IT’S A NEW SCHOOL YEAR SO…
IT’S TIME FOR OUR
BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS ROUNDUP 2018
It’s back-to-school time around the country so we’ve prepared our annual back-to-school books roundup to get kids in that mindset. Where we live some kids returned to school as early as two weeks ago. My son begins his senior year of high school today while other children don’t go back until after Labor Day Here’s to a new year of reading and learning! And watch this space for Part 2.
THE ITSY BITSY SCHOOL BUS
Written by Jeffrey Burton
Illustrated by Sanja Rescek
(Little Simon; $5.99, Ages 2-4)
The Itsy Bitsy School Bus, a sturdy, 16-page board book, takes little ones back-to-school using the beloved nursery rhyme we all know by heart. The rhythm and rhyme of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” provides an engaging way into the story that should help allay any first day jitters. “The itty bitsy school bus was ready for the day. Backpack was full with lunch and book, hooray! This sweet and friendly looking school bus experiences the daily routine much like any child would, from drop off, meeting the teacher, finding new friends and ending the day by heading home again. It’s easy to learn the words and the cheerful illustrations clue children into exactly what’s happening in every spread. Tuck a copy into your child’s backpack or give it to them the night before their first day and read it aloud together. Download the educator guide here.
Written by Liz Garton Scanlon + Audrey Vernick
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
(Disney-Hyperion; $17.99, Ages 3-5)
I wish I’d had Dear Substitute when my son first started school. Its message of how change can be positive is a timeless one that applies year round. The story is written in epistolary style poems by the narrator, a young girl clearly anxious about her substitute teacher, Miss Pelly, covering for the primary teacher, Mrs. Giordano. It’s obvious from the letters that Miss Pelly does things differently than the main character is used to. Maybe she laughs too much and is perhaps even nervous herself, but of course an anxious child might not recognize that. The student writes her first letter and addresses it Dear Substitute where she expresses her surprise at having someone other than Mrs. Giordano. Following that is one to Attendance where she explains Miss Pelly’s poor pronunciation of her classmates’ names. She’s perturbed that her homework isn’t collected after missing shooting baskets to complete it. The class doesn’t visit the library, the class turtle’s tank isn’t getting cleaned and rules aren’t followed. Worst of all is being told not to swap food. The scolding hurts despite its good intention being at the heart of it. This 40-page picture book will definitely resonate with readers who like routine. They’ll also enjoy how Scanlon and Vernick (who’ve teamed up to write before), cleverly turn this student’s reluctance into willingness through Miss Pelly’s choice of books at story time. Soon the girl is embracing poetry and feeling a lot happier. By realizing that there’s more to the substitute teacher than she initially thought, she’s taken a major step toward accepting change. Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka’s watercolor illustrations are delightful accompaniments to the text. There’s a youthful buoyancy to the looseness and bright colors of the artwork that make it easy on the eye while not distracting from the letters. I can see this book being a popular read-aloud in classrooms and libraries for years to come. Download an educator guide here.
Written by Mike Ornstein
Illustrated by Kevin M. Barry
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 0-4)
Ahoy mateys! I mean welcome aboard. Mike Ornstein’s treasure of a tale, Kindergarten Bus, will ease the fears of many a small child. This fun idea for a picture book—a pirate bus driver who tries the tough guy approach on his busload of Kindergartners, “There’ll be no blubbering’ on me bus!” —includes spot on pirate-speak and a relatable storyline. It’s not only the first day of school for these “little scoundrels”, but it’s also the pirate’s first day as driver. I got such a kick out of the humorous prose as well as the wonderfuly imagined illustrations by Kevin M. Barry. The kids have to walk up the plank to board the Jolly Roger Bus Co. bus with its porthole windows and wooden siding like on a pirate ship. The big difference? This
vessel vehicle’s heading to school carrying precious cargo rather than heading out to pillage and plunder! But when the pirate’s sidekick Polly the parrot flies off out “the winder!”, the tough guy becomes immobilized and can no longer drive the bus without her. The tables are soon turned and it’s the crew of kids who pep talk the pirate out of his fears. Parents or teachers can point out in these spreads that one little girl’s shirt that had previously been obscured by her arm is now revealed and says I Got This! And blimey, Polly’s returned just in time for the now empowered pirate driver to transport all his “little scallywags” to kindergarten! Why does a pirate drive a schools you may ask? Well matey, ye’ll just have to find out for ye self! An author’s note offers grown-ups helpful, realistic tips on preparing kids for starting something new.
