Here Comes a New School Year – A Back-to-School Books Roundup

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A ROUNDUP OF OUR FAVORITE
NEW BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS

With Labor Day kicking off the traditional start of a new school year,
what better way to ease little ones into the classroom
than with a great selection of back-to-school books to read as they settle into a new routine?

 


Here Comes Teacher Cat
Here Comes Teacher Cat by Deborah Underwood cover image

Written by Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by Claudia Rueda
(Dial BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

Underwood sure knows how to make parents and children laugh out loud. Here Comes Teacher Cat is full of sight gags that never fail to surprise and delight. So as not to spoil it for you, I’ll just say that once again Cat has outdone himself in cattitude. Whether you love the narrator having a one-sided dialogue with a cat who uses signs to communicate, or the laziness of this feline forever yearning to nap, Underwood’s got it all here when Cat is called in to substitute for Ms. Melba at Kitty School. The only problem is that Cat hasn’t a clue what to do first. When he approaches teaching with his own Cat brand of humor and zeal, there’s no holding him or the kitties back causing quite a bit of chaos in the classroom. What will Ms. Melba find upon her return from the doctor? Why, a very clean classroom, a confident Cat and happy kitties of course. Just don’t open the closet Ms. Melba! Fans of Underwood’s humor and Rueda’s low-key spot on artwork will not be disappointed in this Publishers Weekly starred picture book. Oh and don’t miss the opening illustrations before the title page.

TwindergartenCover image for Twindergarten by Nikki Ehrlich
Written by Nikki Ehrlich
Illustrated by Zoey Abbott
(HarperCollins; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

Starting Kindergarten can be scary for most kids, but what happens if you’re a twin? In Twindergarten, author Ehrlich, a mom of twins, tackles the topic gently and thoughtfully, touching on the many issues twins might experience being separated at school for the first time. Though Zoe and Dax are as close as peanut butter and jelly at home, they wonder how they’ll cope being in different classes during the day. They soon learn that Kindergarten is not only fun, it’s a place where they can make new friends, try new things and still see each other during recess. In other words, it’s the best of both worlds. Debut illustrator Abbott puts the emphasis on the main characters clothed in darker outfits in her illustrations making it easy to zoom in how Zoe and Dax are interacting with their environment. Not only for twins, Twindergarten shows the rewards  of attending school and how children can be separated from siblings or friends and still thrive.

Don’t Go to School!Don't Go to School! cover image Sterling Children's Books
Written by Máire Zepf
Illustrated by Tarsila Krüse
(Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95, Ages 4+)

How enjoyable it was to read this clever spin on a back-to-school book. In Don’t Go to School, it’s young Benno who’s excited to leave while his mom wants him to remain at home. “Don’t go to school!” she wailed. And I laughed! The humor was not lost on me since I could relate to the mother in this lovingly illustrated picture book. I think there are lots of parents, like me, who have experienced separation anxiety when sending their child off on the new adventure and life stage that is attending school. Mommy is encouraged by Benno using language much like a parent would to reassure their new student. “Don’t worry, Mommy,” said Benno. “You’ll get to know the other parents in no time. They seem really nice!” Zepf is clearly familiar with first day jitters and her tantrum scene may ring a bell with others, only this time it’s Mommy who’s lost it. My favorite part of the story is when Benno takes some of his own kisses and tucks them in his mother’s pocket so she can feel his love even when they’re apart. This comforting story will empower youngsters while also providing tips on adjusting to the big change in their lives.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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A Different Kind of Passover by Linda Leopold-Strauss

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A DIFFERENT KIND OF PASSOVER
Written by Linda Leopold-Strauss
Illustrated by Jeremy Tugeau
(Kar-Ben; Hardcover, $17.99;
Paperback, $7.99; eBook, $6.99, Ages 4-9)

 

Cover image of grandpa in bed from A Different Kind of Passover by Linda Leopold-Strauss

 

Any child who has ever celebrated a holiday when someone special couldn’t attend will relate to        A Different Kind of Passover. But even those who haven’t will appreciate the sentiments expressed and the lovely twist author Linda Leopold-Strauss has added in this heartwarming story I’m delighted to share.

