Back to School Picture Books

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As we head back to school we often focus on those going for the very first time. Pre-schools are pretty ubiquitous these days but kindergarten is still a big step; often the first time that kids are gone every day, sometimes for a full day including lunch and naps. It seemed appropriate to start our lists out with a book focusing on this important milestone.

Planet Kindergarten book review

A nameless explorer is preparing for his biggest mission yet, a journey to Planet Kindergarten. His parents help him gather supplies, get a check-up and assure him he is ready so off he goes!  His new commander (teacher) and crew (fellow students) have to work together to meet the objectives of the flight plan (daily schedule) and test all the equipment before lunch, naps, and the end of the mission.

Failure is not an option, so with a positive attitude and a little hard work he finds a way to succeed and even continues training to return again the next day.

A mixture of fantasy and reality play out in this fun tale that kids will enjoy with bright, busy graphic illustrations to capture every reader’s imagination.

 

Planet Kindergarten

Written by: Sue Ganz-Schmitt

Illustrated by Shane Prigmore

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Chronicle Kids, 2014

Age Range: 3-7

Rating: 4/5

And if you enjoy this one, there’s a second in the series, Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit, as well.

Schools First Day of School book review

I don’t know that anyone else has ever written a first day of school story from the point of view of the school (though a few of my favorites feature teachers and faculty that are reluctant to start a new year.) This one is a subtle delight and pulls off the feat quite nicely.

A new building built over the summer is cared for by a kindly Janitor who does his best to explain to the school just what a school actually is. The school is a bit nervous to be filled with children and when the first day arrives there are children everywhere.  It’s more than the school knows quite how to handle though it enjoys watching the kids explore the playground and learn. It’s disheartened to overhear a couple of kids complain that they hate school and its nerves set off the fire alarm by mistake. But for the most part the day passes uneventfully and when the janitor returns that afternoon the school decides it would probably be okay if the janitor invited everyone back again tomorrow.

Children’s own fears about starting a new school or going for the first time are lovingly portrayed by the anthropomorphized school. And the childlike illustrations show the basic ins and outs of a school day from a few perspectives. Kids will appreciate and relate to both.

 

School’s First Day of School

Written by: Adam Rex

Illustrated by: Christian Robinson

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, 2016

Age Range: 3-7

Rating: 4/5

This is My Home This is My School book review

Another subject that doesn’t get quite as much play as it probably should is homeschooling. What if your home and school are the same place? Jonathan Bean tackles that very topic in his great little autobiographical (ish) picture book.

A typically busy day of homeschooling is slightly frenetically illustrated from sun up to sun down. The boy narrator explains how his mom is his teacher (dad plays a role too, teaching shop and acting as phys ed coach), and all the rooms (and his yard) are classrooms. They go on field trips, visit the library, eat in the cafeteria, have show and tell, and do homework just like everyone at a school would.

The best part is an author’s note follow-up that tells the reader about his experiences being homeschooled and includes pictures of his family’s school in action. For those of you who homeschool it’s a wonderful resource for making connections to someone else’s school experience.

 

This is My Home. This Is My School

Written and Illustrated by:  Jonathan Bean

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher:Farrar Straus Giroux, 2015

Age Range: 4-8

Rating: 4/5

 

Who have you got headed back to school this year? How are you helping them prepare for the big day?

Back to School Giveaway!

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I’m so excited to be hosting my first giveaway over on Instagram this week.  All week on the blog I’ll be featuring some back to school favorites for all ages in order to help everyone gear up for the big day. Today’s spotlight books are 2 fun dino-themed tales that I’ll be sending off to one lucky winner. Have you entered yet?!

Page and Print Back to School Giveaway

 

First up is an absolutely adorable dino by the name of Penelope. She’s a little nervous to start school but mom and dad are there to help getting her a new backpack and making her lunch. The problem is all of her classmates are human! So Penelope does what any dinosaur would do. She eats them! A scolding from her teacher gets things (mostly) back on track but now everyone is very wary of her and it’s clear she’s not making many new friends.  Dad gives her some guidance and she heads back into day two determined to try harder. But it looks like things will stay very much the same until Walter the class goldfish gets involved.

