HarperCollins sent me a big box of back-to-school picture books, several of them featuring characters that we already enjoy. Here are some highlights:
Otter Goes to School by Sam Garton. When he learns from Otter Keeper what school is for, Otter decides to set up a school for his stuffed animal friends, who "weren't as clever as they could be." He dresses up as the teacher, and offers math, music, storytime, and lunch, Otter-style. Here's a bit that made me smile:
"First it was time for math.
I wrote down all the numbers I knew.
No one could work out what to do after that.
So everyone just took turns holding the calculator."
People who demonstrate proficiency in something (including the teacher himself) are awarded "lots of gold stars". But when one sad student is found not to be much good at anything, Otter needs help from Otter Keeper to figure out what to do. I thought this was the best of the Otter series so far, with a nice mix of humor and warmth.
Pete the Cat's Got Class by James Dean. In this new Pete the Cat book, Pete, who likes math, decides to help his friend Tom. Tom is rather math-phobic. Pete's idea for making math fun for Tom is to use cars (which Tom loves) for counting, addition, and subtraction practice.
Though a bit lesson-y, I do think that the idea of making math relevant to someone's particular interests is a good one. This book also features removable math flashcards, stickers, and a fold-out poster. My six year old is in heaven. And Dean's bright illustrations are enough to make any kid have a positive attitude about math.
Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins. This is a detailed picture book about a boy and his dog, and the learning that they do together. Basically, Lucky (the dog) wonders about things out in nature, observing and asking himself questions. He's then able to help Frank learn about things, too. Perkins uses this format to fill the book with interesting tidbits of and about knowledge. For instance, after Lucky wonders about skunks, the two use an experiment to learn what kind of bath will work to change the smell molecules. The reader learns about science, botany, astronomy, entymology, and more.
Frank and Lucky Get Schooled is a picture book for older (six and up, I would say) and/or more patient kids. It is dense and sprinkled liberally with technical terms. But it's wonderful, a celebration of both friendship and scientific inquiry, full of outdoor adventures. This is a book that belongs in libraries and homes everywhere.
Rappy Goes to School by Dan Gutman and Tim Bowers is the sequel to Rappy the Raptor, about a young raptor who, after a bump on the head as an infant, only speaks in rap. In this installment, Rappy goes to school for the first time. His parents warn him not create a disruption with his rapping. However, when a big kid in his class makes fun of a boy who is clearly shy, Rappy steps in, offering rap as a distraction. Then, when rappy has trouble with spelling, the shy boy is able to help him. The bully gets his comeuppance, and Rappy concludes:
"Tomorrow I'll go back to school.
Learning stuff is really cool.
Now I know that in the end
all you need is one good friend."
So, ok, a bit lesson-y at the end. I think to some extent that's the nature of back to school books - they exist to show kids how to behave and not to be scared. But I also think that kids about to start school will appreciate Rappy's joyous songs. Like the first book, Rappy Goes to School is not a book that can be appreciated when read silently to oneself. It's necessary to read it aloud, applying plenty of rhythm to the rapping. I challenge you not to get this part stuck in your head (in a good way):
"I'm Rappy the Raptor
and I'd like to say
I may not talk in the usual way
I'm rappin' and snappin' all of the time.
I just can't help but talk in rhyme."
Ruby Rose: Off to School She Goes by Rob Sanders and Debbie Ridpath Ohi is about a little girl who lives to dance and her transition to a kindergarten class in which there is no time for dancing. Throughout the first day of school, Ruby Rose hip-hops and hula dances between activities. When her classmates line up after lunch, she gets them all line dancing. Her inability to sit still is frowned upon with increasing firmness throughout the day. But then an accident finds even the teacher dancing about.
I always love Debbie Ridpath Ohi's illustrations, and this book is no exception. I suspect that Ohi is going to be the next illustrator whose pictures my daughter recognizes on sight. Ruby Rose's joyful movement comes across on every page. Her classmates are realistically multicultural and delightfully cheerful. And her wide-eyed mom, after receiving a surprise on the last page, is priceless.
Ruby Rose: Off to School She Goes will please any kid who likes to dance. Kids who have difficulty sitting still, or fitting into the routines of school in general, will also relate to Ruby Rose's plight, and smile at her irrepressible spirit.
Winne & Waldorf: Disobedience School by Kati Hites is the sequel to Winnie & Waldorf, a book about a girl and the awkward dog who is her best friend. In this installment, Winnie decides that Waldorf has been behaving particularly poorly, and needs to go to school. She sets up Winnie's Disobedience School in her home, putting Waldorf through subjects like reading, addition, naptime, and art. But when the pair go outside for gym class, Waldorf's disobedience takes over and then (as in the first book) ends up saving the day.
Hites' gentle illustrations lend humor to the book, and reinforce the strong bond between Winnie and Waldorf. During reading time, books scattered on the floor include: How To Tie Your Shoes by A. Shumaker. During art class, Waldorf wears a beret and a taped-on mustache, and works simultaneously with paint, crayons, and pencil (using mouth and paws).
Like Winnie, kids about to start Kindergarten will enjoy this warm and quirky introduction to school activities.