Penguin Young Readers Group
School bells are ready to ring, signaling new backpacks and pencils and decisions about cafeteria food or lunch in a bag. Some children will be learning the basics of ABCs, colors or math with numbers more than 10. Others will think about new friends, reading groups and even bullies.
For each of these and many more concerns and new experiences, there are books that prepare children. For the child who is fearful of everything on the first day of school and wishes to be left alone, there’s a relevant book. Another story features a math-hating boy who would rather write poetry than multiply. One child finds out calling someone a bad name is not OK, and a girl learns a new student can be made a welcome part of the “group.” Some children will find out school isn’t just about the students: What if the crayons got tired and quit?
For every child, every stage of excitement, every fear, there’s a book to support and enjoy in preparation for school. Here are a few selections.
“THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT,” by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, Philomel/Penguin, $17.99 (ages 4-8)
When Duncan opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters from the crayons. They were tired. It’s no secret Duncan used his red crayon more than any other. “I need a rest,” protested the red crayon. Black crayon was tired of being used merely for outlining, and pink protested because it hadn’t been used at all. What could Duncan do to appease the crayons in their rebellion?
“COLORS FOR ZENA,” by Monica Wellington, Penguin, $16.99 (ages 3-5)
Zena's day begins in black and white, but soon color appears everywhere. When Zena and her animal friends combine colors, they agree the result is “magnificent!” Author Monica Wellington has included a color wheel and art activities for children to explore while appreciating the color in their lives.
"AN ABSOLUTELY ABSURD ANIMAL ALPHABET,” by Linda D. Sorensen, Xlibris, $31.99 (Pre-4)
Color and tongue-twisting descriptions define the animals representing the alphabet. From “pretty peacock pampers the plain penguin,” to “grumpy goat gobbling green grapes,“ the absurd animals will earn smiles aplenty.
“TWENTY-SIX PIRATES: An Alphabet Book,” by Dave Horowitz, Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, $16.99 (ages 4-8)
There’s “Pirate Nat who lost his hat,” “Pirate Quaid who's not afraid” and “Pirate Roy, a dangerous boy.” When 26 zany pirates are put on one boat, it’s bound to be bedlam. Dave Horowitz’s swashbuckling crew can incite a giggle-fest for every first-grader.
Oliver has going-to-school jitters. He takes along an alligator because he “sometimes felt his brave wasn’t nearly as big as he needed it to be.” Oliver is so nervous be can only say, “Munch, munch!” Alligator helps by swallowing a lady who wasn’t his mother (“Welcome to your new school!”), a girl (“ Hi! My name is Grace”) and all the children and tables and everything on the walls. Oliver finds out “school is kind of a little bit boring” and not as much fun as being with the group, even if it is inside the alligator. “Oliver and His Alligator” is perfect for those who need a little courage when beginning school.
“RUFUS GOES TO SCHOOL,” by Kim T. Griswell, illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, Sterling Books, $14.95 (ages 5-8)
All Rufus Leroy Williams III wants is to go to school and learn to read his favorite book. One problem: He is a pig. Even though he has his backpack, lunchbox and blanket ready, the principal says, “No pigs in school!”
Some pigs learn to go to school, and even when the author leaves the moral of the story open for interpretation, one thing is clear: Rufus Leroy Williams III discovers books give him room to dream.
New friends are an integral part of going back to school, and there are a number of books that help the “outsider” and the new student in a strange classroom.
“WHEN EDGAR MET CECIL,” by Kevin Luthardt, Peachtree, $15.95 (ages 4-8)
When Edgar, a young robot, and his family move, it means a new school, disgusting food and strange kids of different sizes. One big kid who is fearsome at first becomes a pal at recess and turns the tide for Edgar. Bold illustrations carrying much emotion will make this a winner for young readers.
“LLAMA LLAMA AND THE BULLY GOAT,” by Anna Dewdney, Viking, $17.99 (ages 4-6)
Llama Llama loves school. “Time for circle. Time for song. Time to clap and sing along.” Gilroy Goat laughs and heckles during the games and calls them silly. The teacher reminds Gilroy Goat that calling names is “not OK.” Gilroy Goat throws dirt, kicks and heckles the children at recess and becomes a real “Bullygoat.”
The teacher deals with bullying in kind and meaningful ways. The popular Llama Llama series, a favorite with young readers, teaches a necessary lesson in this book.
“PRINCESS POSEY AND THE NEW FIRST GRADER,” by Stephanie Greene, illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson, Putnam, $12.99 (ages 5-8)
Posey, Ava and Nikki are three girls in first grade, a good number for a solid friendship. But what about Grace, the new girl? Can four make a solid friendship, too, and can Posey get over her “left-out” feelings? This easy-to-read book is just right for beginning readers, with 10 short chapters addressing pertinent issues about circles of friendship.
Just as “Princess Posey” provides simple text in an easy reader, there are books that can help for reluctant readers come in high-interest, low-vocabulary texts.
A new line of illustrated early-reader chapter books is Branches, a series by Scholastic Publishers. Branches, planned for students in five skill levels, are highly illustrated (50:50 text-to-art ratio), containing humor and relevant themes. Parent and teacher guides provide clues for guiding reading with follow-up extension strategies. Utah illustrator Matt Loveridge contributes the art for two of the Branches texts: “Looniverse: Stranger Things” and “Looniverse: Meltdown Madness” (each is 96 pages).
Highly recommended is “Offside,” by M.G Higgins (Lerner/Darby Creek, $7.95, 112 pages), which is part of the Counterattack Series appropriate for teenage readers written at a fourth-grade reading level. Plots are high-energy with themes related to junior high and high school.
Gregory K. is the middle child in a family of math masters. They have a room devoted to mathematics, with many trophies won by family members on display. Gregory K. hates math and fibs his way out of homework while excelling at writing, especially poetry. To be able to go to Author Camp with his best friend, though, he must pass the math class. Mr. David, the math teacher, gives Gregory K. assignments that lead him to understand the importance of math in his life and ultimately to the “Fibonacci Sequence,” a famous mathematical formula which Gregory K. applies to poetry patterns.
Greg Pincus clearly understands the plight of a student who considers math class and homework torture. He teases the reader into delving into sources to find the bridges to Fibonacci Sequences and their evidences in everyday life. This is a novel — due out on Sept. 24 — that encourages self-exploration and is brilliantly written.
On the first day of school, a teacher asks students to make a wish for the coming year. The wishes range from “chocolate fountains” to “I won’t lose things in my desk.” Maybe this nice idea can be another part of school preparations.
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