I won’t spoil the twist except to tell you that Penelope figures things out and makes friends with her classmates. It’s a perfect vehicle for discussing any fears that may arise (no matter how silly) about going to school and has a way of making the reader sympathetic to both sides of the dilemma. Higgins’ humor and heart are both spot on (if you’ve read any of his Mother Bruce books you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t you need to remedy that ASAP) and even older readers will appreciate the subtle irreverence of it all.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates

Written and Illustrated by: Ryan T. Higgins

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Disney/Hyperion, 2018

Age Range: 3-8

Rating: 4.5/5

 

The second book in our giveaway doesn’t actually have anything to do with back to school but pairs perfectly with Penelope’s story.

In a similar vein as Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and the many other active reader books that have followed, this story invites the reader to step into the story and participate in a very real way. We come across an angry dinosaur who threatens to chomp anyone who turns the pages. Of course, we don’t fall for his threats and continue to read until he confesses that he’s keeping all of his cakes and goodies at the end of the story and doesn’t want to share. But his bark is worse than his bite…or is it? 🙂

Continue the conversation you began with the first book and lead into manners and sharing and what it means to be a friend. And have a giggle or two while you’re at it!

 

I Will Chomp You!

Written by: Jory John

Illustrated by: Bob Shea

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Random House, 2015

Age Range: 3-6

Rating: 3.5/5

 

Check back in every day this week for more recommendations and don’t forget to visit my Instagram page for all the details on how to enter to win copies of these two great books for yourself!

Picture Book Review ~ The Street Beneath My Feet

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

When I was little I used to spend hours poring over the illustrations in the books on our shelves.  Some of my favorites were the Richard Scarry books with all their little labeled worlds filled with intricate details and happenings in every nook and cranny of the page. I also loved to look through the various National Geographic resources my parents had bought through the years, especially the atlases. We had books showing pictographs of every country’s revenue, imports and exports, flags, national symbols and so on. There was one that had cellophane overlays showing either the cities and landmarks or the natural topographical features over the outlines of the countries or showing relative sizes of the various planets, moons, and constellations within the solar system. I was entranced by this huge world of ours and how vastly different (or similar) places so far from each other could be. I think that’s probably where I first got the travel bug thought I didn’t recognize it as such at the time.

If you’ve got any readers in your house who can relate to my description above then you’ve absolutely got to get your hands on this book. From it’s gorgeous embossed cover to the flipped layout to the inside-out and back again format there’s a lot to take in and hours’ worth of discussion and study to be had.

We start out with a young child walking along the city street wondering what’s happening below him, just out of sight. The illustrations lead us down through a maze of sewer pipes and storm drains, electric cables and phone wires down to the bugs, rats, and microorganisms that make up the first layers of topsoil. Then we venture farther down on our own archaeological dig past bones and coins and pottery. Next there’s discussion of the various layers of clay, rock (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic all get their chance to shine), coal, caves with underground water, until we make it to the earth’s core.

Then our pages start folding the other direction (take a look at my post on Instagram for a better idea of how this works) and we head back out from earth’s fiery center to learn in more detail about minerals, fossils, the dinosaurs, and how plants and other creatures use the soil. When we make it back above ground we can see how the things happening beneath us can affect the world we see around us.

There’s so much here it’s almost impossible to take it all in in one reading, making it an ideal one to re-visit before a trip to the museum or a rock collecting adventure. Perfect companions for Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, The Skies Above My Eyes by the same duo, or Zommer’s Big Book of Bugs or Big Book of Beasts.

The Street Beneath My Feet

The Street Beneath My Feet

Written by: Charlotte Guillain

Illustrated by: Yuval Zommer

Number of Pages: 20

Published by: words & pictures/Quarto, 2017

Age range: 4-10

Rating: 5/5

Street Beneath My Feet detail

Picture Book Review ~ What If

What If

What If?

