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Picture books and novels can prepare young readers for school days
Unfriended
"Unfriended" is a novel by Rachel Vail. - photo by Peguin

 

It may be time to put away flip-flops and summer hats, but there’s still plenty of time to enjoy a book about school days. Following are some suggestions of books about children who are attending class for the first time, have trouble with homework or daydream their way from their bed to their school desk.

Reading a silly poem about school or imagining a new teacher might be fun. Going back to school could mean other adjustments, too, like having to wear glasses or a hearing device, or maybe even dealing with bullies.

CHU’S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL,” by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex, HarperCollins, $17.99 (ages 4-8)

Chu wonders if everyone will like him on the first day of school. A teacher with a “friendly face” encourages each class member (resembling an abecedarian zoo) to give their name and their special talent. Chu’s contribution -- as expected from “Chu’s Day,” the first adventure of this lovable panda -- is a splendiferous sneeze that assures his place in the classroom. Neil Gaiman’s clever, sparse text and Adam Rex’s extraordinary paintings with careful placement and pacing make this a candidate for “read it again!”

WHERE’S MY HOMEWORK?“ by Michael Garland, Scholastic, $6.99 paperback (ages 5-8)

There are many reasons given for lost homework, but this boy has stretched the excuses to the limit with “a dragon flew into my room and toasted my homework?” Or the blame goes to wild monkeys that climbed in a window, or a wicked witch or a pirate’s plundering. What really happened? The dog Frumpy really did eat it.

Michael Garland’s trademark animated illustrations with a surprise ending will delight young readers and have them think twice about blaming homework-eating dogs for their loss.

ON MY WAY TO SCHOOL,” by Sarah Maizes, illustrated by Michael Paraskevas, Bloomsbury, $16.99 (ages 6-8)

Livi finds lots of reasons to procrastinate getting up and going to school. “School is for people who need to learn stuff. I have gone to school a hundred times and I already know lots of stuff.”

She “oooooozes” out of bed like a snail, digs for clothes like a pirate seeking treasure, pushes her sister like an elephant and pretends to be an explorer with her school backpack. Her imagination gets a place on the bus -- a covered wagon amid jungle creatures -- that delivers the movie star to class. “On My Way to School” is for families with dawdling children that may live in another world.

KNUCKLEBALL NED,” by R.A. Dickey, illustrated by Tim Bowers, Penguin, $17.99 (ages 3-5)

It’s the first day of school and Knuckleball Ned, the baseball, is nervous not knowing where to fit in with Sammy the Softball, Connie Curveball, and Fletcher and Fiona, the Fastball twins. He is wary of the Foul Ball Gang. When teasing leads to bullying on the playground, Knuckleball Ned comes to the rescue and saves the day.

R.A. Dickey is the first knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young Award. He is a starting pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. Dickey is also the author of “Wherever I Wind Up” and its adaptation for young readers, “Throwing Strikes.”

SUPER SILLY SCHOOL POEMS,“ by David Greenberg, illustrated by Liza Woodruff, Orchard/Scholastic, $6.99 paperback (ages 6-8)

From a teacher demanding “quiet time,” to a snake escaping the terrarium, to homework, David Greenburg’s verses with Liza Woodruff’s animated drawings provide a peek at a classroom and the hazards and humor therein. Readers will relate to a teacher-sighting at a grocery store: “Teachers live at school / Of this there is no doubt / Who unlocked the door / and let the teacher out?”

MY TEACHER IS A MONSTER! (No, I Am Not.)“ by Peter Brown, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $18 (ages 5-8)

Bobby’s big problem at school is Ms. Kirby. He sees her as a roaring, stomping monster who doesn’t approve of his paper airplane throwing. In this context, Peter Brown portrays her as a monster with green skin and claws. But when Bobby meets Ms. Kirby in the park, she gradually loses her “monsterness” features and they find friendly commonalities.

The changes in Ms. Kirby’s appearance will bring readers digging back and forth in the story to find the subtle transformations, which Brown has cleverly disguised.

The dedication to “Misunderstood teachers and the misunderstood students” will not be lost on both readers and their teachers.

CALVIN, LOOK OUT! A Bookworm Birdie Gets Glasses,“ by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Keith Bendis, Sterling, $14.95 (ages 4-8)

In the library, Calvin confuses words on the pages. He stumbles over things. He visits Dr. Seewell and finds out he needs glasses. His starling cousins tease him and ridicule his new spectacles until Calvin uses his book knowledge to get out of a bad situation. Converted to seeing better, the starlings all fly off for a visit with Dr. Seewell.

Children returning to school this year with new “specs” will relate to Calvin, and all will appreciate the value of seeing better.

EL DEAFO,” by Cece Bell, Abrams, $21.95, 248 pages (nf) (ages 8-12)

After suffering meningitis, Cece became deaf and had to learn new skills using a heavy hearing aid strapped to her chest. It is difficult to understand the teacher and to make new friends. Cece learns sign language along with using the hearing appliances. “Most of the time we are lost, drifting along on our own planets.”

“El Deafo” is written as a graphic novel and shows the powerful courage of a young girl who becomes a successful journalist.

ALWAYS, ABIGAIL,” by Nancy J. Cavanaugh, Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky, $12.99, 311 pages (f) (ages 9-12)

Two best friends, Alli and Cami, practice diligently all summer to become part of the prestigious girl’s pom-pom team. But things do not work out for Alli as she hopes; she’s assigned a different home room than Cami, and after pom-pom tryouts she places as an “alternate,” not making the squad.

In language arts class, Alli is paired with Gabby, the school outcast, who is bullied and friendless. From Gabby, Alli learns some important life lessons that make a difference in her studies and attitude.

“Always, Abigail,” which is scheduled to be released Oct. 1, has clean language and is told through Abigail’s compulsive list-making and letters that express true voices of early teen jealousies and clichés.

UNFRIENDED,” by Rachel Vail, Viking, $16.99, 288 pages (f) (ages 12 and up)

It starts when Truly is invited by Natasha to sit at the “popular table” at lunch. Trudy leaves her best friend Hazel behind because moving higher on the social ladder in middle school is so tempting. But friendships are fragile when gossip is unleashed, resulting in petty jealousies followed by “friending and unfriending” messages and hurtful pictures.

Rachel Vail’s story of a contemporary middle school is told in alternating voices of four girls and two boys who flirt, accuse, admit secrets, deny rumors but always clamor for a foothold in teenage milieu. As each character struggles for position, the group is portrayed clearly through dialogue, inner thoughts and text messages. The author has captured the naive and sometimes spiteful competition in the hierarchies of school.

The language is free of swearing, violence and innuendos, and has only a few instances of strong slang. Middle school readers can relate to “Unfriended,” which is scheduled to be released on Sept. 25.

Email: marilousorensen@ymail.com