School’s First Day of School (Roaring Brook/Porter, 2016) by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson, provides a new perspective on the first day of school — that of the building itself. From worry and anticipation to excitement, jealousy, and, finally, contentment and eagerness for the next day, the school’s childlike reactions will be understood by first-day-ers everywhere.
1. What first day of school do you remember the best?
Adam Rex: Maybe it was the first day of junior high? It was a brand-new school, actually — a parallel to School’s First Day of School that I hadn’t thought about until just now. I wonder if it had any unconscious bearing on my text. Anyway, I was among the inaugural seventh grade class, none of whom had wanted to leave our elementary school which had, up until that year, been K–8. So my friends and I made nervous jokes about how the school looked, trying to mask our anxiety. We kept insisting it looked like an institution, because none of us knew what “institution” meant and we thought it was derogatory.
Christian Robinson: My first day of kindergarten was pretty memorable. I grew up in L.A. in a predominately Latino neighborhood and for some reason was placed in the ESL kindergarten class. I remember feeling like all my classmates were speaking a different language, because they were. Also I remember feeling very smart when I already knew that la uva is “the grape” and la manzana is “the apple.” It took three days before anyone noticed that I probably shouldn’t be in the class. LAUSD rocks!
2. What is your best trick for calming big-day nerves?
AR: I guess as a kid I used to misuse the word “institution”? Now I just drink.
CR: Whenever I’m nervous I focus on my breathing and recite a little mantra: In, out, deep, slow, present moment, wonderful moment. A glass of wine also works.
3. Why is Janitor the only one who can communicate with the school?
AR: It was something that just fell into place. I wanted the school to have a confidante before all the teachers and students arrived. And after I added Janitor, all these parallels to parenting showed themselves: the janitor takes care of the school, cleans up after it. The janitor is the one who’s there before the school day begins and after the school day is over.
CR: Because black people are magic.
4. What was the joke told in the cafeteria that made milk come out of the boy’s nose?
AR: I asked my four-year-old what he thinks the joke was, and this is what he said:
So, there you go. It’s a pretty good joke.
CR: What did the bra say to the hat? You go on ahead and I’ll give these two a lift.
5. In school, were you more like the freckled girl (tentative and shy) or the puffy-haired boy (totally over it)?
AR: I wasn’t either. I was the funny, outgoing kid who didn’t understand how he could keep getting mistaken for a nerd nobody liked.
CR: I was the boy who was always drawing, didn’t play sports, and only hung out with girls.
From the August 2016 issue of What Makes a Good…?: “What Makes a Good School Story?” For more recommended school stories, see “From the Guide: First-Day-of-School Picture Books” from the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.