


  1. I love the photograph of your grandfather. Very nice, and thank you for posting it! I have a couple questions for you. DO you live in the LaMoille area? And if so would you be opposed to me scanning it for this purpose - http://www.jaysontuntland.com/Galleries/Historical-Photographs



  2. Jayson,

    Thank you! No, I don't live in the LaMoille area though I still have relatives who do. I don't mind you using the photo for your site. I also have some other old ones of LaMoille that I could scan for you, if you'd like.