the wonder of learning…books for back-to-school days

Some of you have already begun the new school year; some are just gearing up; There are many rich ways for each of us to learn and grow, an untold variety of approaches to education spanning the centuries and regions of our world. I hope something within this smattering of titles is just the ticket for you.

school's first day of school cover imageSchool’s First Day of School, by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson
published in 2016, a Neal Porter Book from Roaring Brook Press

Looking at the world from upside down and inside out angles is a great way to see old things anew, tickle funny bones, spark ideas. This brilliant picture book team has done just that, twisting the kaleidoscope a turn or two, making a brand-new school building into the new kid on the block.

school's first day of school interior rex and robinson

The charming, new Frederick Douglass Elementary school is feeling a bit nervous about its upcoming First Day of School. Understandable, right? Soon scads of unknown children will throng its hallways, play on its playground, sit in classrooms, eat lunches. Some may not like it. Some may make rude comments about it. Blaring fire drills might go off!

school's first day of school interior 2 rex and robinson

With the encouragement of a friendly janitor, School copes with all this newness, one step at a time, and emerges from the first day on an overall upbeat note. Besides the lovely space within this text to step back and take a look at first-day jitters from a secure vantage point, Christian Robinson’s irrepressibly cheery illustrations exude comfort and friendliness with a genius vibe that somehow combines old-fashioned simplicity with contemporary diversity. It’s basically the perfect First Day of School book for ages 4-6.

the class cover imageThe Class, Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kimberly Gee
published in 2016 by Beach Lane Books

Ages ago, Karla Kuskin and Marc Simont teamed up to produce one of our favorite books, a survey of all the members of the Philharmonic Orchestra preparing for an evening performance.

This book happily reminds me of their approach. It’s a collection of classmates this time, twenty children from various households all around town, getting ready to become one wonderful class. Some are eager-beavers. Some are over-sleepers. Three eat pancakes for breakfast while two nibble toast. Eight get kisses at the bus stop. Two can’t seem to find their socks.

the class interior ashburn and gee

Charming, lighthearted illustrations spotlight this diverse group of kindergarteners. It’s a tremendously inviting book, great approach to the marvelous differences within commonalities that make up a group. Ages 3-7.

steamboat school cover imageSteamboat School, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Ron Husband
published in 2016 by Disney Hyperion

The encouraging depictions of diversity in the previous two titles are, of course, not a given in our society.

Based on a true story, this book bears witness to the immense struggle to be schooled experienced by African Americans. It takes place in St. Louis in 1847, just as a shameful new Missouri law forbade education to “negroes or mulattoes.”

steamboat school interior hopkinson and husband

Through the testimony of one fictional boy, Hopkinson relays the courageous, ingenious actions of Reverend John Berry Meachum whose determination resulted in a highly-unusual method of schooling these children, taking advantage of a most unexpected loophole in the law.

Striking, atmospheric illustrations ratchet up the story’s tension and emotion while bringing the period to life. Includes a lengthy Author’s Note and recommendations for exploring this history further. Ages 5 and up.

frank and lucky get schooled cover imageFrank and Lucky Get Schooled, written and illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins
published in 2016 by Greenwillow Books

I’m a firm believer in all the vivid learning that takes place outside of a formal classroom setting. It’s unusual to find a book that captures so well the spirit of a whole world out there to investigate, the one hundred ideas sparkling in a pond, the windows-upon-windows of ideas opening onto more ideas all lying in wait in the most surprising places.

In which Frank and Lucky learn about beggar's lice, burdock, and dog ticks!

In which Frank and Lucky learn about beggar’s lice, burdock, and dog ticks!

Lynne Rae Perkins dives into that sense in this remarkable look at a boy named Frank, his dog, Lucky, and the immense amount of learning and idea-sparking these two encounter in their life together. From Entomology to Art, Math to Foreign Language — careen along with these two and be amazed at how they both accumulate a vast array of knowledge. Unschoolers — this is your book. Innovative reading, for ages 6 and up.

this is my home this is my school cover imageJust a reminder here, if you are looking for the Gold Standard in picture books about the homeschooling experience, look no further than Jonathan Bean’s masterpiece, This is My Home, This is My School. I am a huge fan of Jonathan’s work, and love the fact that he has allowed millions of homeschoolers to see themselves in a book about school for the first time. Kudos to him and his publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


school days around the world cover imageSchool Days Around the World, by Margriet Ruurs, illustrated by Alice Feagan
published in 2015 by Kids Can Press

I love introducing children to the intriguing cultures around our globe, the clever, beautiful, enticing ways people construct their lives. School is one of the things that looks different around the world, and this cheery catalog is a great way to explore that.

Visit 13 children from a wide variety of countries and types of schools. From the South Pacific to Alaska. Homeschools, public schools, international schools. School in an orphanage. School in an old castle. Immense schools and tiny schools. Fascinating at every turn!

school days around the world interior ruurs and feagan

Colorful, happy cut-paper illustrations will make you want to travel and visit each one of these extraordinary places. Broaden your world and find out ways you can help children in places where school is less available. This one’s a delight for ages 4 and up.

For a more in-depth treatment of different kinds of schools around the world for older children, check my reviews of:
A School Like Mine
Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World

i'm new here cover image copyAnd one more reminder — some children from other cultures may well be joining your children in their classes. Anne Sibley O’Brien’s book I’m New Here, offers a superb, lovely introduction to what it’s like to be oh-so-new in America. Highly recommended for ages 4 and up.