Grandpa is sick and has just come back home from the hospital. That means the Passover seder will be different this year and narrator Jessica wonders how that will change things, especially now that she’s going to ask the Four Questions in Hebrew. And since she’s finding it hard to imagine a seder without Grandpa, Jessica soon realizes it doesn’t have to be that way. Grandpa may be nearby tucked in bed, and wearing pajamas, but how convenient that “… Grandpa’s door opens to the dining room?” notes an enthused Jessica. When Grandpa questions his participation in such attire, Grandma remarks, “Does God care if you’re in your pajamas?” The plan is hatched and the seder will take place  with most things remaining the same as always and just a few things different like Grandpa reclining in bed and cousin Mark “getting to sip sweet wine instead of grape juice, since he has just had his bar mitzvah.”

The joy of family and tradition in this story is wonderfully conveyed through Tugeau’s muted illustrations. I love the varied perspectives he shares, especially the ones where we know it’s Grandpa looking out on his family seated around the dining room table. Nothing says everyone must be in the same room for a seder so when Jessica comes up with the great idea to include Grandpa by leaving his bedroom door open, it’s symbolic in so many meaningful ways. Leopold-Strauss has created a sweet and thoughtfully written seder story that will resonate with young readers for years to come.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Trucks, Tractors and Cars – A Transportation-Themed Picture Book Roundup

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TRUCKS, TRACTORS AND CARS:
A PICTURE BOOK ROUNDUP

 

race-car-dreamsRace Car Dreams
Written by Sharon Chriscoe
Illustrated by Dave Mottram
(Running Press Kids; $16.95, Ages 2-6)

A little race car settles down after a long, tiring day in this new going-to-bed book for little ones into all things automobile. It’s a quick read with approximately 200 words but it’s packed with cuteness! Adorable illustrations accompany the quiet rhyming text as the race car gets ready for bed and has sweet dreams. I’d highly recommend this book as a fun alternative to any animal-themed bedtime books. It’s sure to be a much requested going-to-bed story.

 

with-any-luck-ill-drive-a-truckWith Any Luck, I’ll Drive a Truck
Written by David Friend
Illustrated by Michael Rex
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

This is a clever, witty book written from a young boy’s perspective about when he learned how to operate several trucks and big machines. It’s hilarious how the author gets you believing that at such a young age, this boy is using a cement mixer, backhoe, 18-wheeler … you name it and this boy has probably operated it! You come to find out they are all toy trucks he’s operated and his room is like a parking lot, but when he grows up he’d love to drive a truck. Great rhyme teaches about various large trucks, and wonderfully bold and bright illustrations make this book one of my new favorites!

 

 

Duck on a Tractorduck-on-a-tractor
Written and illustrated by David Shannon
(The Blue Sky Press/ Scholastic; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Duck gets on a tractor, after all he rode a bike before! After pressing a few petals and trying various things he turned a “shiny little piece of metal by the steering wheel.” Pretty soon all the farm animals are hopping on for the ride, saying their regular animals sounds by thinking something different. The animals end up going onto the main road past the diner and it’s such a sight to see that nobody can quite believe all those animals are on a tractor. Yet once the diner crowd goes outside there’s no trace of the animals. The farmer must have just left the tractor on! Another great book from David Shannon with spectacular illustrations that are sure to enthrall kids ages 4-8.

 

  • Reviewed by Lucy Ravitch

dear Dragon by Josh Funk

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DEAR DRAGON
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo
(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

starred review – Kirkus Reviews

 

dear-dragon-cover-image

 

Back in the olden days when kids still wrote letters, I had a pen pal named Melanie Vafiades from London. I never met her so for all I know she could have been a dragon like George’s pen pal in dear Dragon (I mean don’t most dragons live there?), or perhaps she was a unicorn (England’s full of enchanted forests, right?). I’m all for active imaginations and making new friends sight unseen which is exactly what author Josh Funk’s new picture book inspires. Kids’ll love the premise of this endearing story that pairs human students (unbeknownst to them but not their teachers) with dragons as pens pals.

