Before this year, my daughter attended daycare twice a week to give me some time to myself, but starting this past September, she’s begun attending a full-day preschool, which feels awfully similar to Kindergarten (for both her and myself!). It was this shift in her life that made the reading of these ‘back to school’ books from Penguin and Knopf so relevant to our family today. I’ll start with a review of my favourite book: The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez.
I loved this book for many reasons; the beautiful artwork being the first and most obvious. The rich jewel tones used throughout the illustrations draw the reader in, in fact my infant son loves looking at the pages of this one too, so I can only assume it’s because he enjoys the artwork as much as I do! I’m not sure if it’s obvious in the photo I’ve included, but another delightful little detail about these images are the subtle ‘measurement’ textures that are included in the surfaces, i.e. the table is textured to look like a ruler, the doors have rulers textured into the wood, etc. Although I can’t really discern any hidden meaning behind this choice, it simply looks cool, and gives the book an even stronger ‘school-like’ vibe to it.
The message is what’s really important in this one, because it basically reminds kids that although they may feel different when entering a new place, many people will feel different for one reason or another, and eventually one will find their ‘place’ in the group, whatever that may look like. So some of the kids are shy because they didn’t take a fancy vacation like everyone else, or they eat different food in their lunch, or they have a strong accent, but in the end, they all find a way to relate to each other. Once again,and I know I harp on about this too much, but the messages in kids books are always applicable to adults as well!
Another back to school book I wanted to mention is Take Your Octopus to School Day by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Diana Schoenbrun. I enjoyed this book too-its pictures are more kid-like, with cute unexpected details thrown in everywhere, so there’s lots of keep little eyes on the page. For example, if you look close enough at the picture I’ve included, you will see that one of the students has made an eight-legged suit for his cat to wear, so it resembles an octopus. Unfortunately the message of this book is a little boggled compared to The Day You Begin. Vernick starts off strong with the idea that the kids are being a little too competitive when it comes to these theme days, however it gets a little off-topic when the pet octopus demonstrates his powers of camouflage. Because of this the kids decide to create a little project on camouflage itself, the idea of competition totally forgotten and never really dealt with again. I was hoping the storyline would come to a neater close, but it left too much open for interpretation, in my opinion. Perhaps young kids (the intended audience) would see this differently, but I was a bit disappointed with it.
This last book I wanted to discuss is not really a clear ‘school’ book, but it would fit perfectly with this theme of preparing to attend school because it deals with the very important subject of managing one’s emotions. Again, I really can’t stress enough how important it is for adults to also heed these messages!!!
Anyway, Three Grumpy Trucks by Todd Tarpley, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees is a wonderfully simple look at the consequences of pushing oneself too far, and not playing within our limits. It begins with a child who takes her trucks to the local park, but when she gets tired and wants to leave, the trucks keep pushing themselves to play, even though they are clearly exhausted and at the end of their energy stores. Not surprisingly, all the trucks end up in a frustrated overworked heap because they didn’t go home early enough to ‘recharge their batteries’. The illustrations are eye-catching, using a clear simple primary colour palette, and the text is easy to read, switching between black and white depending on what pictures are behind it. Another fun aspect to this book was the fact that it started off with a small child who I just assumed was a boy, trucks being the main theme of the book. About halfway through though, the child takes off her helmet and it’s clearly a girl with a long ponytail, so the illustrator is playing with our assumptions of gender here; I really enjoyed that ‘surprise’.
I find it’s always fun to provide my children with themed books, because it helps delineate the different times of the year, and those special days that need some extra explaining. Picture books like these make parenting more enjoyable because they act as a springboard to important conversations, and more importantly, making things much easier to understand for young ones.