School is Cool: Fabulous Books for Reading Aloud

Burgeoning with optimism and unadulterated fun, these gold-star picture books are sure to alleviate students' first-day worries, generate enthusiasm for things to come, and set the tone for the best school year ever. It will be smiles all around as children enjoy stories that blend realistic back-to-school situations and emotions with a bit of whimsy here, a comfortingly upbeat touch there, and an always-satisfying resolution. In addition to solid storytelling, these titles also feature eye-catching illustration in an array of vivid hues and varied artistic styles. Share these tales to welcome your students, reel in their boisterous energy, and begin to build a classroom community.

A Fine Beginning

It's only the first day, but a curly haired girl and her classmates already feel confident that This School Year Will Be the Best! (Dutton, 2010; K-Gr 3). Humor and high hopes abound, as their teacher gathers them in a circle and asks each one to share a wish for the days to come. Varying from the feasible ("I won't lose things in my desk") to the far-fetched ("We'll have a chocolate fountain at lunch!"), each aspiration is presented along with a cheerful cartoon-style illustration that adds both detail and imaginary flair. Kay Winters and Renée Andriani create a sense of bright expectancy as the students express their desires and take ownership over the school year. The final spread shows the kids posed around their teacher, proudly displaying pictures illustrating their wishes. Use this buoyant book to launch a similar discussion and art project, and help your students to feel right at home.
Though your young learners may still be longing for summertime, you can grab their attention by sharing an amusing poem or two and irrefutably proving There's No Place Like School (Greenwillow, 2010; K-Gr 4). Selected by Jack Prelutsky, these 18 offerings cover the elementary experience with fresh childlike perspectives and lots of chuckle-inducing humor.
Topics include Lee Bennett Hopkins's image of a "wide-awake/freshly-painted-yellow/school bus" carrying sleepy-eyed boys and girls and "hundreds/upon/hundreds/of/school supplies"; Kalli Dakos's breathless "Countdown to Recess" on a sunny day ("Dash!/Gone in a flash!"); and Kenn Nesbitt's hilarious "Drinking Fountain" mishap ("The water squirted east and west./It squirted north and south./Upon my shirt, my pants, my hair-/but nothing in my mouth"). Aglow in kaleidoscope colors and featuring a cast of appealingly offbeat characters, Jane Manning's illustrations are filled with comical high jinks and dynamic motion. This is an enchanting book to dip into at the beginning of and throughout the school year.

Kindergarten Kick-Off

Antoinette Portis's Kindergarten Diary (HarperCollins, 2010; PreS-K) charmingly chronicles a youngster's September experiences. Though Annalina worries about going to "Big School," things quickly settle into happy routine in room 2K, where she becomes comfortable with her not-at-all-scary teacher, conquers show-and-tell fears, and makes new friends. Set against crisp backdrops of wide-ruled paper with dotted lines, the characters and their environs are depicted in fluid cartoon artwork. Photo collage images add a sense of realism that will have readers smelling the crayons and hearing the bounce of a playground ball. By September's end, a contented Annalina proudly proclaims, "We are room 2K. We are fine!"
Fielding familiar worries with a nimble touch, Audrey Vernick's silly but reassuring picture book asks that ever-important question: Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? (Balzer + Bray, 2010; PreS-K). A large brown critter with a cheesy smile and teeny-tiny backpack follows a pigtailed girl into a classroom. At first, he feels a bit shy (after all, "it can be hard to start something new" and he's the "only one with horns. And a mane. Okay, and a hump"), but the children are soon waving hello ("who can resist that furry face?"). Though he can't master every skill or social situation—yet—the buffalo quickly realizes that "Everyone's special in his or her own way" and you can certainly "learn to get along without using your horns."

Daniel Jennewein's droll cartoons work in harmony with the tongue-in-cheek text to underscore the importance of cooperation, patience, and accepting people (or bison) for who they are. Kids will giggle out loud at the protagonist's expressions and antics, particularly on a wordless spread where he proudly poses with a hoof-painted masterpiece.

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