MAE’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Written and illustrated by Kate Berube
(Abrams Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 3-7)
First-day-of-school-itis is that bug that children get in their heads that nothing will go right or be easy for them when they start school. Author illustrator Kate Berube introduces readers to Mae who, despite her parents’ efforts, declares “I’m not going.” Somehow her mom’s convinced her to walk to school during which time Mae’s fears grow. She ponders on “all the things that could go wrong.” She worries no one will like her, that she’ll be the only student who cannot write or that she’ll miss her mother. When Mae’s mom arrives at school, Mae is nowhere to be found. The nervous girl has climbed a tree and settled in. Her mom calls out and once again Mae declares, “I’m not going.” It’s a good thing the branch is sturdy because Mae is soon joined by Rosie who shares the same fears Mae does.
The two commiserate over cookies and before long are joined by Ms. Pearl, clearly the teacher. This tall, wise lady confides in the girls that she’s not going either. I loved that part and thought it was such a clever approach. Just like Mae and Rosie, the teacher shares all her ‘what ifs’ and bonds with the youngsters. Mae is thankful she and Rosie are not alone in their feelings. Rosie points out how already they like each other so that’s one less concern to deal with. Plus, Ms. Pearl assures them, “And you don’t have to be worried about making mistakes when you’re reading and writing. School is for learning new things.” Ms. Pearl has a warm way of relating to her students and by climbing the tree she shows she’s ready to meet kids at their level, immediately lowering their anxiety levels. Now they can all get down and get ready to start their first day. Berube’s artwork is a charming accompaniment to her prose. There’s a nice mix of illustrations with some pages leaving lots of white so the text stands out while others, with less words on the page, place emphasis on the pictures like the one when the girls see Ms. Pearl climbing the tree to join them. I recommend Mae’s First Day of School to share with any anxious youngster to help ease their first day fears.
THE TRUTH ABOUT MY UNBELIEVABLE SCHOOL…
Written by Davide Cali
Illustrated by Benjamin Chaud
(Chronicle Books; $12.99, Ages 6-9)
Successful collaborators Cali and Chaud have paired up again, this time to tell The Truth About My Unbelievable School…, a fabulous laugh out loud story filled with as many grin producing moments of text and illustrations. Both the writing and art invite careful study because there’s smooch more than meets the eye. I know this not just because I felt this way, but I watched the reaction of a seven-year-old to whom I loaned the book in a doctor’s waiting room. Yes, I bring kidlit along with me when I’m out on my errands. Anyway, after slowly reading and studying each page, the boy immediately returned to the beginning and started all over again after pausing momentarily to proclaim, “Wild!”
Henry is chosen to give his new classmate a tour of their school only this school is like no other. All the while a little dog tags along adding a secondary character to keep tabs on. The students pass by the school pet, some type of ginormous jellyfish whose tank takes up an entire wall, floor to ceiling. The music teacher is an Elvis wannabe and my favorite, the art teacher, is right out of a Picasso painting with one eye above the other. Parents will get an extra kick out of the page if reading with children. The math instructor resembles Einstein and purple tentacled sea monster appears to be wreaking havoc in another room. Surprises lurk behind every door. The janitor’s an Oz-like character and the Principal’s levitating as the students enter her room. The playground treehouse is not to be missed nor is the swamp creature swim coach. What else could there possibly be in such an unusual school where lagoons and dark, winding stairwells are the norm? Kids will want a day at this unbelievable school to see for themselves!
ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST
Written by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by David Roberts
(Abrams Books for Young Readers; $17.95, Ages 5-7)
Ada Twist, Scientist is the third rhyming picture book from Andrea Beaty and David Roberts featuring an extraordinary child whose talents can be problematic. Ada Marie Twist doesn’t speak until age three then asks “Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose?” “Why are there hairs up inside of your nose?” Her parents tell her that she will figure it out.
Throughout the chaotic story, Ada tries to find the source of a terrible smell. Though the reader is never told where it comes from, children will be happy to help Ada out. The crazy antics of Ada’s experiments are illustrated in vivid detail.
When her parents finally have enough, they send Ada to the family’s “Thinking Chair.” In this pivotal page, we see small Ada surrounded by white space—with a sharpened red pencil surreptitiously nearby. Kids gleefully grasp what comes next as Ada cannot contain her big thoughts.
Thankfully, her parents understand. “They watched their young daughter and sighed as they did. What would they do with this curious kid, who wanted to know what the world was about? They smiled and whispered, ‘We’ll figure it out.’” Together, they help Ada become a young scientist . . . if only Ada could figure out where that awful smell originates.
