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Back to School Books Make the Grade!

Share Back To SchoolIt's that time again! Kids begin looking forward -- with excitement, trepidation, or a little of both -- to the first day of a new school year. To help prepare them for the big day, Education World recommends three great new books.

For children who are going to school for the first time, facing the daunting prospect of starting over in a new school, or getting ready for that big shopping excursion that happens at the end of every summer, here are three new books sure to help, enlighten, or just entertain.


It's the first day at a new school, and Sarah Jane Hartwell is filled with doom. Despite all of Mr. Hartwell's efforts to help her look on the bright side, Sarah imagines the worst: She liked her old school. She doesn't know anyone at the new school. She pictures the new children as noisy, disobedient brats.

Book Cover Image First Day Jitters (Charlesbridge Publishing), by Julie Danneberg, is a wonderful book for anyone who has faced -- or is about to face -- the beginning of a new situation. Danneburg follows Sarah through her early morning on the first day at her new school. From the moment she pulls her blankets over her head and refuses to get out of bed to the moment Mr. Hartwell drops her off in front of the new school, the reader is aware of, and sympathetic with, Sarah's fears.

"How can you hate your new school, sweetheart?" Mr. Hartwell chuckled. "You've never been there before! Don't worry. You liked your other school, you'll like this one. Besides, just think of all the new friends you'll meet."

"That's just it. I don't know anybody, and it will be hard, and ... I just hate it, that's all."

Illustrator Judy Love's somewhat tongue-in-cheek pen and watercolor pictures contribute to the book's humor. Many of the pictures, such as one showing Sarah trying to keep up with the new principal while moving through hallways of excited, jostling children, show Sarah's point of view.

Other pictures that depict Sarah avoid showing what Sarah actually looks like -- until the surprise ending.

First Day Jitters is a fun, clever story that will help ease children's fears about starting over as well validate their feelings by showing them that anyone can be afraid of new, unknown situations.


Without any warning, one morning in fall, the Aardvarks invaded the Shop-All-Day Mall.
           -- Reeve Lindberg, The Awful Aardvarks Shop for School

Book Cover Image An invasion it is! Armed with a shopping list that includes such standard back to school items as sneakers, notebooks, and markers, both fat ones and skinny ones, of course, the four Aardvarks make their way from store to store -- leaving wrecked displays, traumatized sales clerks, and horrified shoppers as they go.

In the sporting goods store, instead of buying sneakers, the Aardvarks try on sunglasses and race around on Rollerblades and skateboards. The shop that carries backpacks also sells sweets, which of course the Aardvarks just have to sample. Their messy hands and faces stick to the books in the next store they attack. In the food court, they wind up drenched in French dressing.

The simple, two-line rhymes carry the reader along from one misadventure to another, and the pictures by illustrator Tracey Campbell Pearson are hilarious. With animal shoppers and sales clerks of all types and sizes, there is a lot of variety and detail to talk about in each picture. Adult readers will appreciate such nuances as the signs in the bookstore, which include Children's Books, Espresso, and Day-Old Fiction.

Lindberg and Pearson previously collaborated on The Awful Aardvarks Go to School. Given the appeal of this chaotic quartet, it is quite likely that this will not be the last that we see of the Awful Aardvarks.


Book Cover Image If you want to provide a safe, comforting image of the first day of school to a very young child, then Emily's First Day of School (Puffin Books), by Claire Masurel, is just the book! Written for children in preschool to first grade, this story provides examples of school activities they are likely to encounter -- from kissing parents good-bye and depositing belongings in personalized cubbies to outdoor play and story time.

Illustrator Susan Calitri draws Emily, her classmates, and her teacher as bunnies. The appealing, colorful pictures evoke a sense of familiarity for young readers. The bunnies dress in spiffy back to school clothes, play on outdoor playscapes, and carry backpacks and lunchboxes just a real children do.

Masurel packs an impressive amount of material into a short, deceptively simple book. Each page has only one or two sentences, but she introduces such concepts as numbers, colors, and different types of play activities. Each two-page spread shows a different activity throughout the school day and has a lift-the-flap section to actively engage even non-readers. The most observant readers will delight in finding the little mouse hiding in each spread!

For children who are curious about what a school day is like, who may need a little reassurance about going to school for the first time, or who just like a good lift-the-flap picture book, Emily's First Day of School is sure to please.

The books highlighted this week are available in most bookstores. If you are unable to locate the book, ask your bookseller to order it for you or contact the publisher directly.

  • First Day Jitters, written by Julie Danneberg and illustrated by Judy Love, is published by , Whispering Coyote, an imprint of Charlesbridge Publishing, 85 Main Street, Watertown, MA 02472.
  • The Awful Aardvarks Shop for School, written by Reeve Lindbergh and illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson, is published by Viking, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014-3657.
  • Emily's First Day of School, written by Claire Masurel and illustrated by Susan Calitri, is published by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Putnam, Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014-3657.
  • Lauren P. Gattilia
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2000 Education World

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