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Back to School

Jennifer W. Shettel
 | Aug 21, 2017

Shorter days and longer nights, school supplies on store shelves, fall sports practices, and shopping for new fall outfits all signal back to school time for students and teachers across the country. To usher in the start of a new school year, check out these school-themed books.

Ages 4–8

Goodnight Lab: A Scientific Parody. Chris Ferrie. 2017. Sourcebooks.

Goodnight LabKick off the start of the school year’s STEM activities with this picture book that highlights scientific vocabulary in a fun and whimsical manner. In the latest parody of Margaret Wise Brown’s bedtime classic Goodnight Moon, young children will delight in chiming in to say goodnight to all the features of the “great green lab,” while adults who read the book aloud will be chuckling over lines such as “And a pen and coffee / And some rubbish / And a grumpy old professor shouting ‘publish.’” The dominant red, green, yellow, and blue of the digitally-created illustrations mirror the color palette of the original story but feature a young girl’s laboratory instead of a baby bunny’s bedroom.

How to Get Your Teacher Ready. Jean Reagan. Ill. Lee Wildish. 2017. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

How to Get Your Teacher ReadyRegan and Wildish return with another book in their how-to series just in time for the start of the school year. This story takes a humorous approach to preparing for the first day of school by inviting kids to think about what they can do to make sure their teacher is ready, like showing her where to find the bathroom and explaining how the lunch line works! From there, the advice branches out to other important days throughout the year such as picture day, field trip day, and the last day of school. Brightly colored cartoon-like illustrations add to the light-hearted nature of this back-to-school story.

A Letter to My Teacher. Deborah Hopkinson. Ill. Nancy Carpenter. 2017. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.

A Letter to My TeacherIn a letter, an unnamed narrator thanks her second-grade teacher for the wisdom, patience, and kindness that she demonstrated. The narrative and pen-and-ink, digitally colored line drawings beautifully capture the relationship of the spunky, troublesome girl and her wise and caring teacher. At the end of the story, readers learn that the letter is from a new teacher. Reading A Letter to My Teacher will evoke memories of favorite teachers and may help students start the year with grateful hearts in appreciation for those who guide their learning.

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices. Sally Derby. Ill. Mika Song. 2017. Charlesbridge.

A New School YearIn this verse-style picture book, six students—ranging from kindergarten through fifth-grade—share their perspectives on a new school year. The four sections of the book (The Night Before, In the Morning, At School, and After School) students express what they’re thinking, feeling, and doing on the first day of school in free verse poems. Expressive, soft, ink-and-watercolor illustrations accompany the 24 poetic narratives.

Ages 9–11

 All’s Faire in Middle School. Victoria Jamieson. 2017. Dial/Penguin.

All's Faire in Middle SchoolAfter being homeschooled through elementary school by her parents who work at a local renaissance faire, 11-year-old Imogene (Impy) has decided to try out public school. It isn’t long before Impy realizes that middle school may be more than she can handle and that her new friends might not be very nice people. This colorful graphic novel is rich with themes of belonging, friendship, family, making tough choices, and finding your own way.

Lights, Camera, Middle School! (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker #1). Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. 2017. Random House.

Babymouse2Why blend in when you were born to stand out? Babymouse is bound and determined to embrace this mindset as she heads off to middle school, which to her seems more like a movie than anything else. “It was a monster movie.” Determined to find her place in her school’s social structure, Babymouse joins the film club, and hilarity ensues as the club is charged with writing, casting, and producing a movie to show to the entire school. Fans of Babymouse will enjoy her latest adventure in this continuation of the beloved series in a new format that combines the traditional graphic novel structure with prose text.

The Loser’s Club. Andrew Clements. 2017. Random House.

The Losers ClubSixth grader Alec is a voracious reader. His tendency to read during his classes has landed him in hot water, and he has to make a promise to pay more attention. To fulfill his need to read, he comes up with a plan to start a reading club at his after-school care program. Alec names it “The Loser’s Club” in hopes that it will deter additional members. He doesn’t really want to talk to people; he just wants to read! As it turns out, there are other kids who also want to read, and Alec finds himself figuring out how to make time for friends and books. Readers will be interested in pursuing the lengthy appended list of books read by Alec and his friends.

Ages 12–14

Braced. Alyson Gerber. 2017. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.

BracedSeventh-grade is really looking up for Rachel. She’s earned a starting place on the girls’ soccer team, she loves hanging out with her two best friends, and there’s even the possibility that a boy likes her. But then a diagnosis of scoliosis rocks Rachel’s world. The doctor tells her that she must wear a back brace 23 hours a day, and she can’t imagine how she is ever going to learn to live in this brace and still do the things she loves to do. And to make matters worse, her mom (who also had to wear a brace as a child) doesn’t seem to care how Rachel feels. This thought-provoking book will remind readers what matters.

Ages 15+

Backfield Boys: A Football Mystery in Black and White. John Feinstein. 2017. Farrar Straus Giroux.

Backfield BoysNinth graders and lifelong friends Jason Roddin and Tom Jefferson are excited about playing football at an elite private school, where they were both lucky enough to earn scholarships after attending the school’s summer football camp. Tom, who is black, has always played quarterback, while Jason, who is white, is a wide receiver. However, the coaches at their new school ask them to switch positions—Jason is made quarterback and Tom a receiver—and when they try to find out why, they are told not to question the coaches’ decisions. It isn’t long before the boys begin to suspect that the reason has more to do with racial discrimination than talent, and they embark on a top-secret mission, along with two other friends and two intrepid newspaper reporters, to figure out if their suspicions are true.

Get It Together, Delilah! Erin Gough. 2017. Chronicle.

Get It TogetherDelilah Green’s last year of high school is not off to a great start. Her mom has left home for a new man and her dad, who is experiencing a personal crisis over the situation, has embarked on a trip to have some alone time. This leaves Delilah at home to manage Flywheel, the family-owned coffee shop, while dealing with school work, helping her friend Charlie through a crisis of his own, avoiding the gaggle of mean girls who seem determined to torment her, and figuring out how to show her latest crush Rosa how she feels about her. Delilah is trying to get it—and keep it—together, but juggling all those balls is harder than Delilah thought it would be. Set in Sydney, Australia, this is a story about family, friendship, identity, and growing up.

Jennifer W. Shettel is an associate professor at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate course in literacy for pre-service and practicing teachers. Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist in the public schools.

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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