Readers of Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect will notice that Miss Lila Greer’s second-grade class (including students Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck) make cameo appearances in Ada Twist, Scientist. Graph-paper backgrounds again evoke mathematical calculations which contrast nicely with the colorful, humorous images.
Teaching guide and activities available here.
- Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt
Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com
WINTER THEMED PICTURE BOOKS ROUNDUP
Winter is definitely here! With parts of the country still under a blanket of snow, it’s a good time to share some cold-weather stories. So find a comfy chair, gather up your books, blanket, and a mug full of hot cocoa and read on.
Curious About Snow
by Gina Shaw
A Smithsonian Book
(Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99, Ages 6-8)
Winter time = snow in many parts of the world. Curious About Snow is a great book for curious minds! It helps little children to understand the basic structure of ice crystal, shows many photographs of snowflakes, and will probably make you want to go play in the snow! The book introduces the reader to Wilson Bentley, a man born in 1865, who dedicated his life to studying and photographing snow. You’ll be sure to learn a lot of facts while reading this book! While this Smithsonian book can certainly be loved by all ages, its target audience is elementary school children.
The Little Snowplow
Written by Lora Koehler
Illustrator by Jake Parker
(Candlewick; $15.99, Ages 3-7)
The Little Snowplow reminds me of The Little Engine That Could for all the right reasons. You’re sure to love this book if you’re craving a story to encourage your little one about perseverance and practice. The little snowplow practices everyday just in case he’ll be needed for a big job. He continues to try hard even though the bigger snow equipment don’t think he’s useful. Then comes the day where his size and his capabilities save the day! Click here for an activity.
The Bear Report
Written and illustrated by Thyra Heder
(Abrams; $17.95, Ages 4-8)
Great storytelling happens within the beautiful artwork of Thyra Heder in The Bear Report. A young girl named Sophie is reluctant to do her homework about polar bears. After doing a minimalist job, a kind real-life polar bear shows up in her house to show her there are more interesting things where he lives. They go exploring the arctic while the polar bear shows her his favorite things – eating, sleeping, sliding. Sophie and the bear thoroughly enjoy the day together. When she returns home, Sophie is excited to share information about her new friend. This book received a star from Kirkus Reviews.
Toys Meet Snow: Being the Wintertime Adventures of a Curious Stuffed Buffalo, a Sensitive Plush Stingray, and a Book-loving Rubber Ball
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
(Schwartz & Wade; $17.99, Ages 3-7)
This trio is loveable! Who knew a stuffed buffalo toy, a plush stingray, and a rubber ball could be so entertaining? Even though I had not read the previous trilogy of Toys Go Out, Toy Dance Party, and Toys Come Home I was easily able to fall in love with these characters as I got to know them. While their ‘Little Girl’ owner is away, the toys see the first snowfall of the season. The inquisitive buffalo gets replies from the poetic stingray and bookwormish ball. They proceed to make their way to the wintery outside world and return after a full day of outdoor play. A great book for a winter’s day!
Written by Angela McAllister
Illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith
(Templar Books/Candlewick $16.99, Ages 3-7))
The fresh illustration style and heartwarming story in Winter’s Child are sure to make this book a classic! This is a storybook, which has much more text than the trending picture books, but it is well worth the read. A young boy, Tom, lives with his mother and Nana. It has been the longest winter they have ever seen and they begin to run out of needed food and supplies. Young Tom goes out to play each day as young children do and he meets a friend. They explore and have fun together for several days, but as time goes on the little family is getting worried that they won’t be able to eat or stay warm much longer. Eventually we find out Tom’s friend is Winter’s child and he didn’t want to sleep. Winter’s child, upon seeing that Tom’s family is being negatively affected, calls for his father. Winter takes his child and the following day signs of spring appear. This beautiful story almost made me cry as I read it to my kids. I was moved by its many great messages of friendship, family bonds, and sacrifice. I highly recommend it!
Like a delicious French pastry, Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau (Abrams Books for Young Readers; 2014, $16.95, Ages 4-8) is a treat not only to behold, but to be enjoyed frequently perhaps with some steaming hot cocoa. After what may be my fourth or fifth reading I can still say I’m on my Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau honeymoon and continue to find wonderful things to devour on every page.
Observant readers will pick up clues that hat maker extraordinaire, Madame Chapeau is either a war widow, her soldier husband, or maybe her father, having fallen in combat; his hat on a kitchen chair as a sad reminder. Alone and lonely, even on that one night a year, her birthday, Madame Chapeau dresses up, resplendent in her birthday bonnet and takes a stroll to Chez Snooty-Patoot, “the best place in town.” But when she tumbles en route, a crow grabs her headpiece and flies off.
