Mr. Wolf’s Class: Book #1 The First Day of School by Aron Nels Steinke is not your mother’s back-to-school middle grade chapter book. It’s a smart, funny, insightful look at fourth-grade in graphic novel format and I enjoyed every page. From the realistic, contemporary dialogue to the perfectly captured facial expressions on the diverse line up of teachers and students, Steinke succeeds in helping readers connect with and care about an assorted and appealing cast of characters. And that’s a good thing since this is Book #1 in a new series that is sure to captivate even the most reluctant kid.
In this first book, we’re introduced to Mr. Wolf, a new teacher at Hazelwood Elementary. In fact, even before Chapter One (there are eleven chapters in total), anthropomorphic artwork full of color and movement shows Mr. Wolf conscientiously preparing his classroom followed by frames of each student, with illustration clues, as a quick and clever way to hint at their personality or issue. There’s new-in-town student, Margot, eager to start school but nervous about making friends; there’s Penny, poor, wiped out Penny, whose constantly crying baby sibling is keeping her from getting a good night’s sleep; there’s Aziza, a dedicated student but slightly snarky; and there’s Sampson, who’s brought something special to school to share at show-and-tell.
As an elementary school teacher and parent, Steinke totally gets this age group and the ever-changing dynamic of the classroom. One minute there’s silent reading and the next there’s chaos. All types of conflicts caused by all kinds of kids can occur throughout the day and Steinke’s chosen a few good ones to portray in Mr. Wolf’s Class. He’s included geeks and smart alecks, thoughtful and mean kids. He’s also got bossy and meek ones, tattle tales and show offs. With that kind of composition, anything can and does happen under Mr. Wolf’s supervision including a missing student, show-and-tell, and a burgeoning friendship.
I’d like to emphasize here that this book can be appreciated year round for its wit, its engaging illustrations and the delightful depiction of fourth-grade from multiple perspectives. Join Mr. Wolf and his students to see first-hand what’s happening at Hazelwood Elementary.
IT’S A NEW SCHOOL YEAR SO… IT’S TIME FOR OUR BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS ROUNDUP 2018 PART 1
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, 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.
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.
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.
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 Schoolto share with any anxious youngster to help ease their first day fears.
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!