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School’s First Day of School

Well, if Lschools-first-dayolly schooled us on Frankie and Lucky Get Schooled, I guess it’s inevitable that I educate you about School’s First Day of School. Christian Robinson’s other books have stickers all over their covers: Sibert, Coretta Scott King, Boston Globe-Horn Book, and even a Newbery Medal. So, when he has a new book out, we all pay attention.

I reviewed this one a while back for The Horn Book. Here is what I said:

“We’ve had many books about kids getting ready for the first day of school, but now we have another perspective: the school’s itself. The title page shows the finishing touches being added to a brand-new building. By the time the story starts, Frederick Douglass Elementary is ready, its door a smile, waiting for the first day. It quickly makes friends with Janitor but is worried about meeting the students (Janitor says: ‘”Don’t worry — you’ll like the children.” But the school thought that Janitor was probably wrong about that’). Turns out, Janitor is right about many things. As the day goes on, the school learns to appreciate the kids and hopes Janitor will invite them back. … Robinson’s naively styled paintings are the perfect complement to a warm, welcoming story. This diverse group of children is all circles: round heads, black-dot eyes, curly or bowl-shaped hairstyles. Even when they are acting silly (milk shooting out of a boy’s nose, for instance), they are likable and engaging, with each child depicted as a friendly-looking individual. Sure to become a staple for first days of school everywhere.”

It’s always a bit strange to read something I wrote so long ago, especially with new eyes. This time, I have to evaluate the book with my Caldecott glasses on. So let’s go straight to the pictures. Endpapers: friendly, like a chalkboard with black background and basic colors, like those in an 8-pack of Crayolas. I try hard not to ask a book to be something it is not, but I have to wonder why there are children in the opening endpapers, given that the story is about the difference between an empty school and one filled with children. As the pages turn, we are back to the construction scene on the title pages and a stark white background on the opening pages. The very first page of the story shows the front of the school, plain, yet friendly, with small trees planted to each side. That smiling front door welcomes the kids in. How does Robinson create this mood with just a few shapes and colors? It’s just that: simplicity with both color and shape. The young reader can imagine himself drawing those pictures. The cars and trucks are rendered the way kindergartners would draw them. The houses are the houses of memory — two rectangular windows, a door right in the middle, and a roof. The trees are a trunk, two main limbs, and a lollipop-shaped body.

Is it simple without being simplistic? That’s going to be the question for the committee. I would argue that this style is perfect for this story. Though the illustrations are naive, the details add a lot. Robinson’s world is a world of all sorts of people: women construction workers, kids dressed in everything from a suit and tie (sorry, Roger, it’s not a bowtie) to overalls, a child in a wheelchair, even a screaming child being wrestled by a cellphone-clinging mom. I love that the school is a friendly, welcoming place. It’s a school where parents are welcomed, where the classrooms are decorated with love, where books are revered, and the arts respected. It’s a school where any child would love to learn.

Will this busy cover be adorned with a silver or gold sticker in January? I’m not sure about that … but I would bet real money that the book will make it to the final round of discussion!

 

Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.

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Comments

  1. Dean Schneider says:

    It’s a lovely book. With so much negative in the news lately, it’s so nice to see such a welcoming celebration of community, diversity, and good spirits. Readers of any age will enjoy the perspective of this book–a school story from the school’s point of view, so ably wrought by Christian Robinson. I don’t have the book in front of me at the moment, so I can’t be more specific, but it is one of the standouts of the year for me.

  2. Not to detract from the illustrations at all, but the writing in this book really stands out for me. I hope it’s considered for picturebook-writing awards, such as the Charlotte Zolotow.

  3. Annie Linley says:

    Mrs. Smith, I just finished reading your review and LOVED IT!!! It made me remember when my class was a “Caldecott Committee” and looked at the books in just the way that you did (through second-grade eyes, obviously). I felt like I had really read the book just from the description, and now I feel like I just have to read it. I really miss being in your class – no one looks at books quite the same way. Love, Annie

  4. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Thank you, Annie Linley. I hope you are enjoying reading about these great picture books! You always loved picture books, just like I do! I think you would love this book by Christian Robinson. I miss you!

  5. I love Christian Robinson’s illustration style, and I think the text is charming and the marriage of those two things would make this book a strong contender. As an inclusion advocate though, I have a quibble about this book. The girl in the wheelchair appears only once in an illustration where the wheelchair ramp is also shown. I have worked out that she isn’t a kindergartner so doesn’t reappear with the kindergarten class kids (which is a missed opportunity in my opinion as representations of kids with disabilities alongside their non-disabled peers are sorely lacking in picture books for young children). Also, after the fire alarm, the kids are shown climbing steps back into the school. How is any kid in a wheelchair supposed to get back in? Or out for that matter? So without showing her participating in more areas of the school, doing more activities (having fun at the table in the lunch room for instance) alongside her able-bodied peers, her appearance in that one scene, along with the wheelchair ramp in the background…well, through my lens, it just seems like tokenism not inclusion.

  6. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    Tess,
    Thanks for bringing that issue to my mind.(and, since I now use a wheelchair to get around, I am embarrassed that I did not notice that detail myself.) I do not have an answer to your question, but it certainly made me go back to the book and reexamine those spreads.
    I know our school is only accessible if you really know your way around the terrain. I have never had a fire alarm when I have had a student in a chair, but I would think a building built in 2016 would have ramps and handrails easily noticed.
    Robin

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