Next Stop, First Grade | Back to School Roundup

Nineteen titles to inspire and entertain young scholars as they embark on a new educational adventure.


Picture Books

Auerbach, Adam. Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School. illus. by Adam Auerbach. 40p. Holt/Christy Ottaviano Bks. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780805097030.

K-Gr 2 –In Norse mythology, Valkyries are no strangers to battlefields, where they guide and protect heroes. In this clever picture book, Edda is the littlest of her clan. Her days are filled with hunting monsters and doing what she pleases, but she longs to be around children her own age. Her father flies her from Asgard to Earth on a magical horse for her first day of school. Although Edda is brave, her mettle is tested as she has to learn to wait her turn, sit still, and make friends. At first, she finds writing hard work, but once she starts to describe her magical home, she hits her stride and her story is a big hit. The tone of the cartoon art fits the book to a tee and enhances the fun. Filled with fantastical creatures and realistic-looking children, this twist on the all-too-familiar first-day jitters and summoning courage is a delight. Children will relate to Edda, root for her success, and might be tempted to learn a bit more about Asgard.–Kris Hickey, Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH

Blackstone, Stella. Bear’s School Day. illus. by Debbie Harter. 24p. Barefoot Books. Aug. 2014. Tr $6.99. ISBN 9781782850854. LC 2013029742.

PreS-K –Big, friendly, cartoon bears experience a typical school day in this reassuring story. The cubs are dropped off by parents and wave good-bye. On the next spread, the school bell rings and the the eager students engage in activities including music, art, and learning to write their names. The bright, boldly colored illustrations, done in paint, pen and ink, and crayon, clearly tell the story and have just the right amout of detail for the audience. A wordless map of the school is included to familiarize children with where things are in the building. The pacing of the story is good, but the rhyme does seem forced in a few places. This is a good title to prepare children for this milestone in their lives.–Ellie Lease, Harford County Public Library, MD

Brown, Peter. My Teacher Is a Monster!: (No, I Am Not.). illus. by Peter Brown. 40p. Little, Brown. Jul. 2014. Tr $18.ISBN 9780316070294.

K-Gr 2 –With his signature retro-inspired, mixed-media illustrations, Brown’s latest picture book explores a new facet of themes he’s touched upon before: identity, perception, and acceptance. Bobby is a likable, if ever-so-slightly naughty, everykid. His big problem is Ms. Kirby, a giant reptilian creature with a mean overbite and a tendency to stomp and roar. She also happens to be Bobby’s teacher. A carefree Saturday in the park is nearly ruined when Bobby runs into Ms. Kirby. Brown astutely captures that awkward moment when students encounter a teacher outside the context of the classroom. In a spread featuring Bobby on one end of a park bench and the hulking Ms. Kirby on the other, the gutter separates the two characters, emphasizing their physical and emotional distance. Over the course of the day, Bobby and his teacher learn that they share some interests. As the story progresses, Ms. Kirby incrementally loses her green hue, her massive snout, and her oversize limbs, slowly transforming into a regular human teacher. Besides the sweet message, the strength in this school story is the humor of Bobby’s deadpan stare. Looking directly out from the pages with his wide eyes, Alfalfa-esque hairdo, and jug-handle ears, Bobby will win the hearts of readers with his rascally charm, if not the no-nonsense Ms. Kirby.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

Cuyler, Margery. The Little School Bus. illus. by Bob Kolar. 32p. Holt. 2014. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780805094350; ebk. $8.81. ISBN 9781466870260. LC 2013044353.

PreS –Through a simple rhyming text, a little school bus details a typical day of work, beginning with driver Bob climbing on board with a cup of coffee at 5:00 a.m. and ending with a tune-up and scrub down at the maintenance garage. In between, it drives through town, “bouncing, turning, thumping,/always on the go,” to pick up a variety of smiling children, including Kate, who uses a wheelchair. The text lends itself well to reading aloud, and the blocky digital illustrations are bright and clear. This book will be a big hit with vehicle-loving preschoolers and is also an excellent selection to use with groups preparing to start kindergarten. A must-have for general purchase, especially in collections in which Cuyler’s The Little Dump Truck (Holt, 2009) is already a favorite.–Martha Link Yesowitch, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, NC

Dean, James. Pete the Cat: Too Cool for School. illus. by James Dean. 32p. HarperCollins. 2014. lib. ed. $16.99. ISBN 9780062110763; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780062110756. LC 2013947667.

K-Gr 2 –Always a clotheshorse, Pete begins this easy-to-read story by asking, “What should I wear?” He is trying to look cool for school. Obviously, everyone he queries has a different opinion about his attire, and he takes all of their advice and fashion suggestions. Wearing different colored shirts, shorts with fish on them, cowboy boots, a striped tie, and a baseball cap, he looks silly, feels hot—and goes home. He dons his favorite clothes and “feels just right,” concluding, “If you want to be cool,/just be you!” One or two simple sentences per page and large illustrations set against uncluttered white backgrounds make this suitable for the very youngest readers.–Ellie Lease, Harford County Public Library, MD

Diesen, Deborah. The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School. illus. by Dan Hanna. 32p. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374360955. LC 2013001317.

PreS-K –Pout-Pout Fish is back, this time recalling when he left for school “for the first time of all.” As he floats down the corridor looking into each classroom, however, he discovers students doing things that, try as he might, he just can’t accomplish. With failures at writing, drawing shapes, and long division, the discouraged fish counts off his troubles: “I’m not smart! I’ll never get it! I don’t belong! So forget it!” Enter Miss Hewitt, his understanding teacher, who assures Fish that “You don’t have to know things/You haven’t learned yet!” “I’m here to help you learn,” she continues. “With practice, you will get it.” The humorous cartoon illustrations depict a variety of sea creatures at their schoolwork and large views of Fish earnestly trying various tasks and giving up in “flub-flub exasperation,” tongue lolling out of his mouth or hiding under his writing pad. Each time he recites his troubles, he appears hanging onto letters, shapes, or numbers. Youngsters will enjoy repeating the bouncy rhymed text. And when they are faced with a new challenge or when things seem too difficult, they can repeat the mantra “We are smart! We can get it! We belong! We won’t forget it!” A confidence-boosting offering.–Marianne Saccardi, formerly at Norwalk Community College, CT

Dillard, Sarah. First Day at Zoo School. illus. by Sarah Dillard. 40p. Sleeping Bear. Aug. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781585368907.

PreS-Gr 1 –When Amanda heads out for the first day of Zoo School, she sees that everyone has a best friend except her, so she quickly fixes that. “Hey, Gator! Let’s walk to school together! We can be Best Friends!” Poor Alfred, who doesn’t even want to go to school, is no match for the enthusiastic panda. He spends the day unhappily doing all the things that she wants (sitting in the front row, sharing his cookie at lunch, playing tag) until he finally snaps when she insists they walk home together. “I am NOT walking home with you. You are NOT my best friend. My name is NOT Gator. It’s Alfred!” Predictably, they both go home feeling bad. The next day, Amanda is quiet and Alfred is lonely and guilty. Pushed to the edge by worry when she spends recess hanging upside down, Alfred makes amends. Then Amanda calls him by his given name, and they play happily ever after. The text is the perfect combination of narration and word balloons that lets the story be seen from both sides. Dillard successfully mixes traditional spreads with comic book–style panels. Often the characters or their thoughts slip a little outside the frames, adding an extra dimension to the art. The pictures are crisp and clearly show a wide range of emotions. Pair this title with Peter Brown’s You Will Be My Friend! (Little, Brown 2011) for an aggressively friendly storytime.–Catherine Callegari, Gay-Kimball Library, Troy, NH

DIPUCCHIO , Kelly . Dog Days of School . illus. by Brian Biggs. 40p. Disney-Hyperion. 2014. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9780786854936. LC 2013021227.