“My hat! My hat! Come back with my hat!
You simply can’t steal someone’s bonnet like that!
Someone quite special once made that for me.
You can’t steal my hat and fly off to a tree!”
Before she can say “baguette,” a baker offers her his trademark tall white hat and so begins the parade of people willing to help out with a loaner. From a policeman to a cowboy, to a Scotsman and a spy, to Charlie Chaplin – we all know his hat as we do the mime’s – total strangers yet lovely souls are being so very kind. I’m delighted, too, that both Beaty and Roberts chose to include such a diverse depiction of Parisians as it’s one of the most multi-cultural cities I know.
Without her special hat, but a birthday cake that’s been paid for, Madame makes her way to Chez Snooty-Patoot to dine alone or so she thinks! Meanwhile, an adorable young black girl whose mother was getting a fitting in Madame Chapeau’s earlier on in the story, is tailing the hat maker, yarn and needles in hand. (At one point we even see a mouse donning a cap matching the girl’s outfit!) NOTE: watch out for this mouse and his hats, as well as the dog and cat belonging to Madame.
“Excuse me, madame,” said a girl dressed in plaid.
“I made you a gift from some yarn that I had.
I made it myself, and I just want to say,
I hope you enjoy it … and Happy Birthday!”
This original new picture book, told in flawless, flowing rhyme is filled to the brim with exquisite, finely detailed watercolor and ink illustrations. Whether read-aloud or to oneself, Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau, is like having a front row seat at Paris Fashion Week (paying homage to many designers) without the expensive price tag that goes along with it.
Click here to download a Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau hat activity sheet.
NOTE: Author Andrea Beatty added some cool info in the comment section which I’m paraphrasing here:
Beaty and Roberts show up in the restaurant. (She has a pen and is wearing Rosie Revere’s cheese hat. Roberts has a paint brush. Plus Iggy Peck’s parents make a cameo, too! All of the hats in the book are based on real hats. Some are David Roberts’ actual millinery designs.)
Click here for a link that shows some of the inspiration Roberts drew upon for his illustrations!
There’s a terrific twitter contest going right now to win 1 of 4 copies of the book. To enter, simply tweet a pic of yourself wearing a hat. #HappyBirthdayMadameChapeau. Winners will be announced on November 1!
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
“I wondered if I would die and how I would die. I hoped to be quiet and brave.” – Nurse Maude “Denny” Williams as U.S. Troops surrendered to the Japanese (p. 67).
Pure Grit is the gripping story about the 101 U. S. Army and Navy nurses taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. Farrell demonstrates that while women’s military service has been basically ignored by historians, their contributions have been enormous. These unsung heroes faced the same dangers of war that the male soldiers did, while caring for the wounded and comforting the dying.
In the early 1940s, the U.S military assignments in the Philippines were pretty routine and included a swinging night life. That quickly changed following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. Nurses, inexperienced with treating battlefield wounds, rose to the occasion and assisted huge numbers of wounded and dying soldiers under grueling and frightening conditions. Malnutrition, due to severe rationing, and unsanitary conditions became very serious issues. One nurse wrote:
“This morning I sat down to “breakfast” which consisted of a tablespoon of cold beef hash on a dirty plate (no water for washing dishes) … and nothing more available until 6pm …” (p. 65).
The American and Filipino troops surrendered to the Japanese on May 6, 1942. Although some of the 101 nurses were safely evacuated, 77 were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Despite horrific conditions and declining health, the nurses cared for each other and civilian prisoners incarcerated with them. By October, 1944, Farrell notes the prisoners at St. Tomas Internment camp were down to six ounces of food per day.
After their February, 1945 liberation, the nurses faced other obstacles. When the nurses sought compensation for medical conditions resulting from their internment, the Veterans Administration often refused or limited much needed health care. When some official recognition for their sacrifice finally came it was too late for many. Farrell notes that a lot of the nurses whose stories she included in this book were already dead by the early 1980s. Thanks to Farrell’s meticulous research and compelling narrative based on first person accounts, the nurses’ stories now have a chance to be heard.
This nonfiction book includes an excellent page layout with fairly wide margins and spacing, abundant period photographs, illustrations, and other primary source documents, making the dynamic text easier to read. End materials include a glossary, timeline, list of nurses, an extensive bibliography which references many first person accounts including the Oral History Program of the Army Nurse Corps.
Visit Farrell’s web site to see a book trailer, read an excerpt, and download a teacher’s guide with project ideas that relate this book to Common Core Standards. A highly recommended read.