five for that smell of newly sharpened pencils

1bd63fc95529bac559e88d62667311a3My household is quieter today after two of my daughters returned to college.

How about you? Has school begun in some form for you or your kids? I find it interesting that our calendars seem to revolve around education schedules more than the seasons…something to ponder.

Anyway, here are five lovely books celebrating learning and life:

When the little one is left at home…

maple and willow apart cover image

Maple & Willow Apart, written and illustrated by Lori Nichols
published in 2015 by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin

When big sister Maple starts school, Willow, the younger, is left behind. Normally these two are peas in a pod, so …what will become of Willow?

Maple lands home each day overflowing with enthusiastic stories about her day and her new friends.

maple and willow apart illustration lori nichols

But what is this? Willow has also made a new friend: Pip. He’s such an interesting fellow, and Willow and Pip have such intriguing playtimes, that it is Maple that feels the left-out blues.

There’s a sweet resolution to this warm story. Sisterly love and Willow’s magnificent imagination are the stars here, tenderly told and illustrated with beauty and charm. Ages 2 and up.

When your family doesn’t do school the usual way…

the year i didn't go to school cover image

The Year I Didn’t Go to School, written and illustrated by Giselle Potter
published in 2002 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

When Giselle Potter was seven years old, instead of going to school, she and her family launched off on a marvelously unconventional year: touring Italy with their Mystic Paper Beasts puppet theater.

the year i didn't go to school illustration2 giselle potter

Giselle’s childish journal illustrations engage us immediately on the end papers in this creative account of that almost-fantastical time in her life — setting up on the streets of Florence, donning monkey and panda costumes, sleeping in the big caravan truck, meeting new people, eating new things, speaking a new language.

the year i didn't go to school illustration giselle potter

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable narrative of what we might learn by plunging into a new, impossible adventure, illustrated in Potter’s quaint paintings that remind me a bit of Maira Kalman’s work. Read and chat together about this one, with ages 4 and up.

When your skin color bars you from school…

with books and bricks cover image

With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School, written by Suzanne Slade, pictures by Nicole Tadgell
published in 2014 by Albert Whitman & Company

When Booker Washington was a young slave child, he first glimpsed the “strange lines on the blackboard” that the white children were somehow learning to read, and he fell in love with learning.

with books and bricks illustration3 nicole tadgell

But it was against the law for Booker to learn to read. This is still mind-blowing, people. 

Even after the American Civil War ended, when Booker was 9 years old, he still had to work backbreaking hours to help his family survive and the local schools still would not admit any non-white students.

with books and bricks illustration2 nicole tadgell

Booker T. Washington was a determined person if ever there was one, though, and this story tells how he persevered to achieve his own education, then made the enormous efforts necessary to provide quality education for others. A fabulous piece of our history, well told, with handsome, evocative watercolor illustrations, for ages 5 and up.

When the craziest things conspire to make you late for school!

a funny thing happend on the way to school cover image

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School, by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud
published in 2015 by Chronicle Books

If you’ve ever been attacked by evil ninjas on the way to the bus stop, or sidetracked by Little Red Riding Hood who needed help finding her grandmother’s house…

a funny thing happened on the way to school illustration chaud and cali

…or if Bigfoot stopped you and asked you to snap a photo of him…

a funny thing happened on the way to school illustration cali and chaud

and thus were late to school…and had to explain these things, then you will sincerely sympathize with the young lad in this book. Preposterous and sunny and funny, for ages 4 and up. The brainchild of two French illustrators, this follows their other equally crazy title, I Didn’t Do My Homework Because

When you have to build your own school…

Rain School cover image

Rain School, written and illustrated by James Rumford
published in 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

Journey to Chad in this vibrant story as the children of one village and their indomitable teacher begin the school year by building their school.

rain school illustration james rumford

Making mud bricks, building mud desks, drying them in the hot sun, thatching the roof, until finally, finally it’s time to take their seats and begin learning.

rain school illustration2 james rumford

The school year is over when the rains begin again, making the gardens grow, yes, but also washing away roof and walls and desks…until the next school year, when they will begin again.

A fantastic glimpse of life for children elsewhere, briefly told and richly illustrated in hot desert colors. Ages 4 and up.