Every August I start off with the feeling that this is the year I crack the code and fix the mistakes I made in getting ready for back-to-school in the past, but there is always something that surprises me.
I vividly remember the year we had to go to the store during that first week of school to buy purple duotang binders as requested by a teacher. I was comforted to see several other parents I recognized who were doing the same thing. Knowing that others are facing the same challenges and worries was so reassuring. This need for reassurance would take us to the library shelves each year to look for books which featured classrooms, teachers and students busy with field trips, friendship, and things we could talk about, helping to ease some of the pressure (but never preparing me for rogue purple duotang binder requests).
This September will find us all facing the additional challenges of Covid, of course, but the talents of picture book authors and illustrators can help ease some of the back-to-school transition.
The fifth book in Margaret McNamara’s series about Mr. Tiffin’s classroom has arrived just in time to prepare kids for one of the best parts of their school week – a visit to the school library! In The Little Library, the students meet a cheerful new staff member who introduces themselves to the class by saying “Please call me Librarian Beck” and reassures a student who shares the worry that a book filled with diagrams, like a favourite book about woodworking, doesn’t “count as reading.” Librarian Beck encourages Jake to check it out each week and it becomes a favourite. At the end of the book (and the school year) he has built a Little Library for Librarian Beck as a gift for the school and the final page includes information about Little Libraries for families.
As McNamara has done with her previous books – one about pumpkins (but more about self-confidence and a bit of math and science), one about a trip to the apple orchard (with a quiet lesson about classroom personalities), one about poetry and language (but all about perfection and the horror of writer’s block) and one about dinosaurs (where the class learns about successful women scientists) – this book has a charming story with additional facts that can lead the reader to enjoy further research on the topic.
Margaret McNamara is also the author of the fabulous easy reader series featuring the children at Robin Hill School – if you happen to be looking for a good introduction to school life for a beginning reader this is perfect place to start – relevant stories with sweet characters and an enjoyable pick for parents who will probably listen to them over and over again.
Poet and educator Matthew Burgess has a new picture book called Bird Boy featuring a smiling, quiet boy who goes reluctantly to a new school. So reluctantly that the text describes him feeling as if his knapsack is filled with stones as he walks to the classroom. He is self-aware and genuine, eventually coming to accept the nickname of ‘Bird Boy’ from the other children, after they see him sit in the schoolyard, quietly welcoming birds and insects. Just as the birds are drawn to his kind personality, so are some of his nature-loving classmates, and the end of the book sees him with two new friends. The images on each page match the beauty of the language, making this a top pick for any family.
I love seeing a new book arrive from Canadian writer and illustrator, Marianne Dubuc. Each one causes me to marvel at her ability to give animals quirky personalities, whether they are cats knitting while they ride the city bus, or a mouse delivering the mail. I adore her careful use of colour and look forward to seeing another sloth on the page – what will the sloth be doing this time, I wonder.
In Dubuc’s latest book, 1, 2, 3, Off To School!, she has mice, frogs, rabbits, sloths and other animals attending classes in spaces that are appropriate to their size and species. The frogs are on lily pads, the sloths are in a tree, and the rabbits are underground. Their classrooms are filled with equipment made out of human items that suit the animals, like playing cards and matchsticks are used for the mice, and the frogs have a classroom made from natural materials found near a pond. The main character is a human child who visits each school, seeing the pleasure it gives to the animal friends. The pages are so much fun that the text really isn’t necessary. Readers can make up a story and find endless fun in returning to find new details each time. Oh, and don’t miss learning how some of the mice arrive at school!
And one last book I’ve loved about the school day, Listen by Gabi Snyder, includes time spent in the classroom bookended by those moments a child spends getting ready for the day, walking to the school, and then unwinding at home after their day is finished. It’s a gift to read aloud because the author describes the sounds of animals, a moving van, even a comforting teakettle. I can see a family sharing in the pleasure of making those sounds together – the sound of a bird, a dog, a vrooming motorcycle. Once at the school, the young student knows that a classmate has hurt feelings and wonders what that might sound like. Will it be silence or a sob? This author, through the viewpoint of her young student, allows the reader to experience a day in a different way and, through the images of Stephanie Graegin (Fern and Otto!), it is a beautiful day to share.
Spend some time with these books and so many others, available to you by browsing the shelves at the library or through requesting a personalized bundle for kids. You can also give our staff a call (519-886-1310 ext. 129) or send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to connect with the Children’s Department and have a conversation about exactly what you are looking for – they love to help you find just the right books. Get cozy with your kids and a pile of spectacular books – that’s the most wonderful time of the year!
— Penny M.