July 07, 2016


Ruby Rose: Off to School She Goes! By Rob Sanders. Illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Harper. $15.99.

Rappy Goes to School. By Dan Gutman. Illustrated by Tim Bowers. Harper. $17.99.

On the First Day of Kindergarten. By Tish Rabe. Pictures by Laura Hughes. Harper. $9.99.

     There is always a lot of bounciness in start-of-school stories for ages 4-8 – after all, no one wants kids to get ready for class with a sense of foreboding – but some books are more upbeat than others. And some have beats to a greater degree than others do. Take, for example, Rob Sanders’ story of a little girl who just can’t, just won’t, sit still, Ruby Rose: Off to School She Goes! It’s not that Ruby Rose has a limited attention span – in fact, she has a very good one, but it is fixated on dancing, which she does constantly at home and therefore inevitably brings with her to school. Why, she does ballet during breakfast and belly dancing while brushing her teeth! So of course she hip-hops off the school bus and arabesques to art class and pirouettes to her easel – causing predictable trouble as she spatters paint on her teacher, Ms. Dempsey, who tells Ruby Rose she has “never danced in my life.” Gently and then with increasing firmness, the teacher and other adults in school tell Ruby Rose that she has to sit still and participate in class without distracting herself and the other students. But the irrepressible little girl just has to prance in P.E., promenade into the library, and get her entire class to tap-dance to lunch and line dance back to the classroom. Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s illustrations make Ruby Rose so endearing, her dancing so natural and unforced-looking, that it is hard to understand why the adults in school don’t simply join in. And in fact, after enforcing strict rules that prevent mambo during math, rumba during reading, and samba during science, Ms. D herself ends up dancing after all. It isn’t quite what Ruby Rose or anyone else had in mind – it happens because of an accident resulting in the escape of all the ants from an ant farm – but nothing dampens Ruby Rose’s delight in dance or her enthusiasm as she hulas down the hall and bounces onto the bus to head home. The sheer exuberance of the book is delightful, and the expression on Ruby Rose’s mom’s face when the girl explains that, “by the way,” they have to buy a new ant farm, makes a priceless ending.

     Dan Gutman’s Rappy the Raptor goes for music in a different way – or for lyrics, anyway. As his name shows, Rappy raps, not just sometimes but all the time. Even when he is worried about the first day of school: “I need pencils and pens./ Do you think I’ll make friends?/ Will my teacher be kind?/ I’m losing my mind!” Unlike Ruby Rose, who sees no reason to contain her personality just because she happens to be in school, Rappy decides, “I’m not gonna talk or sing;/ I’m not gonna say a thing.” But his determination is soon put to the test when a big, mean-looking dinosaur kid named Chris makes fun of a shy little dino child named Aidan. Rappy goes into a bouncy rap that distracts Chris and everyone else and gives Aidan time to collect himself as all the dino kids bounce along to Rappy’s recitation and the teacher approvingly looks on. But then it is time for actual school work, and Rappy is embarrassed when called on to spell words – he is no good at spelling. Who is? Aidan, it turns out. And in the spirit of “one good turn deserves another,” Aidan now helps Rappy – and Rappy soon finds himself rapping the spellings of words. Soon Rappy and Aidan are hanging out together and having fun, and mean old Chris has to stay after school for being a bully. The lesson? “Tomorrow I’ll go back to school./ Learning stuff is really cool./ Now I know that in the end/ all you need is one good friend.” This is Gutman’s second Rappy book, again with illustrations by Tim Bowers that nicely communicate the characters’ personalities and Rappy’s unendingly positive attitude. Families that like rap will certainly like this.

     And families that go for something a bit more traditional will certainly enjoy Tish Rabe’s On the First Day of Kindergarten. Rabe here recasts “The 12 Days of Christmas” in a pleasant, age-appropriate celebration of kindergarten made more enjoyable by Laura Hughes’ digitally created ink-paint-and-collage illustrations. The little girl at the center of this story may not dance or rap, but she has lots of experiences that young readers will enjoy saying in the cadence of the familiar Christmas song, or even singing to its tune. For instance, “On the sixth day of kindergarten/ I thought it was so cool/ sliding down the slide,/ SINGING A SONG!/ running in a race,/ counting up to ten,/ making lots of friends,/ and riding the bus to my school!” The always-capitalized “SINGING A SONG” is the “five golden rings” line from the original 12 days; the days at kindergarten mount up in their own cadence, so that by the 12th-day field trip there is a whole list of enjoyable activities – helping explain the very kindergarten-class-photo-like back-cover picture, in which everyone is clearly happy even though not all the kids are paying quite as much attention as the photographer might have wished. The girl whose story Rabe tells, though, is sitting politely right in the middle of the first row of kindergartners, hands folded on her lap, wearing the sort of smile that can only mean she has been having wonderful experiences and finding them thoroughly enjoyable – all 12 melodic days of them.

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