Written by: Samantha Berger

Illustrated by: Mike Curato

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Age Range: 4-10

Rating: 5/5

A young artist is compelled to create, drawing and writing everything her heart and mind can conceive. But what if her pencil disappeared, how would she create then? She’d fold her paper until she’d found a way to make her stories appear. And what if the paper was gone too? Well, she’d find another way to tell her stories and create something for the world to see. She takes us through 8 or 9 other options including sculpting, singing, dancing and simply holding everything in her mind. But she knows no matter what she’ll always find a way to create and tell her story.
The powerful message is told in simple rhyming couplets and the illustrations are stunning. But I absolutely loved the note from the author and illustrator about how the story came to be. A flood forced Berger to evacuate her apartment and she was unable to create the way she usually did and she had to think outside the box using found objects and unconventional tools to make her art. This experience is replicated in the book and inspires the creators in us all to keep creating!
This is the perfect vehicle for beating off any summer boredom. Grab your favorite child and all the goodies you can find (head outside, raid the craft room, the world is your oyster!) and start creating whatever strikes your fancy. And I’d love to see your results. Post them down in the comments for us all! Happy reading/creating!
What If book review

Picture Book Review ~ Mela and the Elephant

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I spent several months in Thailand teaching English to pre-schoolers at an international school and absolutely fell in love with the country and the people. Reading this sweet story (and the fantastic back matter) made me more than a little homesick. I want nothing more than to go back to wander the streets and wild places before ordering Pad Thai from a street cart and revel in the land of Smiles. Take a step into the wonder that is Thailand and enjoy this great little story.

 Mela and the Elephant book review

Mela and the Elephant

Written by: Dow Phumiruk

Illustrated by: Ziyue Chen

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press, 2018

Age Range: 3-9

Rating: 4/5

Mela learns an important lesson when she heads out one day to explore the river near her home. She gets pulled downstream and off course by a big fish and then gets tricked by a crocodile, a leopard, and some monkeys as she tries to make her way home. Finally, a kindly elephant comes to her rescue and reminds her what kindness is all about.

Mela and the Elephant book review1

This book has all the flavor of a folk tale re-telling though it’s an original story. The author (a Thai native) provides a note about the country, its culture and customs in a detailed note in the back. Give it a read and let me know what you think! (And when you’re ready to start planning your trip to Thailand, give me a holler…I’ve got lots of tips and suggestions!)

 

Mela and the Elephant book review2

Picture Book Review ~ Write to Me

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I have a bit of a weak spot for books and stories from World War Two. Both of my grandfathers served in the military (one in Japan, the other primarily in Africa), my uncle and great uncle were both stationed in Japan (one during the war and the other during my childhood and we were treated to Japanese food and the occasional exchange student at family parties), and my grandfather and father both served religious missions in Germany so I grew up seeing their slides and photos, reading letters and journal entries, hearing their stories and imagining how such beautiful countries with rich cultures and warm, generous people could be the settings for such atrocities.

Something I didn’t get into until I was an adult was learning more about what happened here in our own country during the War.  Here in Utah we had an interment camp in Topaz, but I never learned about in school (or at least I don’t remember learning about it). With so much of a similar vibe pulsing through our world these days, these reminders of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come are more and more important (the whole, ‘those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it’ idea sound familiar?) Which brings me to today’s book spotlight.Write to Me book review

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind

Written by: Cynthia Grady

Illustrated by: Amiko Hirao

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Charlesbridge,  2018

Age Range: 5-10

Rating: 4/5

When the Japanese American children of San Diego are relocated to internment camps their faithful children’s librarian encourages them to write her letters and tell her all about their new lives and experiences. She used that information to write newspaper and magazine articles to alert the population to the plight of the children. She visited, delivered packages of soap, books, food and more.

The story focuses on the time from the interment through their release, their letters and correspondence but there’s also an author’s note, multiple time lines in the back that details more of Clara Breed’s life (from birth to death and posthumous awards), the history of the Japanese in America (including events leading up to the war and through to President Obama’s designation of a monument in Hawaii in 2015), bibliography and a list for further reading. The end pages include photographs of the camps, President Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Japan and more. This book is a great discussion starter appropriate for any age (you can focus on or skim over the cruelties alluded to as much as you need, the crux of the story is the relationship within the circumstances.)

Write to Me book reveiw1

 

For an adult perspective, try Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Any other books on the subject that you’ve read you’d recommend? Tell me about them in the comments!

Happy Reading!

Picture Book Review ~ The Rabbit Listened

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The other day I shared a few books that I qualified as “shelf-esteem” books. Those with stories that help to build or encourage a healthy self-esteem in children. There are also tons of books that would qualify as “lesson” books. Some are very pedantic and preachy but the best show by example how to handle situations that come up in every day life. Today’s spotlight is one of the best of the best.

