first day jitters?…five for rockin’ the new school year

Welcome to another school year, whatever your schooling looks like.

Today I’ve got five top picks for those heading to what my kids fondly called “real school.” But if you’re a homeschooling family, let me just remind you that Jonathan Bean’s This is My Home, This is My School is the best thing out there for celebrating that rumply, freewheeling, juicy-living lifestyle some of us have happily embraced. You can find my review of that here.

I’ve gathered all my school-ish sorts of titles in one new list on my Subject page, so if you want more school-oriented reads, take a look there. All are linked to their original reviews.

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices, written by Sally Derby, illustrated by Mika Song
published in 2017 by Charlesbridge

I love this book’s clever, honest, tender introductions to six children beginning a new school year. One each from grades K through 5. Girls and boys. White, Black, Hispanic. Hearing impaired. Latch-key. Each one with tiny trepidations, misgivings, longings.

In free verse, these kids tell what’s on their minds as they manage the first day of school. Four chapters usher us from “The Night Before” through “After School” with entries from all six kids in each section. The honesty and vulnerability expressed make this a very relatable book that can also help grow empathy within child and adult readers. Mika Song’s soft, fresh illustrations clearly, unobtrusively introduce kids we care about.  Share this with ages 5 and up.

Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten, written by Candice Ransom, illustrated by Christine Grove
published in 2017 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

I fell in love with Amanda Panda on page 6 of this funny, warm story of mismatched personalities, vexing disappointments, and finding the way to kindness.

Amanda is a gal who knows her business. Likes brown. Speed. Vehicles. And being important. Her plans for kindergarten are big and bold.

The first inkling of a spanner in the works comes at the bus stop where Amanda meets “a girl in head-to-toe pink. So much pink it gives Amanda a headache.”

In fact, this pink girl gives Amanda more than one headache, so Amanda up and quits kindergarten. Joins her big brother in the second grade. As you might expect, this choice is not actually allowed.

Read this story, groan with Amanda, and cheer her on as she chooses kindness in the end. Christine Grove has captured the larger-than-life personalities here perfectly. Great fun for ages 4 and up.

Daddy Long Legs, written by Nadine Brun-Cosme, illustrated by Aurélie Guillerey
originally published in France in 2015; English edition 2017 by Kids Can Press

Meet a fashionable, contemporary, father-centric, school story that echoes the steadfast love of Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny.

At least, that’s what this charming tale recalled for me. 

Daddy is driving his small charge to kindergarten. The old green car was having a bit of trouble this morning, however.  Sounded like it had a case of the hiccups. This sets small Matthew to worrying —

— what if, this afternoon, when Dad’s supposed to come pick him up, the car plum won’t start??

Not to worry. If the car won’t start, says Dad, “I will come and fetch you in the neighbor’s big red tractor.” And if that won’t work — still no worries. Dad’s got every possible wrinkle covered. He’ll be there at the end of the day. You can bet your bottom dollar!

Zesty design makes every page sing with retro happiness in this warm, loving story for ages 2 and up.

Monkey with a Toolbelt and the Silly School Mystery, written and illustrated by Chris Monroe
published in 2017 by Carolrhoda Books

Huzzah for Duluth, Minnesota author Chris Monroe and her manic, handymonkey, Chico Bon Bon! These are dandy stories, if you haven’t already made their acquaintance.

In this episode, Chico Bon Bon and his pal Clark are off to school. And of course, Chico has got a specialized tool belt for the occasion. Wowza! He did not kit this out at any school supply store I have ever seen. Complete with sparkle sprinkler, maple-scented glue, light-up scissors, calming fluff…you name it. Seriously.

Chico’s tool belt comes in super handy for fixing all manner of defective items around school, but it’s especially advantageous in solving a great mystery involving Many Curiously Missing Things, from library books to taco shells. Learn all about the bizarre goings-on at Chico’s school and the surprising discovery he makes in this splendid adventure, perfect for ages 4 and up.

A Perfect Mess, written and illustrated by Steve Breen
published in 2016 by Dial Books for Young Readers

Henry is a great kid. He loves to play hard, share, make his mom proud, do the right thing…

There is just one problem: Henry is an incredibly messy little rhino. He has the dickens of a time staying clean.

Most days that’s okay, but today? Today is a special day and Henry has vowed to keep his shirt spic and span. All. Day. Long.

And you know what? He does it. Henry manages to emerge at Class Picture Time just as neat as a pin. How does he do it?

I predict you and your kids will laugh out loud at this comical, warmhearted story. Dear Henry, and dear Mrs. Williams, his unflappable teacher. I love ’em both. A riot for ages 3 and up.