PreS-Gr 1 –Rather than face the grind of practicing his letters, drawing pictures, and trying to explain himself to his teacher, young Charlie wishes he could trade places with his carefree dog, Norman, on Sunday night. When his mother comes to wake him for school on Monday morning, it seems that his wish has come true. Hilarity ensues as Norman tries out the boy’s activities throughout the week...with mixed results. He does fine with playing house, kickball, and maracas, but the teacher scolds him “for chewing his pencil, and the table, and her shoes.” Meanwhile, Charlie stares out the window watching leaves fall, drinks from the toilet bowl, and endures a trip to the groomer. At week’s end, and relegated to the backyard, Charlie wishes to be a boy once again. This clever text explores the “grass is always greener” notion with a deadpan delivery and Biggs’s delightful, boldly outlined cartoon art extends the humor and brings down the (dog) house. The perfect choice for any reluctant scholars.–Luann Toth , School Library Journal


Gaiman, Neil. Chu’s First Day of School. illus. by Adam Rex. 32p. HarperCollins. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062223975.

PreS-K –First introduced in Chu’s Day (HarperCollins, 2012), the adorable, rotund little panda with the big sneeze here takes on a big milestone: his first day at school. Initially nervous and subdued as he watches his classmates discuss their special talents, Chu soon realizes that he, too, has something unique to share with his new friends and teacher. Once again, Rex’s rich, painterly illustrations, characterized by deep, vibrant hues and rendered in oil and mixed media on board, dominate this quirky work. The contrast between the more serious tone of the images and the chaos introduced by Chu’s famous sneeze, brought on by a dusty chalkboard, will delight children. Though the topic is familiar—a bad case of nerves before the first day is well-trod territory—and the story itself is on the spare side, readers will enjoy this humorous take on the subject. As with the first book, there’s plenty of detail in the artwork, and children will love the appealing animals depicted: eagles, snakes, monkeys, and more. A charming title that is sure to leave kids wanting more—more Chu and more readings of this whimsical tale.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

Ganz-Schmitt, Sue. Planet Kindergarten. illus. by Shane Prigmore. 40p. Chronicle. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452118932; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9781452136189.

PreS-K – A child bids farewell to his parents (who are sent back to their own planets) and begins his first mission on Planet Kindergarten. He is joined by intergalactic aliens, all reporting to a commander whose desk is littered with apples. The gravitational field is different: “We have to try hard to stay in our seats. And our hands go up a lot.” Projects include exploration outside the capsule, keeping logs, and, most challenging of all, extended rest time. “Abort mission,” the homesick space traveler thinks. Then he remembers what’s said at NASA: “Failure is not an option.” Before he knows it, he’s in splashdown—back home— and training for his next mission. Ganz-Schmitt exhibits a fine mix of sensitivity and pizzazz in approaching the challenges that children face. With the help of Prigmore’s superpowered animation-style illustrations, she offers a story that will help readers understand that kindergarten really is out of this world.–Susan Weitz, formerly at Spencer-Van Etten School District, Spencer, NY

GREENBERG , David . Super Silly School Poems . illus. by Liza Woodruff. 32p. Orchard. 2014. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780545479813; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9780545732529.

K-Gr 2 –Starting with a rhyming introduction, Greenberg delivers 17 goofy, kid-friendly selections focusing on some familiar trials and tribulations of elementary school students. Dog-eaten homework assignments, class pets on the loose, lunchroom hilarity, and the requisite potty humor are all part of the equation. A poem called “My Teacher Is a Mind Reader” is an example of the overall tone: “If you as much as whisper/Your teacher is aware/Scribble on your desk/You haven’t got a prayer/She knows you’re eating candy/When she hasn’t even looked/And if you’re chewing gum/Dude, your goose is cooked!” Colorful, soft-focus watercolor images accompany each verse, expanding the humor and adding sight clues. The “Final Word” is “So you’ve read this book of poems/Did they knock you to the floor?/Did they poke you? Did they joke you?/Well, that’s just what they were for.” A suitably silly read-aloud choice to start the school year or to introduce a unit on poetry.–Luann Toth , School Library Journal

Hodgkinson , Jo. A Big Day for Migs! illus. by Jo Hodgkinson. 32p. Andersen. Oct. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781467750141.