Taylor builds something wonderful but when it gets ruined his friends come by and offer to help. The chicken just knows Taylor wants to talk about it and clucks non-stop but Taylor doesn’t feel like talking. The bear feels angry and starts shouting, the elephant wants to remember exactly the way things were, and each other animal has their own ideas of how to help Taylor cope but he’s not ready to do any of those things. When the Rabbit comes by Taylor doesn’t notice so he snuggles up close to the boy and soon Taylor opens up. He listens as Taylor talks and shouts moves through all his stages of grief and anger and recovery and dreams of the next great thing he plans to build.

This is absolutely the sweetest little story and a great lesson in friendship. So often we figure that our way of dealing with something is the best way rather than really listening to what our friends need. It’s a great reminder for kids and adults alike.

The Rabbit Listened book review

The Rabbit Listened

Written and Illustrated by: Cori Doerrfeld

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2018

Number of Pages: 40

Age Range: 3-100

Rating: 4.5/5

The Rabbit Listened book review2

Picture Book Review ~ Natsumi!

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I’ve never been one to live by the adage “Never judge a book by its cover.”  In fact, I’ve discovered a ton of favorites that I picked up based solely on the cover. This book is one of those new favorites. Just look at this adorable little face and that fantastic umbrella (where can I buy one of those in a grown-up size?!)

Natsumi does absolutely everything in her life with exuberance and that tends to be a tad much for most of the people around her. She’s constantly being shushed and admonished to not be ‘so’…not so loud, not so fast, not so hard. While her family is loving they just don’t seem to understand her. Enter Grandfather. He knows just what she needs and helps her find the perfect way to shine.

Natsumi’s adorable spunk is infectious and the message is subtle and non-preachy; be true to yourself! This needs to sit on every shelf beside Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, Leo the Late Bloomer, and Amazing Grace.

Natsumi book review

Natsumi!

Written by: Susan Lendroth

Illustrated by: Priscilla Burris

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018

Number of Pages: 32

Age Range: 3-8

Rating: 5/5

I love the tag “shelf-esteem.” There are so many fabulous books that showcase underdog characters who succeed in various ways. Often they grow and progress, learn and achieve their goals all without having to change who they are fundamentally. Or there are the stories that simply celebrate our differences and uniqueness in big ways. (Check out my instagram feed today for a different but just as fabulous example of that.) What are some of your favorites?

Picture Book/Audio Book Review ~ Tolkien

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How many of you have succumbed to the lifestyle trend that is Hygge? (Pronounced “hooga” it’s a Danish word basically meaning coziness…it involves lots of candles or firesides, fuzzy blankets, books, board games, walks on the beach, connecting with people and unplugging.) There are all sorts of books, pins, articles and whatnot to give you ideas on how to do it with kids, during all the seasons, in small spaces etc. I love the idea of slowing down, being more present and aware and any tips to do it are always welcome.
Well, when I picked up this book I hadn’t realized that’s what I would be getting but I was pleasantly surprised. The author walks us through various traditions, cultures, and habits of the characters of Middle Earth (specifically focusing on the Hobbits of the Shire) and tells us how we would benefit from modeling our own lives after theirs. Everything from relishing the drinking and eating we do (emphasis on the relishing, slowing down, while at the same time doing it with gusto and our whole being and attention) to gardening and being close to nature, walking, staying home more often (yet being open to adventure occasionally to help us be more grateful for what we’ve got), singing regularly and taking naps. He also delves into some advice on how to deal with the Gollums that surface in our own lives, advises us to give gifts on our birthdays rather than to focus on receiving them, and keep a full larder (or at least a pot of tea and some cookies) on hand for any visitors.
I listened to this as an audio book which was read by Simon Vance (who has a lovely British accent which always makes things seem more credible and authoritative…plus it’s Tolkien, you need a British accent for Tolkien. No offense to the author who is American. 🙂 )
It’s full of Tolkien quotes, tidbits and explanations about the who and what of Middle Earth. Anyone who is a mega fan will probably be bored by the references but those with a passing knowledge will find something that resonates even if it’s just that simple reminder to slow down.
Wisdom of the Shire book review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life (Audio book)

Written by: Noble Smith

Read by: Simon Vance

Publisher:  Blackstone Audio, 2013

Number of Pages: 222 (4 hours 47 minutes audio)

Age Range: Adult

Rating: 3.5/5

For those of you looking for a little more information on the creator of the aforementioned Shire or if you’ve got a younger audience you’d like to start introducing Hobbits, Ents and elves to, then this next book is for you.

