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Courier Article by Carol Cariens
Sunday, August 8, 2010

Old Literary Friends, Too, Face First Day of School

Ah, 'tis August and you know what that means—school bells will be ringing soon. (Some, by the way, have already pealed!) Take heart, kids, even some of our favorite picture book characters are headed back to readin','ritin', and 'rithmetic, too. Let's take a peek and see what's happening in their classrooms.

Twenty-five years ago Laura Joffe Numeroff struck publishing gold with a mouse that had a penchant for cookies. Since then she and artist Felicia Bond have penned and inked numerous other titles in the "If You…" series. From mice and cookies to moose and muffins to pigs and pancakes and cats and cupcakes, these comical adventures have been guaranteed kid-pleasers. Now get ready for "If You Take a Mouse to School". Don't miss the "mousical" antics as our denim-clad hero wrecks havoc in the classroom. Great educational experience? Ummm, no. Laugh-a-minute? You bet. (This book is also available in Spanish. Ask for "Si Llevas Un Ratón a La Escuela").

Even that most literal-minded of all storybook characters, Amelia Bedelia, once went to school. With thanks to Herman Parish, nephew of the original author Peggy Parish, Amelia Bedelia has re-surfaced starring in a new series of stories about her childhood. And yes, she's just as exasperating but just as lovable. In "Amelia Bedelia's First Day of School" Amelia confounds her teacher and classmates alike. Here's just a few of her mix-ups. Amelia thinks she has no need for a gym teacher because, after all, her name is not "Jim". When touring the school library, Miss Edwards suggested to her young charges, "I want to see your little noses in the books!" And of course, Amelia accommodates by putting her little nose IN a book. Ouch. During arts and crafts silly Miss Edwards suggested that the over-exuberant Amelia glue herself "to your seat." Ever mindful of her manners, Amelia Bedelia did what she was told. She glued herself to her chair. Lynne Avril's gouache and black pencil illustrations show us just how much fun school can be if Amelia Bedelia is one of your classmates.

Going to school for the first time can be unsettling not only for children but for their parents and caregivers, too. To help allay those fears Audrey Penn wrote "The Kissing Hand", a tale that finds Chester Raccoon fearful of leaving home to attend school. Wise Mrs. Raccoon then "shares a family secret called the Kissing Hand" so that her little one will know her love is with him at all times. When Chester reciprocates with a return kiss, I challenge any adult reader to keep from sniffling. Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak lovingly illustrate the woodland critters while a foreword by Jean Kennedy Smith emphasizes the importance of this book in helping children cope with a difficult experience.

All of us have suffered through that inevitable "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" paper that teachers love to assign those first few days back in the classroom. Author/illustrator Mark Teague's homage to that essay is a comic delight. Our hero, Wallace Bleff had a rousing good time during summer break. Where did he go, you ask? A month at the seashore? No. A cabin in the woods? No. How about two weeks at Disney World? No. So where did Wallace Bleff spend his summer vacation? Visiting Aunt Fern out West, that's where. The problem is Wallace has quite an imagination and his vacation out West turned out to be a rootin'-tootin', ropin', ridin' blockbuster of a trip. Or so he says. To join the fun, grab a horse and hang on—it's a wild ride!

Everybody at some time or another has had the "First Day Jitters". You know what I mean—that first-day-of-school, don't-want-to-get-out-of-bed, or eat-my- breakfast-first day. THAT first day. In Julie Danneberg and Judy Love's lively picture book, Sarah Jane Hartwell has a bad case of the first day jitters. She's definitely not moving out of bed. In fact, she's a bedspread covered lump. She just knows she won't like her new school or the kids won't like her. Mr. Hartwell tries his best to cajole Sarah Jane but she's having none of it. Final ultimatum. "Sarah Jane Hartwell, I'm not playing this silly game one second longer. I'll see you downstairs in five minutes." Finally, dressed and ready with toast in hand, Sarah Jane lumbers out to the car and she and Mr. Hartwell begin the dreaded drive to THE NEW SCHOOL. Mrs. Burton, the principal, meets Sarah Jane at the curb and offers to show her to her classroom. Here it is: the moment of truth. The classroom. The new kids. The stares. And with that, Mrs. Burton announces, "Class, I would like you to meet...your new teacher, Mrs. Sarah Jane Hartwell." That's right, kids, even teachers get the first day jitters.