Code of Honor: Alan Gratz
Peanut Butter & Brains: Joe McGee and Charles Santoso

5 Picture Books for Kids Starting School (Especially Kindergarten)

My daughter will be starting kindergarten today. Here are five picture books we have been reading (three brand-new, and two from within the past couple of years, all from different publishers).

1. Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten, by Marc Brown (Knopf Books). This is a new book by the author of the Arthur series (books much-loved in our household). I learned about it from a review by Katherine Sokolowski and purchased it immediately. As I expected, it was perfect for my daughter. Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten takes place during the final week before the start of school. Despite the best efforts of his parents and older brother, Monkey just does not feel ready. The family practices school. They visit the library and read books about kindergarten. They attend a playdate with other kids who will be starting at the same school. They continue to offer patient, loving support. And when the big day comes, well, Monkey is finally ready.

This book opened up some good channels for communication with my daughter, and gave us concrete ideas. There's a page in which Monkey lists all of the things that he's worried about, eyes wide. The list is a nice mix of universal and Monkey-specific items, from "What if his teacher doesn't like him?" to "What if they don't have red crayons?" The only drawback to this book, and I think it's a minor one, is that if you child is not at all afraid of starting kindergarten, I suppose this could put the idea into her head. But I think it's more likely to pull out deep-rooted fears that are already there. Brown's child-like illustrations (including end pages featuring things Monkey has apparently drawn), add to the kid-centered focus of Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten. This is a must-have for school libraries, and a nice classroom read-aloud. 

2. Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmidt and Shane Prigmore (Chronicle Books). Planet Kindergarten came out last summer, but I never got around to writing about it before school started. It's about a boy who envisions his first day of kindergarten as a journey to another planet. So instead of arriving in the parking lot at school, "We arrive at the base camp, then orbit while we look for a place to dock." His teacher is his "commander", and classmates are "crewmates." And so on.

Planet Kindergarten does cover all of the basics, albeit often in a quirky fashion. The boy is nervous saying goodbye to his parents, and his mom slides a photo into his pocket. "Gravity works differently here. We have to try hard to stay in our seats." And so on. There is conflict, and the making of a new friend. And, ultimately, a successful mission. Prigmore's illustrations show the boy himself looking fairly ordinary, while those around him have odd, bright colors and unusual angles - everything looks and feels alien. Planet Kindergarten uses an interesting device to liven up what is, at its core, a universal story. This would be another good addition to school or classroom libraries. 

3. Polka-dot Fixes Kindergarten by Catherine Urdahl and Mai S. Kemble (Charlesbridge). This is a book that we've had for quite a while, but my daughter has recently developed more of an interest in it. It's about the first day of kindergarten for a girl named Polka-dot, used to being taken care of at home by her grandfather.

Polka-dot encounters a teacher who, though warm in some ways, has rules. And who can't drop everything to help each child right away. Polka-dot also encounters a girl who behaves in rather hostile fashion, and hurts Polka-dot's feelings. In the end, with a bit of help from a fix-it kit that her grandfather sent her with, Polka-dot is able to solve her own problems, and make a friend. 

I like that the lessons in this book (teachers can't give a classroom full of kids the same attention that one-on-one caregivers, for example) are relatively subtle. Polka-dot is a three-dimensional character, with her own traits and fears. See my slightly more detailed review (from 2011) here

4. ABC School's for Me by Suzan B. Katz and Lynn Munsinger (Scholastic). One of my daughter's favorite board books when she was small was Katz's ABC, Baby Me! Muningner's Tacky and Jellybeans books are also popular (with the illustrations in ABC School's for Me resembling those from the latter). ABC School's for Me is an alphabet book in which each letter is used to illustrate something that kids will encounter in school. For example, the E page features "Eating snack around the rug", followed by "Friends who share a hello hug." The relevant alphabet letter is shown slightly oversized and in a different color, and also begins the phrase or sentence on each page.

ABC School's for Me is better suited to kids starting preschool than kindergarten, both in the selection of the examples (playing in a play kitchen, building with blocks, using the potty alone, etc) and in the coziness of the illustrations. Munsinger's bears are cute and smiling, all with similar coloring and clothing. This would be a great book to read with a three-year-old about to head off to preschool. In truth, my own daughter, at five, was bored by this book (though she liked seeing the familiar illustration style). She said "Not enough is happening." But definitely look at it for younger kids starting school. 

5. Goose Goes to School by Laura Wall (HarperCollins). Goose Goes to School is a sequel to Goose, which I reviewed here. In the first book, a girl named Sophie becomes friends with a goose, and eventually is able to take it home with her. In this sequel, Sophie goes off to school, and Goose is not supposed to go. Goose, however, sneaks in, causing a bit of trouble, but eventually helping Sophie to make a bunch of new friends. 

This isn't overtly a book about starting school. The author doesn't really say that Sophie is starting school for the first time, or anything. But she does rather cling to her mother's legs when she first arrives at school, and she doesn't seem to have any friends until the other kids, seeing her play with Goose at recess, want to play, too. There's no useful message here for kids, of course, since they aren't going to be able to bring their own pets along on their first day of school. But this bright, spare book about Sophie and Goose offers a light-hearted look at what it's like to be in school, away from the cushion of one's parents. It would pair well with the first book Bailey book by Harry Bliss

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).