 

This is a fantastic bio of the father of modern fantasy with bits of magic on every page. The text and illustrations effortlessly showcase the magic and devastation of Tolkien’s life. Both pulling from his experiences and trying to escape them, John Ronald created worlds, creatures, languages, and stories that have become a cultural phenomenon with lives of their own opening the door to other phenomenon such as Dungeon’s and Dragons and Harry Potter.

 

There’s some detailed back matter including author’s and illustrator’s notes providing more details about Tolkien’s life and the creation of the book. There’s also a bibliography and catalog of the dragons that influenced and appeared in Tolkien’s stories. A brilliant and beautiful addition to any home or classroom library, particularly for Tolkien or fantasy fans.

John Ronalds Dragons book review

John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien

Written by: Caroline McAlister

Illustrated by: Eliza Wheeler

Number of Pages: 48

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2017

Age Range: 6-12

Rating: 4.5/5

Picture Book Review ~ Books for a Rainy Day

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

April is notorious for being wet and dreary (April Showers, sound familiar?!) But it’s also on the cusp of the season changes so things begin to warm up and bloom and it’s definitely an invitation to head outside and soak up the moments of sunshine when they appear. But the rain has a beauty of its own, especially when you’ve got littles to entertain. So pull on the wellies and see who can make the biggest puddle splash! Then warm up some cocoa and enjoy a few of these rainy day stories. (And by the way, littles are not a pre-requisite for this day of fun! 😉 )

Raccoon isn’t eager to be alone on such a stormy night so he heads out into the forest, splish-splashing his way to seek shelter with one of his friends. But alas, he’s too big to join any of them in their homes. His last hope is Rabbit’s den, full to overflowing with ten little rabbits all hopping and bopping off the walls. But Rabbit welcomes him warmly and he feels cozy and safe. Soon the other friends appear at the door and they are all welcomed in as well because there’s always room for friends! A fun read aloud for pre-school age.
May I Come In book review
Written by: Marsha Diane Arnold
Illustrated by: Jennie Poh
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press, 2018
Number of Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-5
Rating: 3/5
One of my absolute all-time favorite rain books, this was always a hit in my pre-school/kindergarten read-alouds. This builds in a “House That Jack Built” sort of way with each character succumbing to the gloomy spirit of the rainy day and falling asleep on the big bed. Until a pesky flea sets off a chain reaction that finds everyone awake and laughing. Take a look at the progress of the stormy skies outside the window as you read, and see if you can read it without giggling.
The Napping House book review
Written by: Audrey Wood
Illustrated by: Don Wood
Publisher: Harcourt Publishing, 1984
Number of Pages: 32
Age Range: 2-6
Rating: 5/5
After a rainstorm Ava is eager to look for the rainbow and quickly wishes that the one she finds could stay around forever. Magically, it does! Night and day the rainbow soars above the town and becomes the center of attention…until he becomes so commonplace that the townspeople forget he’s even there. Ava despairs that they could ignore something so special and he vanishes. Thankfully he returns again after another storm and both he and Ava realize the importance of appreciating the beauty of the fleeting and temporary.
Ava and the Rainbow book review
Written and Illustrated by: Ged Adamson
Number of Pages: 32
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2018
Age Range: 4-9
Rating: 4/5
By the door is a big, friendly umbrella. When it ventures out during a rainstorm it invites all to take shelter and it’s miraculously always big enough for everyone, no matter who you are. Told in simple, spare text it’s a beautiful little metaphor for older readers of the way our world can work. And for younger, more literal readers it’s a cheerful tale to brighten a rainy day.
Big Umbrella book review
Written and Illustrated by: Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates
Number of Pages: 40
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2018
Age Range: 3-8
Rating: 4/5
Need more rainy day books? Here are a few favorites both old and new:
Did I miss any of your favorites? Please share them in the comments!