Truth be told, I wasn't sure about Eliza's Kindergarten Surprise, at first. It starts out with young Eliza saying goodbye to her mother before Eliza starts kindergarten. Eliza's mother, who seems a bit well-dressed for a regular day (with blue high-heeled shoes and a red dress), leaves her with a kiss in her pocket.
"You can carry my kiss in your pocket all day long," Mommy said. "It will be right by your heart. Then, I won't seem so far away."
Which seemed a bit sentimental to me. I was concerned that the book would overly "sweet". But Alice McGinty manages to stay just on the right side of the sentimentality line.
The sad-eyed Eliza is welcomed to the classroom by a rather stereotypical-looking teacher, with big round glasses, sensible flat shoes, and a pencil over her ear. The teacher's purple sweater and shoes, however, do point at a more multi-dimensional nature.
While the other kids seem to be adjusting well, Eliza remains melancholy, missing her mother. Eventually, however, Eliza finds a way to overcome her own sadness. She builds a little clothespin doll that looks like her mother (though how the school happened to have a napkins in exactly the same pattern as the mother's dress is a bit of a mystery to me), and carries it around in her pocket. Together she and the Mommy doll participate in kindergarten activities with joy. Then at the end of the day, she learns that her mother missed her, too.
And I was won over. I liked the put-together mother missing her child. And I liked that Eliza found a way to solve her own problem, instead of needing help from the teacher or the other children. This self-reliance theme is clear, but conveyed solidly through the story, and doesn't feel message-y.
Nancy Speir's crisp, understated acrylic illustrations convey Eliza's pensiveness perfectly. There's not much background on most of the pages, leaving the focus squarely on the people (and the doll). There's a scene where Eliza is standing on the playground, with one foot hooked behind the other, and her hands clasped, and she's the very picture of uncertainty, from expression to posture. By contrast, Eliza's joy when she leaps for her mother at the end of the day is a pleasure to see. The scenes in which Eliza constructs the doll are also engaging, and likely to make readers want to work on clothespin dolls of their own.
If you have a child who is starting kindergarten, or even nursery school, this title is well worth checking out. (I know, I should have told you about it back in August, but think of me as starting early for next fall.)
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish
Publication Date: July 2007
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.