PreS-Gr 1 –On his first day of school, a shy mouse named Migs summons his courage by dressing up as a superhero (Mighty Migs) and racing around the room, ruining a puppet show, flinging a stuffed bear, and breaking a train set. He also accidentally destroys a classmate’s painting and, despite his best efforts, realizes that some things cannot be repaired. While he feels guilty about upsetting Rokko and hides in a box, Migs eventually unites his class in a mission to bring Rokko’s art to life. The charming, quirky animals are evocative of Richard Scarry’s characters and Marc Brown’s Arthur and friends. Delightful endpapers introduce each character participating in a fun school activity, and the bright colors and array of printed clothing create a lively, vibrant mood throughout. The rhyming couplets clearly and cleverly relate the familiar predicament of overcoming the first-day jitters, even though some word pairs don’t exactly share the same ending sounds (“map/back” and ”Mum/fun”). There are opportunities for incorporating this title into storytimes and lessons around classroom and social behaviors and working with others.–Whitney LeBlanc, Staten Island Academy, NY

Livingston, A. A. B. Bear and Lolly: Off to School. illus. by Joey Chou. 32p. HarperCollins/Harper. Jul. 2014. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780062197887. LC 2012004290.

PreS-K –As a twist on “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” what if B. Bear (aka Baby Bear) and Lolly (short for Goldilocks) were best friends? They like the same things: porridge, chair, and a comfy bed. Now they are starting on a new adventure—going to school for the first time. They shop for school supplies and find first-day outfits that are “just right.” Lolly helps calm B. Bear’s first-day jitters as they navigate their way to school. Despite losing his school supplies along the way, he discovers that he has the only thing he really needs: a friend. This clever take on the classic tale will delight readers, and the bold digital illustrations are a good complement.–Sarah Polace, Cuyahoga Public Library System, OH

Maizes, Sarah. On My Way to School. illus. by Michael Paraskevas. 40p. ebook available. Walker. Jul. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780802737007; lib. ed. $17.89. ISBN 9780802737083. LC 2013039131.

PreS-Gr 1 – This third offering featuring Livi the imaginative dawdler picks up where On My Way to the Bath (Walker, 2012 ) left off. This time the child’s mother is struggling to get her out of bed, dressed, fed, and packed up before the school bus comes, but Livi has other ideas. Searching for clean underwear becomes a pirate’s hunt for treasure, with her toy Froggolini as first mate. Carrying her backpack turns Livi into a sherpa leading explorers to the top of Mount Everest. Even walking from the bus to her classroom finds her sashaying like a movie star while her adoring fans ask for her autograph. Unfortunately, this time Livi’s dawdling feels more forced and less endearing than in her previous books. Her reluctance to go to school veers toward sounding bratty: “School is for people who need to learn stuff. I have gone to school a hundred times, and I already know lots of stuff. I will stay in bed.” On a brighter note, the adult voices still amuse, particularly when bus driver shouts, “Sit down back there!” after Livi jumps up from her seat pretending to be a lemur. As with the other titles, the digital illustrations are spot-on, full of vivid color, expressiveness, and humor. Readers who found Livi’s earlier adventures hilarious will most likely enjoy her latest stalling tactics, even if the formula has begun to grow a bit tired.–Teri Markson, Los Angeles Public Library


Meister, Cari. Tiny Goes Back to School. illus. by Rich Davis. 32p. maps. (Penguin Young Readers). Penguin. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780670786077; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780448481340; lib. ed. $13.55. ISBN 9780606357203.

PreS-Gr 1 –In this installment in the emergent-reader series, a dog roughly the size of an elephant is not well behaved. His owner, an expressive, bespectacled boy, decides that Tiny needs to go back to obedience school. The pup doesn’t shine until the doggy num-nums come out. After that he improves his behavior and becomes a role model for the other doggy students. Short, simple sentences are paired with funny cartoon illustrations of an assortment of canines and one beleaguered child, making this a good choice for the very earliest readers.–Melisa Bailey, Harford County Library System, MD

Shea, Bob. Dinosaur vs. School. illus. by Bob Shea. 40p. Disney-Hyperion. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423160878.