 

interior-spread-1-from-dear-dragon

Interior artwork from dear Dragon by Josh Funk with illustrations by Rodolfo Montalvo, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

Between Funk’s cheerful, well-paced rhyming text (the students were told to put their correspondence in verse) and Montalvo’s light-hearted, inviting illustrations, readers will get a strong sense of how the two main characters grow from being reluctant about having to actually write something to someone they don’t know, and do it in rhyme no less, to discovering interesting things about each other over the course of the assignment.

 

interior-spread-2-from-dear-dragon

Interior artwork from dear Dragon by Josh Funk with illustrations by Rodolfo Montalvo, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2016.

 

The illustrations capture how George, the human, and Blaise, the dragon, innocently interpret the descriptions in each other’s letters based on their personal paradigms. Consider George’s science project volcano (see first image above) as compared to Blaise’s real one, or George’s backyard cardboard fort (see second image) versus Blaise’s and you’ll get the point both author and illustrator have humorously driven home. As the two students continue to write, readers will notice the degree of familiarity increase with every new letter. What ensues when our earthbound boy and his new flying, fire-breathing friend ultimately meet up in person can only be described as pure positivity in picture book form. Funk’s story presents the perfect opportunity to reinforce the important message that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover, although the cover of dear Dragon is pretty darned adorable!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Visit Josh Funk’s website here.
Visit Rodolfo Montalvo’s website here.

 


Peddles by Elizabeth Rose Stanton

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PEDDLES
Written and illustrated by Elizabeth Rose Stanton
(A Paula Wiseman Book; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Peddles by Elizabeth Rose Stanton book cover

 

Today we’re heading off to the farm with Elizabeth Rose Stanton’s charming picture book, Peddles. Peddles is not an ordinary pig. Your regular old run of the mill pig doesn’t have big ideas and it’s these big ideas that will make kids eager to read on. Peddles certainly does all the things – and I do mean all – that pigs are wont to do, but for Peddles, the routine pig stuff isn’t enough for this dreamer.

Interior artwork from Peddles by Elizabeth Rose Stanton

Interior artwork from Peddles written and illustrated by Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books ©2016.

 

Thoughts of pizza, taking to the sky like a bird or into space like an astronaut fill his head.

 

Interior artwork from Peddles by Elizabeth Rose Stanton

Interior artwork from Peddles written and illustrated by Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books ©2016.

 

To his porcine pals he may seem to have his head in the clouds, but it’s really just Peddles yearning for something different, something more. And then one day, more arrives in the form of a barn dance. Suddenly this little porker is determined to boogie on down just maybe not with the people he sees. The catch is Peddles thinks all he needs is the fancy footwear to dance the dance. But when it appears he’s got four left trotters, it turns out he really requires more than just a pair of cowboy boots. He needs his pig community to help him realize his dream.

 

Interior artwork from Peddles by Elizabeth Rose Stanton

Interior artwork from Peddles written and illustrated by Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books ©2016.

 

Stanton’s sparse language coupled with the soothing pale palette of her fresh and exuberant pencil and watercolor artwork create a more than satisfying read. There’s something so wonderful about the way she uses a lot of white on many of the pages so the reader’s eyes get right to the good stuff. Maybe the best way to describe it is dreamy just like her adorable main character, Peddles! If you know a child who follows his heart and not the crowd, Peddles is a celebration of that admirable individuality.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Raymie Nightingale written by Kate DiCamillo

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RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE
Written by Kate DiCamillo
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo book cover

 

Reviewer Hilary Taber calls Raymie Nightingale, “A rare and hopeful song.” But after reading her review, you’ll discover, as with all DiCamillo’s books, it’s that and so much more

