September learning

No matter what form learning takes starting in the fall, the following picture books may entertain, and perhaps even enlighten, young readers. See also The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard; illus. by Oge Mora (Schwartz & Wade/Random); and for silliness The Cool Bean by Jory John; illus. by Pete Oswald (Harper/HarperCollins).

One Golden Rule at School: A Counting Book
by Selina Alko; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Ottaviano/Holt    40 pp.    g
6/20    978-1-250-16381-3    $17.99

Within the familiar rhythms and routines of a school day, viewers count from one (“One backpack”) to ten (“Ten chickpeas lined up for lunch”) and back down again (“One great day at school”). From classroom stations (“Six blocks stacked up tall”), to physical activity (“Five poses”), to daily rituals (“Three quick claps”), a diverse and inclusive classroom of cheerful children and their teachers busily engage in a variety of school activities. A double-page spread showcasing the class gathered on the rug emphasizes the importance of the titular “One Golden Rule,” and a classroom poster reminds students, “We are one community.” Using both single pages and spreads, the book effectively highlights each number; additional smaller labeled details (nine grocery items, gold coins, grapes) further emphasize each page’s number. Materials often found in a classroom (index cards, graph paper, paper clips, etc.) are incorporated throughout Alko’s acrylic, watercolor, and pencil illustrations. With its “do unto others” reminder wrapped in a creative counting primer, this is an engaging school story readers can count on. EMMIE STUART

Swing
by Michael Hall; illus. by the author
Preschool    Greenwillow    40 pp.    g
5/20    978-0-06-286617-2    $17.99

The title spread introduces a school — a place of learning and growth — where outside the classroom window a swing set stands empty and waiting. A letter L sits alone on one of four swings as the story begins. When letter V approaches, wanting to play, L rejects V for being “different” — V lives near the end of the alphabet, not the middle like L. The same pattern repeats when first E and then O try to join the fun: V (who has hopped on a swing, invited or not) rejects E for being a vowel, then E rejects O for not being “made up of straight lines” like the rest of them. As small tussles break out, O suggests, “Let’s just swing!” Their moods improve the higher they soar, and when they come back down, they’re “different” again…having become a group of friends (whose order on the swings just happens to spell the word LOVE). The text’s repetition and simple vocabulary are age-appropriate but also helpful in highlighting — along with the illustrations — the multiple facets of the story, with its focus not just on the alphabet but also on more abstract concepts such as kindness and acceptance of others. Minimal shapes for the face, arms, and legs of each letter add an impressive range of expression and emotion. Texture in the “digitally combined collages of painted and cut paper” stands out against the mainly white background; minimal details keep the focus for young viewers on the letters and their quintessentially childlike interactions. CYNTHIA K. RITTER

Field Trip to the Ocean Deep
by John Hare; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Ferguson/Holiday    40 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-8234-4630-8    $17.99

Hare’s follow-up to Field Trip to the Moon (rev. 9/19) again features a compelling setting, a not-too-scary adventure, and immersive illustrations. This wordless story begins on the book’s wraparound cover, with a group of students heading to a bulbous deep-sea bus for a field trip to the ocean floor. Once anchored, the diving suit–clad students embark on a teacher-guided tour past bioluminescent squids, hydrothermal vents, and pillow lava; however, one student is more interested in taking photos than attending class. A dilapidated shipwreck and an ominously positioned treasure chest make for a great photo but result in the young photographer’s tumble to the bottom of a trench. A confluence of events quickly unfolds through a series of dramatically arranged panels and spreads, including the child being stranded, discovering the ruins of an ancient city, and encountering a giant pliosaur. (Viewers will recognize the prehistoric creature from earlier in the story, as it was skillfully hidden on nearly every previous page.) A potentially frightening scenario is tempered by the pliosaur’s endearing grin and desire for a photo shoot — leading to the inadvertent collapse of the ruins. The newfound friends quickly rebuild the ruins before the errant student and classmates reunite. The appealing acrylic illustrations are painterly and impressively atmospheric, and exhibit a strong command of spot lighting; fans of the previous field-trip story will be pleased to see allusions to it, including character cameos and a glimpse of the space bus. PATRICK GALL

Nana Akua Goes to School
by Tricia Elam Walker; illus. by April Harrison
Primary    Schwartz & Wade/Random    40 pp.    g
6/20    978-0-525-58113-0    $17.99
Library ed.  978-0-525-58114-7    $20.99
e-book ed.  978-0-525-58115-4    $10.99

Although her grandmother, Nana Akua, is her “favorite person in the whole universe,” young Zura is not excited about the upcoming Grandparents Day at school. She thinks about others’ reactions when people notice the marks on her grandmother’s face — a tradition from her Akan culture of Ghana — and worries that her classmates will laugh or be mean. But Nana Akua has an idea. When she comes to school with Zura, they bring Zura’s quilt, covered in Adinkra symbols. Nana Akua uses them to explain the importance of the tradition that she wears on her face — and she invites the class and grandparents to paint Adinkra symbols on their faces, too. Walker’s text is appropriately detailed and uses simple language to express the deepest concerns and observations of a child. The closeness of Zura’s family and the camaraderie within her diverse classroom are aspirational and touching. Harrison’s mixed-media collages use texture, line, and both neutral and bright colors to create memorable characters and moments that invite readers to linger over each spread. Here is a story that is both highly specific in the culture represented and universal in its expressions of emotion and heritage. Adinkra symbols, with their names, pronunciations, and meanings, adorn the end pages, and a glossary and a short list of print and online resources extend the exploration. AUTUMN ALLEN

From the August 2020 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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