These books celebrate school

Books - September 2005


Judy Belanger

Time flies when you’re having fun, especially in the summer. But now the kids are back in school—or starting school for the very first time. That doesn’t mean the fun has ended. In celebration of another school year, here are some great back-to-school books that show just how much fun learning can be.

BUNNY SCHOOL: A LEARNING FUN-FOR-ALL, by Rick Walton, illustrated by Paige Miglio, HarperCollins, $15.99; ages 3-5.

The bunnies have a very busy day as they proceed through show and tell, music, art, storytime, and even a field trip to the fire house. The rhyming story depicts events that take place during a typical kindergarten class—some daily, some special events. The pictures show bunnies actively participating and having fun doing all their lessons. Walton and Miglio have collaborated on other books, including ones that teach number and letter skills.

BRAND-NEW PENCILS, BRAND-NEW BOOKS, by Diane deGroat, HarperCollins, $15.99; ages 4-8.

Putting the school supplies in the new backpack is just the first step into a new school year. Once the backpack is packed, reality sets in and children start wondering if their new teacher will be nice or whether their old friends will be in their new class.

In this story, Gilbert the opossum has all those same worries. It turns out his friend, Patti, will be in his first-grade class. Together, they meet Mrs. Byrd, their teacher, find their cubbies and wait patiently on the carpet for all the other animals to arrive and the school day to begin. Mrs. Byrd starts by making a list of classroom rules, then tells the students to go to their desks. Gilbert, unaware that each desk has a name on it, sits in the wrong place. As if that isn’t embarrassing enough, Lewis orders him to move—and not in a manner that is in keeping with class rules. Lunch arrives and Gilbert finds that Patti already has a new friend. Gilbert feels all alone until Frank, who has the same "Martian Space" lunch box, sits next to him, and he has a new friend, too.

By the end of the day, Gilbert has learned his classmates have different abilities—some can read, others paint well, some climb the playground equipment better—which makes him feel more comfortable about the coming year.

First grade is a big step for children. deGroat and her animal characters will help them with this transition as they face the future.

ONCE UPON AN ORDINARY SCHOOL DAY, by Colin NcNaughton, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $16; ages 5-8.

Everything about the ordinary boy is very ordinary. When the ordinary boy wakes up in the morning from his ordinary dreams he puts on his ordinary clothes, brushes his ordinary teeth, eats his ordinary breakfast, kisses his ordinary mom goodbye and goes off to his ordinary school. (Children, no doubt, will laugh out loud when they read about the ordinary boy going to the ordinary bathroom.)

I got a little tired reading about everything ordinary, but it was all worth it when the ordinary boy meets his extraordinary teacher, Mr. Gee. Mr. Gee wants to get to know his students, so he hands each a piece of paper and plays music. He asks them to listen and write what they hear on the paper. The ordinary children think the teacher is bonkers. But when the ordinary boy and his ordinary classmates start to write, we discover they have extraordinary imaginations. When the ordinary boy goes to sleep that night he has extraordinary dreams.

SCHOOLYARD RHYMES: KIDS’ OWN RHYMES FOR ROPE-SKIPPING, HAND CLAPPING, BALL BOUNCING AND JUST PLAIN FUN, selected by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Random House, $15.95; ages 6-12.

Jumping rope and playing hand-clapping games are all the rage on school playgrounds. In this book, Sierra has included 50 rhymes—old favorites, such as "Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear," and new rhymes, such as one about favorite soda drinks. Sweet incorporates fabric collages with her watercolor characters. The book contains an index of first lines, very helpful for readers trying to locate a specific rhyme. Teachers could really impress their students with a new rhyme for them every time they have recess duty.

TRIPPING OVER THE LUNCH LADY AND OTHER SCHOOL STORIES, edited by Nancy E. Mercado, Penguin, $16.99; ages 9-12.

This book contains 10 different short stories written by 10 different authors. After each story there is an author’s page that includes a list of books he or she has written, a photo of the author as a young student and a few school memories, including favorite class, teacher, field trip and cafeteria meal.

One of the best stories is "Science Friction" by David Lubar. The class, working in teams selected randomly, will produce a science project. To form the teams, Mrs. Adler pulls names from a box. The first team includes Amanda and three others. Amanda invites her team to her house to prepare their project, which is due in seven weeks. For five weeks in a row, the team meets in Amanda’s room. They eat sandwiches but get nothing done.

The next week when they meet, they realize Amanda’s room has become a disgusting, smelly mess. Ellen, who is allergic to wheat, has been eating the turkey and hiding her bread under the clothes. Benji, who doesn’t like turkey, has been hiding it on the top of the bookcase. George, who isn’t fond of carrots, has been hiding them under a stack of books.

But it all works out. Once they collect all of the garbage, the students realize they can do a great project on the deterioration of food. Mrs. Adler gives the group an A and compliments them for turning in such a well-planned project.

Judy Belanger is a retired elementary learning resource center teacher who lives with her husband in Addison. They have two grown children and four grandchildren. She continues to substitute in grades K-6 in the school where she taught.


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