In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back from vacation, and back to school!

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I hope you had a wonderful vacation in Maine!  We're back from our vacation as well, and this past week have leapt back into school: Isabel started preschool on Tuesday, I was back in the classroom with my high school students on Thursday, and in the biggest news, Eleanor started kindergarten on the same day.

While we've written about school books before (here, here, and here), the first day of kindergarten felt like a big deal to us -- and, apparently, to the many authors of children's books on that more specific subject.  In my experience, these books range from the banal and weirdly encouraging of school fear to the happily enthusiastic.

We own two first-day-of-kindergarten books, one of each type.

On the banal side, there's The Night Before Kindergarten, by Natasha Wing.  Every kid in Eleanor's pre-K class last year was given a copy of this slim little book, which uses the basic rhyme scheme of The Night Before Christmas to explore the feelings of kids and parents on the night before and the morning of the first day of kindergarten.  It's...okay.  There's an odd emphasis on the idea that all kids expect that kindergarten will include naptime, and are surprised when it doesn't, and at several points the rhymes seem a little forced.  The major surprise ending is that, while the kids are perfectly happy saying goodbye to their parents when it's time for school to start, it's the parents who are upset to let their kids go!  Ha ha ha.

A far better book came to us from my cousin (your niece), Ona, who is a fabulous kindergarten teacher herself.

Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten
, by Joseph Slate, is an alphabet book and an animal book as well as a first-day book, and the vivid illustrations by Ashley Wolff provide a lot to dig into.  The pages alternate between images of Miss Bindergarten (a large, enthusiastic dog) preparing her classroom for the arrival of her students, and the students getting themselves ready:

Adam Krupp wakes up.
Brenda Heath brushes her teeth.
Christopher Beaker finds his sneaker.

Miss Bindergarten gets ready for kindergarten.

The first names of the students go in alphabetical order, all the way to "Zach Blair finds his chair."  Each student is an animal whose species begins with the same letter as the kid's name: Adam is an alligator, Brenda a beaver, Christopher a cat, etc.  (There's a class picture with the names of all the animals on the last page, which is helpful for the more arcane letters: Ursula the Uakari monkey, Xavier the Xenosaurus.)

Miss Bindergarten transforms her room over the course of the book, with some help from her cockatoo, and it ultimately looks like a fun place to be.  I'm not sure what to make of the few details which imply that Miss Bindergarten is also a little absent-minded -- the tag sticking out from the back of her dress, the note taped to her bottom -- as she seems otherwise very on her game.

In the last ten years, Slate and Wolff have written a number of other Miss Bindergarten books, which we haven't read -- do they hold up to the charm of the original?  Do you have any other favorites?

Love, Annie

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