It's time again for new pencils, paper and folders, and the excitement that rolls around for kids as the school season returns. A fresh crop of books out this fall will help students face the year with confidence and, most importantly, a sense of humor.

Laura Numeroff's If You Take a Mouse to School continues her popular mouse series. With the comforting, familiar story line that has made her previous books such a hit with the preschool set, the newest installment in the adventures of Numeroff's jolly little critter finds him following his boy-owner to school. The mouse is packed and ready to go, starting with a lunchbox, which leads to a sandwich, then notebooks and pencils and a cozy spot in the boy's backpack. You get the picture. Or do you? Look closely at the illustrations and the fun really begins. As the children are solving basic addition problems, the mouse is blithely sailing through calculus. Look inside the children's house of blocks, and you will see the mouse lounging in a tidy mouse-made house. Because this is certainly a book that readers will want to return to again and again, they'll enjoy discovering new details in the illustrations each time. Further hilarity is in store with Lynn Plourde's School Picture Day (Dutton, $16.99, 40 pages, ISBN 0525468862). Thor Wickstrom's cartoony illustrations are the perfect complement to Plourde's exaggerated situations. It seems that Josephina Caroleena Wattasheena the First does not know that it's picture day at school. Everyone else starts the morning dressed in their best outfits, but our heroine marches onto the school bus in overalls, with a jaunty hat over her multiple pigtails, carrying her trusty toolbox. She's not thinking about the photograph; she's just wondering how things work. When the bus' gearshift makes an odd sound, Josephina rushes to the rescue. After some highfalutin fidgeting, fiddling, fuddling, and foopling," she solves the problem, but her oilcan sprays grease on all the well-dressed kids on the bus! Josephina's help" with the pencil sharpener, school sprinkler system, heating vent and a wind-up chicken culminates in a rather odd class picture. The photographer is hilariously goofy, asking the children to show their teethy weethies" and to say cheesy weezy if you pleasy." And what about the fidgeting, curious Josephina Caroleena Wattasheena the First? She is off to bigger and better projects even a rocket that looks ready for the moon. Hunter's Best Friend at School (HarperCollins, $15.99, 32 pages, ISBN 0060002301) is Laura Malone Elliott's delightful tale of the pleasures and perils of friendship in the classroom. Lynn Munsinger's wonderful signature watercolors illustrate this story of peer pressure. Hunter and Stripe, two raccoons, like the same things: striped sweaters, Goldilocks and the Three Raccoons and cartwheels. However, sometimes their friendship can be a problem. When Stripe comes to school one day in a mischief-making mood," he distracts Hunter at reading time, uses poor table manners at lunch and misbehaves during painting time. Hunter ends up following his friend's lead, but he's disappointed in the results. After a loving talk with his mother, he figures out a way to follow her advice: Being a best friend doesn't mean always following along," she says. Sometimes being a best friend means you have to help your friend be his best self." Good advice for any student!

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