July 02, 2015
(++++) SCHOOLS’ RULES
Goose Goes to School. By Laura Wall. Harper. $12.99.
Eva and Sadie and the Best Classroom EVER! By Jeff Cohen. Illustrated by Elanna Allen. Harper. $17.99.
Little Critter: Just a Teacher’s Pet. By Mercer Mayer. Harper. $16.99.
Learning what is and is not acceptable in school and in social situations is a big part of life for children ages 4-8 – and some books do a fine job of gently nudging kids in the right direction. A goose in the classroom, for example, is clearly not okay – but how can Sophie go to school without her beloved Goose? The characters, who first discovered each other and bonded in Goose, have developed an even closer relationship by the time of Goose Goes to School, and Sophie really wants her friend in class with her. Sophie’s mom says that is not allowed, and then walks Sophie to class and leaves Goose behind. But Sophie soon hears “flappy footsteps,” and while at the school playground, is “sure she sees a familiar face.” Young readers will enjoy finding where Goose is almost-hiding in Laura Wall’s amusing drawings, which accompany this slight but enjoyable story. Sophie has trouble concentrating in class because she wishes Goose could be there – and sure enough, Goose turns up, to the delight of Sophie and the other students. But Sophie knows Goose should not be at school and therefore has Goose hide under a table: the students know Goose is there but the teacher does not. At recess, Goose runs outside with the kids and everyone has a grand time playing, but then the kids go back to class and Goose is left outside to wait on the swings for school to end. It turns out that all the kids who saw Goose use Goose as the model for the pictures they draw in the afternoon, and Sophie’s new friends are eager to see Goose the next day – even if Goose is not really supposed to come back. A final “honk!” leaves it up in the air about what Sophie and Goose will do, but it seems pretty clear that the first day of school will not be Goose’s last.
First-day-of-school issues are also front-and-center in Jeff Cohen’s Eva and Sadie and the Best Classroom EVER! This is also a second book – the first was Eva and Sadie and the Worst Haircut EVER! This time, older sister Sadie, who is about to start second grade, wants to help little sister Eva get ready for her first day of kindergarten. Sadie remembers all the things she learned when she was Eva’s age and decides to set up an in-home classroom to teach Eva what to do. That means not only classroom learning but also such things as a lack of nap time in kindergarten (so Sadie prevents Eva from taking naps on weekends – by making lots of noise) and an understanding of how lunchtime works (which means pretending to stand in line at the cafeteria). Eva clearly looks up to Sadie, and she does her best to go along with everything Sadie does; but after a while, Eva is so exhausted that she cannot pick her head up to say hello when Dad comes home. “That’s when I know things aren’t working out the way I planned,” says Sadie, who narrates the book. Dad reminds Sadie that Eva is only five years old and does not have to know everything about kindergarten on her first day there. So Sadie lowers the stress level, and even accommodates Eva (as do the girls’ rather bemused parents) when Eva makes her own lunch for her first day: “peanut butter and chocolate syrup on an onion bagel.” The girls walk to school together, Sadie reassures Eva that all will be fine, and sure enough, everything is : the book ends with Eva playing with two new friends and Sadie being glad that Eva is happy. This is a gently reassuring book whose touches of amusement (such as that bagel lunch) are nicely handled both by Cohen and by illustrator Elanna Allen, who portrays both girls as sweet, pleasant and as close as sisters can be. Sadie and Eva make good role models for real-world families with older and younger siblings who are both facing a new school year.
There is nothing especially real-world about Little Critter and his friends – in appearance, anyway – but Mercer Mayer’s stories always handle everyday human issues entertainingly and sensitively through this odd-looking bunch of critters. Just a Teacher’s Pet is a book that children just learning to read can easily go through on their own: it is a “My First” book (“ideal for sharing with emergent readers”) in the I Can Read! series. It is not Little Critter who is the teacher’s pet here but a new student, a girl named Bunella. Bunella quickly makes her presence known, giving the teacher an apple, sitting in the front row, giving out work sheets, turning in her paper first, and so on. There is budding resentment among other class members, including Little Critter, but it never goes too far – Mayer carefully minimizes jealousy in this story for the youngest readers. Bunella’s teacher’s-pet ways continue on a field trip, where she tells the other students how to behave and counts them before they board the bus to return to the classroom. But then, at an after-class ball game, Bunella shows that she can be a team member as well as a teacher’s pet – and wins everyone over with her sports skills. The book ends, satisfyingly if predictably, with Bunella fully accepted into the group and onto the team – the lesson being that even sometimes-intrusive teacher’s-pet behavior may be only part of a student’s personality, and that it is worth looking for things the teacher’s pet has in common with everyone else so everybody can be friends. The message is a simple one, appropriate for a book at this level, and although the school rule it enforces – giving everyone a chance and playing with everyone – is never stated outright, it is clear from Mercer’s writing and drawing, which give parents something to discuss before their non-critter kids head back to the classroom.