Raymie Clarke is preparing herself to enter the Little Miss Florida Central Tire competition. Her father has recently run off with a dental hygienist, and Raymie is determined to win so that he will see Raymie’s picture in a newspaper and will, of course, come back to his family. This is the initial plan, but like most plans it doesn’t turn out the way that Raymie originally intended. First of all she needs to learn how to twirl a baton in order to win the competition. It is during those baton twirling classes that she meets her “rancheros”, her new friends who become like family. Gritty, but sweet Beverly, and storyteller extraordinaire Louisiana, help her through this hard time. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is more than just a little girl with a big dream to get her father to come home. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is destined for adventures with her new friends that show Raymie that she is the hero of her own difficult time. Raymie finds that somewhere in her is a person who is stronger than the storms of life. She also learns that, with help from her friends, she can manage to make her way to a new life full of goodness and grace. It is a life that she could have never imagined when she began making her plans to turn things around. Kate DiCamillo delivers yet another wonderful novel that makes you believe again in the strong, incredible power of friendship and hope.

It is that rare quality of combining sorrow with sweetness that makes every book she writes life affirming. Every book is like watching a sweet spring creep over a winter world. Often as a children’s bookseller, I see an absolute faith placed in her books by the children who read them. Even though the story might be hard to read, the children show a willingness to take the journey with Kate. Time and time again I wonder what it is that they are feeling when they look at her books in their little hands. I think it’s something akin to knowing that she is telling them the truth. There is a certain peace in that. Kate tells us that life is hard, but you should always hope. Hope is real, hope is something to hold on to, hope is the stuff of life.

On a personal note I feel that Kate DiCamillo is the E.B. White of our generation. Like White she is adept in the art of condensing profound thoughts into short, but amazing sentences. I was honored to meet her recently and to have my copy of Raymie Nightingale signed. I think it’s worth noting that beyond the wonderful writing is a very brave writer. Kate has personally been through the very hard experience of having an absent father, and she has courageously taken up the task of writing about this time in her life. That had to be difficult. Ultimately I think her bravery in writing about this time in her life will help to heal others who have gone though something similar. So, here is to one amazing writer who is also incredibly resilient, just like Raymie.

Come back tomorrow to read Hilary’s interview with Kate DiCamillo to get the inside scoop.
Download a teacher’s guide here.
Download a book discussion guide here.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

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EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING
Written by Nicola Yoon
(Delacorte Press; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

EverythingEverythingcvr

⭐︎ Starred Review – School Library Journal

Madeline Whittier has read more books than you, but she hasn’t been outside her house for as long as she can remember. The protagonist in Nicola Yoon’s #1 New York Times Bestseller, Everything, Everything, lives an air-locked, filtered existence, with no outings and virtually no visitors, because she’s “basically allergic to the world.” She has Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or “bubble baby disease.” While she could have grown to be a weird or bitter eighteen-year-old, it’s clear from the funny drawings and comments with which she annotates her life that she has remained sweet, optimistic and thoughtful.

Since Madeline’s father and brother were killed in an accident when she was a baby, Madeline and her mom are almost everything to each other. Then Olly moves in next door, with his all-black wardrobe, his parkour litheness, and his off-the-wall sense of humor. Madeline realizes she won’t really have everything unless she can leave her germ-free house and be Outside with Olly.

I enjoyed the unusual format of the book, its short chapters that don’t necessarily follow each other, the hand-written notes and drawings. Appropriate as well as charming, the format reinforces how Madeline feels about herself: “If my life were a book and you read it backward, nothing would change.” Before Olly, her “life was a palindrome — the same forward and backward.”

That being said, eventually sequence matters, and the real “Book of Maddy” — Everything, Everything — is different if read backward. In the interest of not giving away too much, I won’t tell you the questions the book made me ask beyond “What would it be like to be a bubble-baby?” But rest assured Yoon’s novel provokes other thoughts as well, about the nature of love, and risk, and life itself.

  • Reviewed by Mary Malhotra