It’s the time of year that parents eagerly await and students nervously dread: back to school. Four new picture books ease first-day jitters with a mix of humor, reality and fun.

Because socialization is as important as academics during the first year of school, parents and educators alike will welcome Rosemary Wells’ Kindergators: Hands Off, Harry!, the first title in a new series featuring a lively classroom of alligator kindergartners. Harry knocks down classmates, spills glue on Miracle’s shoes and ruins Benjamin’s shirt with paint. Time in the Thinking Chair and an emergency session of Friendly Circle give him the opportunity to think about where his personal space begins and ends and the three proper uses of hands: shake a hand, hold a hand and lend a hand. Harry redeems himself as playground monitor, using helping hands on scraped knees.

Always dreaming big, Louise Cheese makes her third appearance in Elise Primavera’s Louise the Big Cheese and the Back-to-School Smarty-Pants. This time Louise starts second grade with a burning desire to make straight A’s, and with a teacher named Mrs. Pearl, how can she go wrong? Louise soon discovers that her teacher is drab and rarely hands out A’s. Constantly discouraged by Mrs. Pearl’s “You can do better,” she feels vindicated by the sparkly substitute who gives everyone good grades—until Louise realizes her accomplishments no longer mean anything. Energetic watercolor illustrations capture Louise’s spunk, while thought bubbles reveal her true feelings, like wanting meticulous Mrs. Pearl back in the classroom.

From Harry Bliss, illustrator of the best-selling Diary of a Worm, comes Bailey, featuring another endearing and comical character. Bailey the dog attends school and enlivens the day in the process. After riding the bus (with his head out the window, of course), Bailey puts his doggie treats in his cubby, has an excuse for not doing his homework (he ate it!) and gives a class report on FDR’s famous pooch, Fala. Even if classmates raise their eyebrows at Bailey’s water bowl at lunch, they can’t help but love the way he wags his tail during free dance.

In Everything I Need to Know Before I’m Five, Valorie Fisher gives parents an entertaining way to prepare young children for kindergarten. Drawing on her collection of vintage tiny toys, she poses her playthings against bright backgrounds to create eye-catching photographs that introduce the concepts of the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, opposites, seasons and weather. The real amusement comes from the book’s many surprises, including an expressive old-fashioned doll pushing a giant frog while her equally animated double tries to pull it from the other side. Fisher’s entertaining retro collections will leave children hoping that school will be just as enjoyable as this book.


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