School Craze

Great back to school books from Susan….

A new school year can bring up a whole host o’fears. Will I make friends? Will the teacher hate me? Will I have to spend every afternoon on questionably-useful homework projects?

And those are just my anxieties. For my children, the terrors are much more fundamental. My toddler worries that mommy won’t actually come back for him. My kindergartener is scared that his school won’t have bathrooms. And they both wonder why they need to learn to read, anyway, when all they really want to do is play soccer for the rest of their lives.

There are lots of heartwarming, sentimental stories about walking through those big red doors – books that have both parents and kids sniffling as they turn the last page. But for me, humor is the best way to combat fear. That’s why I adore the following books. I’d rather be smiling – or, even better, giggling – when I wave goodbye on the big day.

Wow! School!, by Robert Neubecker. Yes, I’m raving about yet another Robert Neubecker book. My kids and I just can’t get enough of them – they’re colorful and bright and irresistible, with so much happening on each page that my toddler sometimes says “Again!” as soon as we’re done. It’s nice that crazy-haired Izzy and her daddy aren’t scared at all about her first day of school. You soon see why – Izzy’s school is a comforting and exciting place, full of sand tables and volcano pictures, friendly kids of different ethnicities and a smiling teacher. The book takes Izzy through a whole day, from circle time to recess, which is a great way to show kids what to expect at school. Wow, School! makes me want to go back to school myself.

Wanda’s First Day, by Mark Sperring, illustrated by Kate and Liz Pope. Wanda, a witch dressed in black, is nervous about her first day at school. And she doesn’t quite fit in – all the other girls are in pink, with wands instead of brooms and little fairy wings instead of black bat wings. But when Wanda tells the teacher she’s in the wrong place, the teacher reminds her that everyone feels that way at first. By the end of the day, Wanda has made new friends, learned new things, and can’t wait to go back. The best part? She doesn’t have to change who she is. The fanciful line drawings sizzle with color and energy.

Miss Nelson Is Missing!, by Harry Allard, illustrated by James Marshall. A badly-behaved class discovers that their mild-mannered teacher, Miss Nelson, has been replaced by the dreadful Miss Viola Swamp. When Miss Swamp takes away story hour and gives the kids too much work, they set out to bring Miss Nelson back. The twist, of course, is that Miss Nelson and Miss Swamp are the same person! The book is a good way to remind my kids that they have some control over their day. Be nice? Chances are you’ll get a Miss Nelson. Act up? Watch out for Viola Swamp.

First Day Jitters, by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by Judy Love. Sarah is dreading the first day of her new school. She’s worried that she won’t know anyone, and she’s afraid that everything will be difficult. The book follows her as she’s persuaded to get out of bed, get dressed, and get to school – at which point Sarah is revealed as being a new teacher, not a student. I’m hoping this book will help my kids realize that teachers – and maybe even mommies – might need some kindness and understanding, too.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

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