Sunday, August 23, 2009

Celebrating Back-to-School Books for Young Readers

I need very little as an excuse to go shopping for books. Some people collect shoes, I prefer to collect books. When a request went out for people to review picture books, I took it as an opportunity to buy some new books. Granted, this addiction of mine is practical, functional even. Hey, it is also the start of the school year. Why not look for some new classroom reading materials???

Though there are literally 100’s of books to choose from, here are some of my new finds:

I Am Too Absolutely Small For School (featuring Charlie and Lola) by Lauren Child
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 32
Grades: Pre-K – 2

In this third official (there are a series of Charlie and Lola books that tie into the TV show but were not written or illustrated by Lauren Child) installment of Charlie and Lola books, the reader is once again drawn in by Charlie’s narrations of his younger sister, Lola’s quirky behaviors and thoughts. This time Lola is espousing the benefits of staying at home rather than going to school. When Charlie tells Lola “And what about learning your letters, Lola? If you know how to write, you can send cards to people you like”, Lola responds in her typical fashion “I like to talk on the telephone. It’s more friendly and straightaway.” The story continues in this manner with Charlie trying to convince Lola that it is good to go to school and Lola refuting his claims. Eventually, Lola brings up her imaginary friend Soren Lorensen and his fears about going to school, not having any friends, and struggling with learning to read. As Charlie seeks to find his sister on the first day of school, he becomes concerned when he can’t find her anywhere. He then sees her “hopping home with someone else”. Parents and teachers will recognize in Lola’s projection of her fears on to her imaginary friend the behavior of many young children as they seek to cope with a new experience.

There are so many reasons why I love this story that I don’t know where to start. Whether it is the easy banter between Charlie and Lola or the creative mixed-medium illustrations and quirky writing, this is a must have in any collection of “going to school for the first time” books.

(*)My Rating: :) :) :) :) :)

How Do Dinosaurs Go To School? By Jane Yolen, Illustrated by Mark Teague
Publisher: Blue Sky Press
Pages: 40
Grades: Pre-K – 2

Fans of Yolen/Teague’s How Do Dinosaurs series will not be disappointed with this offering. Through a series of questions, the story explores everything from how a dinosaur would get to school to how a dinosaur would behave in class. Teague’s animated and larger than life dinosaurs manage to entertain without overwhelming the page or the illustrations of actual children. Teachers will enjoy the small attention to details related to every day classroom actions such as a dinosaur with a tooth that fell out or another dinosaur using one hand to hold up his other arm. As the story progresses, the questions change to statements that tell of what kind of appropriate behaviors a dinosaur would have.

I really enjoyed this book and loved all the little details and immediately thought about how I could use it with students on the first day of school. Charming illustrations and enthusiastic writing makes this a great classroom read aloud for any primary classroom. It allows both teacher and students to discuss appropriate class and playground behavior by examining the actions of the dinosaurs in the story.

(*)My Rating: :) :) :) :)

First Grade, Here I Come (Paperback) by Nancy Carlson
Publisher: Puffin Books
Pages: 32
Grades: K-1

In this follow-up to Look out, Kindergarten, Here I Come!, Nancy Carlson continues the adventures of Henry as he begins first grade. The story unfolds when Henry’s mother asks him “How do you like first grade?” At first, Henry seems to indicate that he didn’t like first grade because it wasn’t the same as kindergarten. Through a series of questions from his mother, Henry shares with her the negatives about first grade. However, soon, he discovers something positive to go with each negative. By the end of the book, Henry has decided that even if it is different from kindergarten that it is okay because he is a “real first grader now”.

This is a fun stand out in a field where there are many similarly told stories. Carlson’ bright, primary infused illustrations bring Henry’s description of first grade to life. The story can be used by teachers or parents as a read aloud. Independent reading level is mid-first to second grade. Additionally, First Grade, Here I Come is a nice story for parents to read with their child before starting school to help calm those first day jitters.

(*)My Rating: :) :) :) :)

Homework by Arthur Yorinks, Illustrated by Richard Egielski
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers
Pages: 32
Grades: K–2

In Homework by Arthur Yorinks, Tony ignores his mother’s pleas to do his homework and instead falls asleep while reading his comic books. While asleep, his pencil comes alive and decides to help by writing Tony’s essay. Eraser joins in and before long the two are sparring over the writing process which awakes all of the other items on the desk including a ball point pen, a fountain pen, book, ruler, cup and more. In their excitement to help, the fountain pen accidentally squirts “splotches” of ink on the paper generating a new idea for their story. Eventually the verbal dispute between the anthropomorphous objects wakes Tony who decides that it is time to do his homework. When Tony sees the paper with splotches of ink, crossed out words, erase marks, he crumples the paper and throws it out. He then writes his own tale of planet Splotch.

I really enjoyed this creative twist on homework and the writing process. Yorinks’ story will be a particular hit with students in the 2nd and even 3rd grades who are struggling with the writing process, especially in brainstorming ideas and the revision of thoughts. The dialogue between the writing tools mimic that of most playground banter though teachers may not necessarily want to encourage their students to call one another “stinkeroo”, “jerk”, or “nincompoops”. Egielski’s illustrations are fun though somewhat cluttered.

(*)My Rating: :) :) :)

The New Bear at School (Hardcover) by Carrie Weston, Illustrated by Tim Warnes
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 32
Grades: Pre-K – 2

For teachers seeking ways to help children empathize with the new child in the class, Weston’s The New Bear at School tells the story of Boris the bear. Miss Cluck announces to the students in class that there will be a new student. All of the animals try to guess what type of bear Boris will be. There is even a reference to Paddington Bear that children will discover. However, “Boris wasn’t a teddy bear, He was an enormous, hairy, scary grizzly bear!”

Boris’ attempts to fit into his new class, though humorous to the reader, frighten his new classmates who promptly reject him. In one more attempt to fit in, Boris greets a group of rats who were bullying the other animals causing them to run away. Boris has unwittingly become the class hero when he was actually attempting to make friends. Despite his confusion, the other animals cheer him on as their champion. The following day the animals share with Miss Cluck how Boris rescued them and has now become a favorite of the students.

Young readers will enjoy the delightful illustrations, repeated words and phrases and laugh at Boris’ attempts to fit in. However, Weston’s tale fails to truly teach about acceptance of one’s differences and not to judge someone by their appearance. Unfortunately, even the teacher in the story does not address the students’ rejections of Boris in a way that would help children learn how to accept a new student. I enjoyed the whimsical illustrations and the overall theme, but in the classroom, I would suggest using the book as a discussion starter and not as the main focus for teaching children how to welcome a new student.

(*)My Rating: :) :)

So, what are you waiting for…grab a book, find a kid and start reading…
- Aly B

*Rating Scale:

:) :) :) :) :) - it was amazing, definitely recommend it
:) :) :) :) - really liked it, recommend it without reservations
:) :) :) - liked it, recommend it
:) :) - it was okay, recommend with reservations
:/ - didn’t like it, don’t recommend it

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