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September 2008

Going Back to School With Books

By Mary Quattlebaum

Prepare for new experiences and allay back-to-school jitters with these titles.


by Carol Baicker-McKee
Bloomsbury, 2008, $15.95

A sweet-faced piglet takes toddlers through her day from sharing “a bite of cereal with Bunny,” her favorite toy, to playground fun to a good-night “moon song” with Mommy and Daddy. These easy daily rhythms strike a reassuring note when Mimi’s pet, Frank, disappears from his yogurt-cup home. Mimi looks everywhere for her “roly-poly bug” and thinks of him as she eats a banana, sets the table and prepares for bed. The author/illustrator’s fabric creations are winsome and expressive, and her illustrations add charming details to the spare text, including the closing image of Frank snuggled with Mimi and Bunny under a colorful quilt.

by Sally Sutton
illustrated by Brian Lovelock
Candlewick, 2008, $15.99

“Bump! Whump! Whop!” There’s a road to be built and lots of noise-making machines to do it. In simple, age-appropriate language, this rhyming tale describes the process from planning to clearing a path to pouring and rolling the tar to painting lines. Little ones will love shouting out the onomatopoeic words that end each four-line verse and perusing the artwork that so vividly details the steps. Illustrations portray workers of all ethnicities and both genders. This book is for every tot fascinated by construction sites and every parent at a loss for the best explanatory words. A great bonus: an illustrated glossary of the machines pictured.

ages 3 – 7

Off to First Grade
by Louise Borden
illustrated by Joan Rankin
McElderry/Simon & Schuster, 2008, $16.99

Anna, Ben, Claire and their classmates prepare for the first day of first grade. They kiss baby sisters good-bye, pose for a snapshot and watch eagerly for the “big yellow school bus.” Each young student, from A to Z, provides a perspective in a short free-verse poem, with accompanying watercolor illustrations. Even the principal, teacher and school-bus driver chime in. However, very few characters mention the jitters that often mix with the first-day excitement. Whit wonders whether his teacher is “nice,” Ignacio, a recent immigrant, practices his English and Yoshi “doesn’t tell his dad” about his worries. Although the text doesn’t move beyond arrival at the school to explore how the young characters deal with these feelings or receive reassurance, the warm-toned art gives a sense that all will be okay.

No English
by Jacqueline Jules
illustrated by Amy Huntington
Mitten Press, 2007, $17.95

Recently arrived from Argentina, Blanca keeps saying “no English” when someone tries to talk with her. When the girl leaves for her ESL class, the teacher guides the other second graders to better understand Blanca’s feelings of loneliness and isolation. Soon the children are learning about Argentina and trying to say Spanish words. Several days later, though, a substitute sends the first-person narrator and Blanca to the office for giggling and drawing (their only means of communication). The girls discover that their developing friendship helps them weather the ordeal. The story is especially strong in its portrayal of two youngsters being curious about, and helping, one another rather than showing the child of the dominant culture being the only one to provide assistance.

The Best Mariachi in the World
by J.D. Smith
illustrated by Dani Jones
Raven Tree Press, 2008, $7.95

Gustavo wants to be in the family mariachi band, but he can’t play the violin, trumpet or guitar. He feels left out and unskilled. Many young readers will relate to Gustavo’s feelings and to his yearning for a unique talent. The vivid illustrations show the boy, accompanied by his canine buddy, visiting the desert near his home in the early mornings. Gustavo finds the cacti and the sky’s “black bowl of stars” so beautiful that he just has to sing – and in so doing, recognizes what he can best contribute to the band. Written in English, with concept words in Spanish, this charming story introduces young English speakers to another language and culture, while the simple vocabulary and short sentences will help young Spanish speakers develop a better understanding of English.

ages 8 – 11

Mini Mysteries and Kooky Spookies
stories by Stephanie Campisi, Calvin Innes, Dorothy Massey and Marcia Nass
illustrated by Calvin Innes
Pinestein Press, 2007, $6.99

An international slate of authors serves up a delightful batch of 12 stories. The ingredients – kid detectives, strange doings, goofy ghouls and large dollops of humor – will appeal to strong and reluctant readers alike. And the whole is topped off nicely with wacky cartoons featuring twin ghosts Wiggle and Woo, a trouble-making witch who likes to tie-dye haunting sheets and a dog with the uncanny ability to sniff out chocolate-cake clues. With enticing titles such as “Hosting a Ghostling” and “The Mystery of the Missing Magic Wand,” these reading treats will be gobbled long before Halloween.

Mary Quattlebaum is a mother and the author most recently of Sparks Fly High, a colonial American folktale, and Jackson Jones and the Curse of the Outlaw Rose, a humorous chapter book. You can contact Mary through, which has information about her 15 award-winning children’s books and presentations at schools and conferences.