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August 2018 Back-to-School Horn Book Herald: Picture Books

Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-of-School Dilemma
by Keith Calabrese; illus. by Juana Medina
Atheneum     40 pp.
7/18     978-1-5344-0894-4     $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-0895-1     $10.99

Lena isn’t nervous to start kindergarten…but her shoes are. Lena enlists her headband (who is “a good listener”) to talk to them, and, with fears assuaged and a bit of reverse psychology, Lena and her outfit make it to the first day. Child-friendly, inclusive digital illustrations depict the shaking shoes; the happy results of previous times Lena was brave; and, finally, everyone’s shoes mingling happily on the playground.

Click, Clack, Quack to School!
by Doreen Cronin; illus. by Betsy Lewin
Atheneum/Dlouhy     40 pp.
7/18     978-1-5344-1449-5     $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-1450-1     $10.99

Farmer Brown (Click, Clack, Moo and sequels) and the barn animals are invited to visit the local elementary school. He quells the animals’ noisy enthusiasm with stern warnings: there will be none of that boisterousness. But when the recess bell rings, chaos ensues, and humans and animals alike happily run amok. The text’s effective sound effects and repetition combine with expressive, relaxed-line watercolors for a funny and exuberant “quack”-to-school adventure.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates
by Ryan T. Higgins; illus. by the author
Disney-Hyperion     48 pp.
6/18     978-1-368-00355-1     $17.99

On the first day of school, Tyrannosaurus rex Penelope does what any nervous dino would do: she eats her human classmates (and spits them out). Then the class goldfish takes a bite of her finger: “Once Penelope found out what it was like to be someone’s snack, she lost her appetite for children.” Higgins builds his soft-around-the-edges cast out of dinosaurishly lumpy-craggy art.

I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness
by Kerascoët; illus. by the author
Random/Schwartz & Wade     40 pp.     g
2/18     978-1-5247-6955-0     $17.99
Library ed.  978-1-5247-6956-7     $20.99

In this wordless story, brown-skinned newcomer Vanessa is bullied by a white boy as she walks home alone from school. A classmate witnesses the abuse; the next morning she walks to school with Vanessa and they’re joined by more supporters. Watercolor and ink illustrations excel at communicating emotions; a mix of vignettes and full-page illustrations expertly controls the pacing. Bullying-related resources are appended.

Best Frints at Skrool
by Antoinette Portis; illus. by the author
Roaring Brook/Porter     40 pp.     g
6/18     978-1-62672-871-4     $17.99

The pals from Best Frints in the Whole Universe are now going to skrool. They listen to their skreecher, read bloox, and navigate social dynamics, such as when a new frint comes between them. Again, the story’s copious humor comes from readers recognizing the similarities between Planet Boborp and Earth. Bright, blobby, and pointy illustrations capture the characters’ familiar emotions in an out-of-this-world school setting.

Dear Substitute
by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick; illus. by Chris Raschka
Disney-Hyperion     40 pp.
6/18     978-1-4847-5022-3     $17.99

With her teacher out sick, a girl writes a series of letters throughout the day, beginning: “Dear Substitute, / Wow. This is a surprise. / What are you doing here?” Scanlon and Vernick capture with humor and sympathy the indignation some kids feel when life doesn’t go as expected. In his watercolor and gouache paintings Raschka makes the mundane school setting fresh, with unexpected twists.

Nimoshom and His Bus
by Penny M. Thomas; illus. by Karen Hibbard
HighWater     32 pp.
10/17     978-1-55379-708-1     $18.95
e-book ed.  978-1-55379-733-3    $15.99

Nimoshom (“my grandfather”) is a beloved school bus driver who sometimes speaks in Cree. A brief text about his daily routine incorporates Cree words. “In the morning, nimoshom would greet the kids. He would say: ‘Tansi!’ Tansi means hello.” The story’s rhythmic pacing and conversational quality makes for an enjoyable read-aloud experience. Loose, expressive mixed-media illustrations capture the warm relationship between nimoshom and the children. Glos.

Did You Hear What I Heard?: Poems About School
by Kay Winters; illus by Patrice Barton
Dial     40 pp.     g
2/18     978-0-399-53898-8     $16.99

Thirty-five poems cover the school year from “Bus Stop” to “Sing a Song of Summer” with lots of everyday experiences in between. Winters’s poems are short, mostly upbeat, and funny, and she playfully uses punctuation and capitalization for emphasis and to create pauses. Barton’s digital pictures feature exuberant and active children who seem to be around first grade, with a range of skin colors and ethnicities.

The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson; illus. by Rafael López
Penguin/Paulsen     32 pp.     g
8/18     978-0-399-24653-1     $18.99

Rigoberto looks crestfallen when the class laughs at his name; other classmates feel left out when friends make fun of their lunch foods. And the (unnamed) African American protagonist has trouble finding her voice when her classmates recount their summers until she realizes that the books she’s read have afforded her boundless travel. Woodson’s story about feeling like an outcast values literacy, reading, and imagination. López’s illustrations feature vivid, brilliant colors.

Bus! Stop!
by James Yang; illus. by the author
Viking      32 pp.
3/18     978-0-425-28877-1     $17.99

A boy just misses his city bus; the ones that come along next are increasingly odd (“THAT is NOT my bus”). Finally, a spaceship-like carrier is the perfect bus for the boy. With muted background colors, Yang focuses on the action with his stylized characters and captivating, outlandish vehicles. With simple speech-balloon dialogue, this is just the right ride for both prereaders and emerging readers.

From the August 2018: Back to School issue of The Horn Book Herald.

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