PreS-Gr 1 –Dinosaur is embarking on a new experience: school. Shea’s collages are bold, vivid, and laugh-out-loud funny. His cartoon style is at times reminiscent of The Powerpuff Girls and The Ren & Stimpy Show yet is uniquely his own. Kids will appreciate the humor and Dinosaur’s confidence as he faces off against some familiar situations. This is an excellent read-aloud that becomes interactive as the story builds. As an added bonus, if you look closely, you can spot Buddy and the Bunnies from Shea’s previous book. Add this title to your cart, and your patrons and students will be sure to cheer.–Krishna Grady, Darien Library, CT

Thydell, Johanna. There’s a Pig in My Class! tr. from Swedish by Helle Martens. illus. by Charlotte Ramel. 32p. ebook available. Holiday House. Sept. 2014. RTE $16.95. ISBN 9780823431687. LC 2013045492.

PreS-Gr 1 –During recess, a lonely pig from the farm next door breaks out of his pen and wants to go to school. The children quickly devise a plan to sneak him in by dressing him in their clothes—a sweater, pants, a scarf, and a hat. Once in the classroom, the new student enjoys making friends and an afternoon filled with storytime, playtime, lunch, and a nap. When the teacher, Tall Tina, discovers the pig after a bathroom break, she quickly shoos him back outside where he is once again the “loneliest pig in the world.” A few pages later, Tall Tina finds a way for him to visit with his new friends by taking the class outside to learn about animals and nature. The detailed, pastel-hued illustrations fit the mood of this entertaining story.–Sarah Polace, Cuyahoga Public Library System, OH

Wilson, N. D. Ninja Boy Goes to School. illus. by J. J. Harrison. 32p. Random. Jul. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780375865848; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780375981791.

K-Gr 2 –A ninja must be silent as a ghost, as nimble as a mountain goat, as strong as a gorilla, and have the patience of a “deep-rooted tree.” As the necessary qualifications are listed, the pictures show a child dressed as a ninja going through the motions while his amused classmates look on. When he becomes bored in math class, he must choose the right time to disappear by jumping out the window. And he must pay the consequences when his teacher finds him playing tetherball during class. “Ninjas must never give up. Even when facing a strong enemy” shows his stern teacher sending him to the principal’s office. He must face the man, but “A ninja knows when to be silent.” His angry father takes him home and sends him to his room. “It is hard being a ninja.” The comic book–style illustrations have lots of fun details and BAM! POW! kid-appeal. The text is a minefield of similes and metaphors—a great way to introduce the terms to young grammarians.–Mary Hazelton, formerly at Warren & Waldoboro Elementary Schools, ME

Graphic Novels

Holm, Jennifer L., Matthew Holm & Jarrett J. Krosoczka, eds. Comics Squad: Recess!. 144p. ebook available. illus. Random. Jul. 2014. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780385370035; lib. ed. $12.99. ISBN 9780385370042.

Gr 2-5 –An all-star lineup of graphic novel notables contributes original works to this anthology, sharing the common thread of recess. Holm’s Babymouse and Jarrett Krosoczka’s Betty characters make appearances in their own vignettes, presented in orange-tinted, two-color palettes, while other characters, such as Eric Wight’s Jiminy Sprinkles and Vernon’s Scratch and Squeak, make their debut. A wide range of writing styles is featured, from Yang’s 18 disciplines of the ninja to Dav Pilkey’s tale of George and Harold’s invented spelling in their “Tree House Comix,” and in each entry, the storytelling is strong and the art reflects each cartoonist’s unique style. Two stories that particularly stand out are “300 Words” by Dan Santat and “The Rainy Day Monitor” by Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman. In Santat’s tale, two boys forget to complete a 300-word assignment on Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Having only recess to complete the task, one painstakingly counts his words to meet the required quota in a scene that will elicit audible giggles. The other boy attempts to ask a female classmate if he could copy from her paper, all the while recalling a stomach-turning mishap with said female during the school play. The result is a touching and sweet story that will stick with readers. Telgemeier and Roman’s story involves a tabletop game of kickball so fun that kids stuck indoors for recess may be quick to follow suit. This anthology will serve children well as an introduction to a variety of comic-creating talents.–Matthew C. Winner, Ducketts Lane Elementary School, Elkridge, MD

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