School Days and Important Lessons to Learn

Book reviews of children's favorites
September 10, 2015 Updated: September 11, 2015

It’s back to school time, and life for the child begins to get very hectic. While teachers will focus somewhat on values, they will stress, of course, academics. Parents should remember they are still the essential ones to teach children their beliefs, and the perfect way to do so is with the use of books. At this time of the year, books about school abound. Here are some of my favorites.

(Candlewick)
(Candlewick)

‘The Dot’ by Peter Reynolds

This book shows how great teachers challenge children’s preconceived notions about themselves. Vashti thinks that she can’t draw, but her art teacher asks her to draw a dot. The teacher then has her sign the paper with the dot on it.

Later, Vashti sees her finished dot on display with a nice frame around it and thinks that she can improve her work. She does and begins to create masterpieces.

At the end of the book, Vashti is telling a boy that he can draw by using the same technique that inspired her.

International Dot Day, based on this book, is Sept. 15.  It is a global celebration of creativity.  

(Recommended by reader and educator Maria Chester)

(Aladdin)
(Aladdin)

‘Beatrice’s Goat’ by Page McBrier

This is a true story about a child, Beatrice, who lives in poverty in Africa. Beatrice dreams about going to school but cannot afford to do so. One day, everything changes when the family receives a goat from an organization called Heifer International. With the money that the family gets from selling the goat’s milk, Beatrice is able to go to school, which would have been impossible otherwise.

The book shows that small actions can make a big difference and that going to school should never be taken for granted.

See the “60 Minutes” interview with Beatrice Biira after she is grown. 

(Charlesbridge)
(Charlesbridge)

‘First Day Jitters’ by Julie Danneberg

A lot of fun and easy for the whole family to relate to, “First Day Jitters” shows the typical roller coaster of emotions as Sarah Jane Hartwell prepares for her first day of school.

She wants to stay in bed, stumbles into the bathroom, fumbles into her clothes, and complains about her head hurting. Finally she gets to school and then something quite surprising happens.

The ending will delight children as they explore a different way to look at school.                 

(Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)
(Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)

‘Garmann’s Summer’ by Stian Hole

“Garmann’s Summer” differs from most other children’s books, especially in its use of surreal pictures. It is a Norwegian tale about a boy’s fears right before he attends his first day of school.

To deal with his fears, Garmann asks his three elderly aunts what scares them: Their answers include death, using a walker, and not remembering. Even Garmann’s dad, a violinist, has his own fears.

At the end of the story, Garmann is still nervous but prepares for school, realizing that everyone is afraid of something.

(Bloomsbury USA Childrens)
(Bloomsbury USA Childrens)

‘Dad’s First Day’ by Mike Wohnoutka

This book, where the typical roles of father and son are reversed, is a great discussion starter about change. The story begins by showing Oliver, a young boy, and his dad doing things together in the summer—playing baseball, laughing, singing, and reading. 

Then comes the first day of school! Dad does not want his son to attend, and humorous pictures show how Dad stalls the inevitable. Once at school, Oliver happily joins his class but Dad starts crying, and the teacher needs to walk Dad to his car. Later at home, Dad decides to go back to school to check on Oliver. Dad sees Oliver enjoying class and starts to let go. On an amazing page, Dad realizes that they are both ready for school.

A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.
— C.S. Lewis
(Tanglewood Press)
(Tanglewood Press)

‘The Kissing Hand’ by Audrey Penn

In this sweet tale, the writer like Aesop chooses the nonthreatening strategy of using animals so the reader can have a little distance from the story and absorb the lesson without putting up any barriers.

School is starting in the forest, but little Chester the Raccoon is afraid to go. Knowing her love will be a great comfort to Chester, his mother takes Chester’s palm and kisses it. His mom then tells him to put it to his cheek when he begins to feel lonely at school. It works.

Later before he scampers off to school, he gives back to his mother the kissing hand so that she won’t miss him too much. At the end of the book, there is a drawing of a kissing hand to provide similar comfort to apprehensive little ones suffering from separation anxiety.  

These are only a few examples of interesting books on the subject of school. In the search for your favorites, please remember this point: “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”–C.S. Lewis

Linda Wiegenfeld is a retired teacher. She may be contacted at LWiegenfeld@aol.com

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