This Is a School by John Schu, illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison. The school year is about to start and young children have many questions. Some are asked aloud. Some are deep inside. who will be my teacher will i find a friend will i miss my parents can i do the work what about teasing Are there children like me? will I belong?
First 5 California, the state’s parenting website, offers parents tips to answer such questions and prepare their children for preschool and transitional kindergarten. Among the suggestions: “Read books about … going to school and talk about it together.” Good advice. Only one thing is missing: book recommendations. But resources are plentiful. Parents can search the internet, check the library, go to a local bookstore, or try some of the 2022 books discussed here.
The first three are general – what to expect and what is expected in the classroom. The last four are more specific to children from immigrant families. Note: In the Bay Area, almost a third of the population is foreign-born. Therefore, many children may feel alone on the first day of school because of their culture or language or both. It’s important that they learn that they are valued and welcomed, at least in books!
That is a school
Written by John Schu; illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison
(Candlewick; 40 pages; $17.99; ages 4-8)
This cheerful, book-length definition of “school” emphasizes big ideas. The sparse, syncopated text describes “school” as a place to grow, learn, create, celebrate, change, and work in community. It is the cheerful art that makes the abstract concrete. Different children with different hairstyles and skin colors ask questions (learning), plant a school garden (transformation), and play instruments (collaboration) in class. Enthusiasm is easily tempered with honesty: some days we “just feel stuck” and not doing the right thing. A spread refers to the shutdown time, “if something happens and we can’t all be together. …We learn. We take care. We hope. We’re healing.” The pandemic isn’t out of sight or out of mind just yet, but the overall message is clear: school is cool.
Not yet yeti
Written by Bethany V. Freitas; illustrated by Maddie Frost
(Clarion; 40 pages; $17.99; ages 3-7)
A yeti is an imaginary, ape-like creature said to inhabit the Himalayas. Here Yeti inhabits an ordinary classroom. He has yet to meet new children, toys or challenges. That’s the structure of this surprisingly endearing and whimsical picture book about the highs and lows of the first day of school. Cartoon art is perfect for this whimsical story where Yeti tries to write his name. “I can’t do this,” he yells. “Maybe not yet, Yeti,” replies the teacher. Another new challenge later in the day is easier to overcome with the kind of success that breeds success—which is what happens when persistence pays off. Finally, the teacher says, “And remember, tomorrow we can all try again.” Delivered with humor is an all-important, lifelong recipe for a growth mindset.
Llama, llama back to school
Written by Anna Dewdney and Reed Duncan; illustrated by JT Morrow
(Viking; 40 pages; $18.99; ages 2-5)
A favorite character returns in this happy, gentle tale about the unwelcome transition from summer to fall. Young llama loves summer – fishing, hiking, camping, fresh fruit, sand castles, picnics and lazy days. Autumn? Not as much. A Bay Area illustrator creates sunny pages with convincingly anthropomorphic animals to document Llama’s reset – new shoes, water bottle, lunch box, backpack, sweater, shirt and socks. On the first day of school, the teacher (a zebra) puts her class in order. “Crayons, paper/Be on time./Don’t shove or shove. Get in line,” she commands in pleasant singsong stanzas. The order allows for art, music and friendliness. Example: Llama enters to comfort a tearful little rhino who may be suffering from separation anxiety. Therefore, the focus throughout is on making the necessary back-to-school adjustments that foster resilience and independence.
Written and illustrated by Young Vo
(Levine Querido; 40 pages; $17.99; ages 4-8)
Imagine being put in an American school that doesn’t speak English. A self-described “refugee child” from war-torn Vietnam, Vo relives his own childhood experiences in a moving memoir about immigration, isolation and inclusion. Dat is his deputy who traveled by boat, plane and bus to reach his first day of school. Mah offers motherly advice: “When people speak, it will sound like gibberish. … Just listen and do your best.” She’s right. Dat can’t understand the bus driver, teacher, or other kids, a fact underscored by the intentionally obnoxious, comic book-like art and undecipherable words expressed with undecipherable emoji-like characters. Only Mah, Dat and a new friend appear realistic and in warm colors. Here, then, readers feel the aching loneliness and confusion of non-English speaking newcomers. And here readers relish the pleasure of making friends and expanding understanding. Gibberish is a masterpiece of meaning.
Luli and the language of tea
Written by Andrea Wang; illustrated by Hyewon Yum
(Neal Porter Books/Holiday House; 40 pages; $18.99; ages 3-7)
Do you see a problem? Develop a solution. That’s what a girl does in this adorable picture book about bridging differences. While parents attend an English as a second language course, their non-English speaking children receive free childcare next door. From many countries they do not have a common language. Everyone plays alone until Luli brings all the ingredients for the tea. “Chá,” she calls out in Chinese, inviting everyone to share. In eight other languages from every continent, the children recall the word for tea, then gather around a table to share a universal beverage that the author’s intriguing note notes began in China nearly 5,000 years ago. Gentle, childlike art is as inviting as a cup of warm tea. With absolute simplicity, this book connects diverse cultures to build a natural community.
lunch from home
Written by Joshua David Stein; Art by Jing Li
(Rise X Penguin Workshop; 40 pages; $17.99; ages 3-6)
What happens when food you find delicious and comforting is alien to your classmates? That’s the dilemma in this multifaceted tale of peer pressure and cultural pride at the lunch table. Over four days, four children bring traditional family specialties – dhokla (from India), gimbap (from Korea), salmon and bagel (from Eastern Europe) and a burrito (from Mexico). Each triggers a sneer or derogatory remark. It’s boring sandwiches for everyone until Friday, until the more interesting cuisines reappear. The book is based on the experiences of four children-turned-professionals, including Sonoma County’s Preeti Mistry. Your memories and menus add to the authenticity of the feelings and food. Bright digital art is filled with vibrant illustrations of the classroom, fresh food counter, and kitchen details that inspire cultural pride and acceptance for all.
That’s not my name!
Written and illustrated by Anoosha Syed
(Viking; 40 pages; $17.99; ages 3-5)
On the first day of school, nobody pronounces Mirha’s name correctly. That disappointment fuels a disarming book about identity, respect for others, and self-defense. Lighthearted art depicts a modern American home and school. The grandmother’s shalwar kameez gives an indication of the family’s South Asian heritage. Mirha considers changing her name to something simple, but mom is against it. “Mirha means ‘happiness’ in Arabic,” she explains. “Your name is different from your classmates. … It just means that you are unique and special. … If people can remember names like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo, they can remember Mirha.” This powerful argument helps Mirha find the courage to stand up for herself and make many friends. She promises to pronounce their equally beautiful names correctly!