The first day of school is often traumatic, even if kids are excited to go. Shelf Awareness rounds up a handful of 2016 picture books that may allay some fears, build anticipation for the big day, or at least spark a few conversations. (A shiny red apple of appreciation also goes to Rosemary McCarney's perspective-expanding The Way to School, on Shelf's 2015 Best Books of the Year list.)
School's First Day of School by Adam Rex, illus. by Christian Robinson (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook/Macmillan, $17.99 hardcover, 9781596439641, 40p., ages 4-8, June 28, 2016)
Children will be intrigued by the notion that the looming "first day of school" might also be nerve-wracking for the school building itself. This is the fresh premise for the delightful School's First Day of School by Adam Rex (Cold Cereal; The True Meaning of Smekday), illustrated with appealingly textured acrylic paint and collage artwork by Caldecott Honor artist Christian Robinson (Leo: A Ghost Story; Last Stop on Market Street).
Make Way for Readers by Judy Sierra, illus. by G. Brian Karas (Paula Wiseman/S&S, $17.99 hardcover, 9781481418515, 32p., ages 4-8, July 5, 2016)
The simple rhythms of nursery rhymes are an excellent way to introduce kids to the music of language, and here, a bespectacled flamingo named Miss Bingo makes storytime fun: "She tells them of kittens,/ and mittens, and mice,/ Miss Muffet, her tuffet,/ and sugar, and spice." Judy Sierra (Wild About Books) captures a boisterous read-aloud session where a Mother Goose rhyme even has the power to soothe Annabelle Mousey-kin's trampled toes. G. Brian Karas's (Tap Tap Boom Boom; More-igami) softly sketched colored-pencil illustrations are just right.
Bear's Big Day by Salina Yoon (Bloomsbury, $14.99 hardcover, 9780802738325, 40p., ages 3-6, June 21, 2016)
At breakfast, Bear proves he is up to the challenge of his first day of school by cutting his own pancakes solo. He bids adieu to his cute stuffed bunny named Floppy and sets off confidently with his "big-bear backpack." Once at school, he finds that he can't color, eat or nap without Floppy by his side. Does that mean he can't be a "big bear" after all? Of course not. He'll just bring Floppy along tomorrow. Salina Yoon (Be a Friend; Duck, Duck Porcupine; Penguin and Pinecone) makes school look like an enticing place indeed with bright colors and thick black lines, and her compassionate message (Floppy love ≠ weakness) may reassure kids and parents alike.
Steamboat School: Inspired by a True Story by Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by Ron Husband (Jump at the Sun/Disney-Hyperion, $17.99, hardcover, 9781423121961, 40p., ages 7-up, June 7, 2016)
In St. Louis, Mo, in 1847, Baptist Reverend John Berry Meachum (1789-1854) created a steamboat school on the Mississippi River (which was considered federal property) to work around a state law banning education for African Americans, free or enslaved. Deborah Hopkinson (Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt; Apples to Oregon) tells the inspiring story of the Steamboat School from the point of view of a boy named James who helps the reverend fix up the boat until the day he can joyfully announce to the class: "The law against learning can't reach us here." Illustrator Ron Husband, the first African American animator at Walt Disney Studios, makes this poignant, uplifting story of courage and determination leap to life with his gorgeous, meticulously etched artwork.
The Class by Boni Ashburn, illus. by Kimberly Gee (Beach Lane/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 9781442422483, 40p., ages 3-6, July 5, 2016)
Getting ready for school is the most challenging part of first-day blues in The Class by Boni Ashburn (I Had a Favorite Dress; Over at the Castle). How do all the different kids decide what to wear? "Six/ have clothes/ laid on/ a chair./ Three don't have/ a thing to wear!/ Five/ pull on their/ favorite/ jeans./ Two are/ fashionista/ queens./ Four wear shirts their mothers chose./ One inspects/ her freckled nose." Showing myriad kids painstakingly preparing for the same dreaded day--from waking up to breakfast, dressing, packing up and getting there--will remind readers that they are not alone on that very big day. Kimberly Gee's (Today with Meg and Ted) sweet pencil illustrations, full of comical details, suit the jaunty text to a T. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness