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Starting School

Starting school or nursery is a step into the unknown for any child. A book or two about a character doing the same can help build confidence and provide an opportunity to talk about fears.

Mondays at Monster School
by Ruth Louise Symes, illustrated by Rosie Reeve
(Orion)
Fred longs to go to Monster School but, when the eagerly anticipated day arrives, he's not so sure about it even though, as his Mum tells him, Moday is 'howling and growling' day. Best friend, Ted, feels equally apprehensive, but the thought of mud splashing as well as howling and growling helps the pair overcome their fears. Once there, the friends eagerly participate in slime painting, stomping and stamping, not to mention delicious school snacks and finally, there is an engrossing story to enjoy. Then after such a fun-packed day there is Tuesday to look forward to . Great fun and reassuring at the same time - the monsters (a cross between bears and dragons) are most endearing.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Silly School
by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
(Frances Lincoln)
It's the morning Beth is due to start school. "Don't want to go!" she announces firmly. One by one, her family tell her about all the exciting things awaiting her but Beth remains adamant. Finally, she learns that the only way she can play with her friends is by going to school, because that's where they will all be, so she can't get there fast enough. Then when her Daddy comes to collect her Beth's response is, "I don't want to go home! The brief text and speech bubbles move the story forward but there's lots more going on in the amusing illustrations executed very much from Beth's viewpoint.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Harry and the Dinosaurs Go To School
by Ian Whybrow, illustrated by Adrian Reynolds
(Puffin)
It's an exciting day for Harry - he is starting school and of course his bucket of dinosaurs goes with him. But the teacher mistakes Harry's bucket for a lunchbox and tells him to leave it outside the classroom. Because he misses his dinosaurs, Harry decides he doesn't like school. But then he discovers another boy who likes it even less - so much so that he doesn't talk at all. Harry takes him to the toilet and on the way back shows him the dinosaurs and that's the turning point for both Harry and his new friend, 'Jackosaurus'. Very soon they've both decided that school is great fun after all.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Kevin Goes to School
by Liesbet Slegers
(Frances Lincoln)
This is one of a series of four first experiences, small format books with rounded edges and pages of thin card. Kevin, the child narrator, tells in straightforward, direct language how he sets out for school with his lunchbox, meets his teacher, says goodbye to his mum, makes a new friend and enjoys the day’s activities with him.
Bold bright simple shapes outlined with thick black lines showing things very much from a small child’s viewpoint and a large lettered, seemingly handwritten text make this an attractive book for the youngest child.
Other titles in the series are: Kevin Goes to Hospital, Kevin Stays the Night and Kevin Goes on Holiday.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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A Big Kiss for Alice
by Sally Grindley, illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain
(Bloomsbury)
A look at starting school from a different perspective - that of Tom, Alice’s older brother who is charged with looking after her on her first day. Alice’s first day nerves are nothing compared to the anxiety her brother is feeling at the thought of having his little sister spoiling things for him, especially when she insists on taking her teddy along too. Despite all he says and does though, it’s Tom who is there for her just when she needs him most – to rescue Ted from the clutches of a little boy and to give her a surprise kiss at the crucial moment. A heart-warming and reassuring story cheerily illustrated in day-glo colours.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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I Want a Friend
by Tony Ross
(Andersen Press)
The Little Princess is not so little any longer: it’s time for her to start school and she’s desperate to find a friend. The Queens assures her she’ll make lots of friends but on her first day it seems nobody wants to play with her. Then she discovers another little girl feeling just like her; in fact there are lots of children all wanting playmates. By home-time needless to say, the determined Little Princess has found her own special way spreading the friendship message to all her classmates. An amusing but at the same time, sensitive look at being new at school. For all established ‘Little Princess’ fans and anyone feeling a bit apprehensive about those first days at school.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Sam’s First Day
by David Mills, illustrated by Lizzie Finlay
(a dual language book by Mantra Lingua)
At home Sam is a real chatterbox but his first day at school finds him very quiet as he takes in his new surroundings. When it’s home time and mum and his sister are there to meet him, Sam finds his voice again. Amusing details in the cheery illustrations help to draw young listeners into the story.
This dual-language book is available in Albanian, Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Farsi, French, Gujarati, Panjabi, Portuguese, Serbo-croat, Shona, Somali, Spanish, Tamil, Turkish, Urdu and Vietnamese.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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When an Elephant Comes to School
by Jan Ormerod
(Frances Lincoln)
When it’s elephant’s first day at nursery, it’s useful to have an instruction manual. He is eager to join in with all the activities but being an elephant he does have some special needs; these become apparent as he goes through the day. Each double spread is devoted to a different theme such as making friends, messy moments, lunchtime, music and storytime, and there are ‘post-it’ note reminders of elephant’s special needs in hand written script.
Young children can follow the details of the day’s events through the pictures, which are accompanied by a simple descriptive account of elephant’s progress through the day, in this unusual perspective on starting school.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Eddie and Teddy
by Gus Clarke
(Andersen Press)
A timely reissue of an early Gus Clarke story looks at starting school from two perspectives. Eddie and Teddy have been inseparable – almost it seemed to Eddie since birth – sharing the ups and downs of life. So, when it’s time for Eddie to start ‘Big School’ without Ted, they both feel very sad. For Eddie, there are plenty of new and exciting things to interest him: however Teddy is inconsolable and nothing mum tries seems to lift his mood till he’s taken to meet Eddie at home time. Next morning Teddy too is allowed to start school and from that day on …
Words and pictures work superbly together with so much being shown rather than told in this delightful book.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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My First Day at Nursery
by Becky Edwards, illustrated by Anthony Flintoft
(Bloomsbury)
The important day has come…but despite the playhouse, toys, star-shaped sponges for printing, shiny paper and sparkly glue for collage, drums and jingle sticks and lots of other children to play with, the small girl narrator has first day nerves. ‘I want my mum’ she decides. As the day progresses however, her confidence and enjoyment of the activities grow, so that by home time she wants to stay and can’t wait for the next day at nursery.
