Starting School Books
Five books about starting school reviewed by Suzanne Holland
The countdown has begun! Back to school circulars have started appearing in my mailbox and local stores are already advertising sales on school supplies.
Yikes! Whatever happened to those long days of summer when you never thought of school until Labor Day?
Obviously, those days were in a different economy! Sales start early, and for some parents and children, so do the start of school nerves. The following are some fun starting school books that ease the transition from home to school.
When You Go To Kindergarten by James Howe, photographs by Betsy Imershein
Small children are visual learners. Abstract thinking is not completely developed and so references to a school building or classroom with toys and other people are just so many words. Children need to see themselves in order to make the abstract concrete.
Many schools offer a Visit the Classroom day, in either the spring or a few days before the start of school. If this is not an option, a starting school book like When You Go To Kindergarten is an excellent substitute. The book is a collection of photographs from actual kindergarten classrooms, complete with real kids having real fun!
James Howe speaks directly to the child in a comforting, matter of fact way. He takes you through every minute of the day, starting with the walk or ride to school. He acknowledges that beginning school can be hard but that “it is something to feel good about, even though it can be hard to say goodbye.”
There is no worry or fear left unaddressed. He lets us know that the teacher will let you go to the bathroom when you need to, that she (or he) will be there to greet you, that the halls can sometimes look long and intimidating, that you do not have to know how to read. However, Howe is also supportive of the new adventures. He tells us that the children will learn numbers and words, listen to stories on tape or learn the computer (a vintage photo is really funny!).
His narrative is practical and exhaustive and that makes it perfect for children. Kids can walk themselves through a school day with the help of the clear, friendly photographs (a little dated but that’s to be expected).
When You Go to Kindergarten by James Howe is a great resource for children and parents alike.
Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate, illustrated by Ashley Wolff.
As a Miss Bindergarten myself, I love this book! It somehow does double duty as an alphabet book and a starting school book, told in clever rhyme!
The book opens with an alphabetic assortment of animals, all readying themselves for the big day! Interspersed with the animals are pictures of Miss Bindergarten setting up her classroom with the help of her friendly parrot (teacher’s pet?).
These pictures are the funniest ones, as Miss B gets more frantic as the clock ticks towards nine. It is hysterical noting the small details, such as her steaming mug of coffee, or that she works with her shoes off!
The only false note is that she couldn’t possibly have done all that work in only two hours! However, dogs don’t teach either so I’ll let it slide!
Children love listening to the rhymes, such as "Ian Lowe says 'I won’t go!'" or "Emily Moko cools her cocoa".
Ashley Wolff has imbued the animals with personality and charm and the details are wonderful. Patricia the pig sneaks a bite of her snack, and Sarah the beaver chews on her pencil. The colors are bright and bold and fill up the page, which I find gratifying when I hold this up to my class.
The last page is clever as it is modeled after a class picture. We love to go back and read the names (and sneak in the alphabet one last time!).
Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff also have written Miss Bindergarten Celebrates the 100th Day of Kindergarten, and Miss Bindergarten Stays Home, both featuring the inimitable border collie teacher!
Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! By Nancy Carlson.
In this vividly colored starting school story, an eager mouse hops out of bed, ready to dash off to his first day of kindergarten. Henry is so excited that he forgets he is still in his pajamas (always gets a giggle)!
Thus proceeds the morning, with Henry being reminded to brush his teeth, eat a big breakfast and pack his backpack. Children seem to love the enumeration of supplies, and always tell me what is in their backpacks.
Finally, Henry is ready. He and his mother discuss all the things Henry might do that day, like painting, singing and games. Mom reminds Henry that he is accomplished at all those things so he is ready for kindergarten. When they reach the school, however, Henry has an attack of nerves. Mom encourages him to look around, and Henry sees that school is actually fun.
First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by Judy Love
Here's a starting school book that will definitely amuse the adult readers in the house. It is one of my top first-week-of-school book choices, because it has such a funny ending.
Sarah Jane Hartwell refuses to get out of bed for the first day at her new school. In fact, she won’t emerge from under the covers, even though Mr. Hartwell cajoles and pleads. She hates the new school, and making new friends is too hard. She is reminded that everyone knows she’s coming; she HAS to go to school!
Sarah struggles into her clothes (we can see the tip of her head under the jersey) and drags herself to the car for the dreaded ride to school. The tension mounts: “Sarah’s hands were cold and clammy,” “She couldn’t breathe.”
The principal waits to escort the nauseous Sarah to the classroom. They struggle down the crowded hallway, into a room with a sea of staring faces. The principal clears her throat and introduces Sarah: “Class, I would like you to meet…your new teacher, Mrs. Sarah Hartwell!”
Kids love this surprise ending and some seem genuinely surprised that teachers can get nervous, too. This is when I confide to the class that I am nervous I will forget their names. It never fails that some little one will tell me she/he is nervous about names, too. It is a great segue into a discussion of school worries and their solutions.
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak
This classic story definitely pulls on your heartstrings. If as a parent you tend to be a little emotional, especially if it is the first child you are sending into the big bad world, then maybe you'll want to choose some other starting school books. Forewarned!
Little Chester Raccoon does not want to go to school. He wants to stay home and be with Mommy and his own things. Mrs. Raccoon explains that school will be fun, with new toys, and new swings and new friends. But, just to make sure, she tells him a secret.
Chester wipes tears from his face and looks at Mama with trusting eyes (the illustrations tell me this). What is the big secret? A Kissing Hand!
Chester’s mother kisses his palm and “Chester felt his mother’s kiss rush from his hand, up his arm, and into his heart.” Sniff.
Whenever Chester feels sad he just has to touch his hand to his cheek and know that Mommy loves him. Chester is delighted and realizes “that his mother’s love would go with him wherever he went.” Sniff, sniff.
In an adorable twist, the nocturnal class goes to school at night in an old tree. As Chester turns to leave, he grabs his mother’s hand and, you guessed it, plants a kiss in her palm. She too has a kiss to remember that Chester loves her, even when he is at school.
The illustrations by Harper and Leak are finely detailed and subtle in their choice of color. The raccoons look gentle and loving. These are no garbage can raiders!
Many teachers use The Kissing Hand to go along with an arts and crafts project. Many children already have read this story when they arrive the first day.
These five starting school books are great choices for dealing with separation anxieties and school worries.
Now, I need a tissue.
Kid apprehensive about the first day of school? Try The Teacher from the Black Lagoon. No real teacher could be this scary!
Read more of Suzanne's reviews.
More starting school books at Amazon.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.