An enticing and reassuring introduction to the exciting world of nursery school.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The First Day of School
by Toby Forward, illustrated by Carol Thompson
(Doubleday - Random House)
In the text of this story, a small boy tells his Mum what happened on his first day of school. The pictures on the left hand pages illustrate this while those on the the right hand side show what Mum was doing at the same time. Her day at work cleverly echoes his day at school and her thought bubbles show that, whatever she's actually doing, she's always thinking of him. This book provides a reassuring way to talk about going to school and leaving Mum but be prepared to explain that not all schools hand out chocolate chip cookies at playtime.
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You’re Too Big
Simon Puttock, illustrated by Emily Bolam
Picture Corgi
Elephant certainly makes his mark on his first day at Playschool. Despite feeling very new he’s eager to join in all the exciting activities like block play, reading and painting but his classmates find his bulky presence just too much. At playtime things get even worse leaving his feeling ‘small and sad and FED UP inside. But then it’s time for a song and at last here is something where size doesn’t get in the way; big can be beautiful. And of course, cuddles at home time are always just right.
Emily Bolam’s big, bold illustrations capture both the fun of playschool and the changing emotions experienced.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The First Day at School
by Yvonne Jagtenberg
(Cat’s Whiskers)
A slightly different slant on first day nerves here: Leo is joining an established class.
Herein an opportunity to play a starring lupine role wearing an enormous, suitably scary mask in a singing session, enables him to overcome his initial fears on his first day at school. Despite her words, Red Riding Hood (along with her classmates) is afraid of the wolf but thereafter, everyone is eager to play with the now confident Leo, who happily resumes his normal persona.
The child-like drawings of the children – simple black outlines in-filled with crayon, pencil and pen - are set against a stark white classroom background thus concentrating the reader’s attention on the interactions and emotions of the characters.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Funny Fred
by Peta Coplans
(Andersen Press)
When Fred wonders what to take to his first day at school, his friends and relatives come up with some strange suggestions including a hot water bottle, a pet and a spade. Luckily Mum and Dad realise he only needs a pencil, a rubber and a box of crayons plus a new school bag to carry them and they already have them ready. Set in a world of where all the people are cats, this story has plenty of gentle humour and a final picture of Fred happy at school.
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Click for Writing for ChildrenPete and Polo's Nursery School Adventure
by Arian Reynolds
(Orchard Books)
Join Pete and his polar bear Polo on their first day at nursery school. Pete's the one feeling wobbly, all the more so when he sees that all the other children's bears are brown. But by the end of the day both Pete and Polo are ready to agree that 'going to nursery school was their best adventure yet.' A positive message about being different and a very re-assuring story for those, like Pete, starting nursery for the first time.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Off to School, Baby Duck!
by Amy Hest illustrated by Jill Barton
(Walker Books)
Baby Duck has a jittery stomach on her first day of school. She's packed her blue school bag with special things and is wearing all her new school clothes but even so her feet feel heavy as she makes her way down the road. Then she finds Grandpa waiting on a bench and after some morale boosting from him and friendly words from the teacher Baby Duck skips bravely up the school steps with her new found friend Davy.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Nursery School with Teddy Bear
by Jacqueline McQuade
(David Bennett Books)
There is no mention of feelings in this straightforward account of Teddy's first day at nursery. He eats breakfast (perhaps he does look a bit apprehensive here), says goodbye to dad, meets the lollipop ted, makes a friend, draws, plays, has fruit and milk, co-builds a tower and enjoys a story. Back home his picture (amazingly advanced for nursery age!) is given pride of place by Mum - would that all children's pictures received the same positive response from parents - and tells the cat about his day. Big bold print: point to the words as you share this one.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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My Friend Harry
by Kim Lewis
(Walker Books)
James' toy elephant has been his closest friend for a long time, though never said a word. But then the day comes for James to start school and he too is a bit quiet. All day Harry waits alone in James bed for his friend to return; but the next day Harry accompanies James to school till 'he gets used to being on his own.' James's school has a rural setting but I'm not sure what kind of reception class would have formal addition sums written on a blackboard or an admissions policy where children are left to go into school without a parent or carer on their first day.' All the same, a reassuring story about some of those mixed feelings that first days at school engender.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Billy and the Big New School
by Catherine & Laurence Anholt
(Orchard Books)
In a rather longer story, we meet Billy and share his feeling of excitement and apprehension on the Sunday before he starts school. Mum likens him to a fledgling reluctant to fly the nest; indeed Billy has a great affinity for, and knowledge of, birds, sharing his feelings with them on that Sunday while at the same time tending a tiny sparrow too small to care for itself. Next morning the baby bird takes its solo flight into the big world and we then follow Billy's first steps towards independence at school where he finds an understanding teacher, special friend and, most important of all, self-confidence. Lots to explore and discuss in the detailed pictures as well as in the sensitive telling. (Adults will be interested to read inside the back cover, the Anholts' feelings about their children starting school too.)
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Gotcha Smile
by Rita Phillips Mitchell, illustrated by Alex Ayliffe
(Orchard Books)
Clarine is eager to make friends on her first day at a new school but somehow things don't go quite right. They're no better, despite mum and dad's advice, on the next day, or the next. Just when she's at the point of no return Clarice's Grandpa offers his suggestion and after that things start to look different. This book did get a bit of adverse criticism when it was first published: Clarine is Afro-Caribbean and some people construed it as racist (presenting negative images of a minority ethnic character). In my opinion it offers plenty of food for thought and discussion; read it and decide for yourself.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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