It’s that time of year, when parents dread covering all the school books (i.e. me!) and go about buying uniforms that are three sizes too big. Some of our little people are super excited about starting school, while others may quietly voice their concerns, or not voice them at all. What we do know, is that books are great ‘mirrors and windows’ – a metaphor initially conceived by Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at Ohio State University, who specialised in African American children’s literature. Books can be windows, offering new experiences and views of the world that are real, imagined or unfamiliar. They can also be mirrors, where the story is reflection of your own life and experiences.
You can use these books as tools to help you talk about your kids’ fears or reluctance to plunge into the unknown, but all of them have one thing in common: they are great stories we know you’ll enjoy reading aloud with your child.
1. Old Friends, New Friends by Andrew Daddo and Jonathan Bentley
This book tells the story of a little girl who is perhaps starting her second year of school as she walks in and discovers that none of her old best friends are in her brand-new class. We love the internal dialogue of the main character, as Andrew Daddo vividly describes her emotions and the way her body feels, “…my insides are going SQUELCH. All my happy bubbles have popped, my tummy’s doing cartwheels…). What comes next is even better. We see the little girl go through the arsenal of tools and strategies to overcome these challenges and even embrace the changes and make new friends. Daddo and Bentley walk the readers through a checklist of ideas to make new friends and cope with her new environment.
What would Mum say? ‘Deep breath. You have to be a bit brave.’
Next, I’ll need a cheer-me-up friend. Someone a lot smiley and happy.
How about a friend to sit quilet with? W could share our favourite books and fun little secrets…
TALKING TIP: Talk about your child’s good friends and the things that they do and say that make them a good friend.
Beautifully illustrated by Jonathan Bentley with great rhythm for reading aloud, this is a good one to add to your bookshelf!
2. First Day Critter Jitters by Jory John and Liz Climo
I was immediately drawn by Liz Climo’s cute illustrations and the front cover depicting a range of anxious animals on a school bus. This book addresses all sorts of reasons that a child might be nervous on the first day by capitalizing on each animal’s hallmark attribute. Sloth is afraid he won’t get there in time, Snake can’t figure out how to carry a backpack, and so on. One by one, we see the animals share their worries with each other, starting with their teacher, an armadillo who is forgetful and we start to see that with a little kindness, helping each other and working together helps the animals to have a successful day. This book has been enjoyed thoroughly by my 5 and 4 year olds, with them picking up new details each time we read and serving as a catalyst for us to talk about how we can help others at school.
TALKING TIP: Share a time when you (the adult) has been anxious and how you overcame it. Did you have to ask for help? Have you been able to help someone else with things they find hard or scary?
3. In My Heart by Jo Witek and Christine Roussey
While this is not a specific starting school book, it is perfect for this age group. Unlike other feelings books that tend of oversimplify, Jo Witek superbly explains what an emotions feels like, physically, on the inside.
But other times, my heart is cool. I bob along gently like a balloon on a string. My heart feels lazy and slow, as quiet as snowfall. This is when my heart is calm.
Christine Roussey’s illustrations compliment Jo Witek’s text beautifully and features a die-cut heart that extend through each spread of the book. Your kids will be empowered by this new vocabulary and ability to articulate and identify their own emotions. I gifted this book to my Preppie when he started school and we still grab it out to read occasionally when he has had a hard time expressing how he is feeling.
TALKING TIP: Help your child recall a time when they felt each of these emotions. How did your body feel?
4. Ally-Saurus & the First Day of School by Richard Torrey
Ally loves dinosaurs and her vivid imagination – so typical of the young child – carries the dinosaur on her very person. She is Ally-Saurus and she goes to school for the first time. (We also love that it’s a girl who loves dinosaurs!)She meets the other children and find they, too, have vivid imaginations and their imagination has made them princesses, pirates, astronauts and other creatures. Some don’t want a roaring dinosaur around them, but soon they all discover that friends understand that each likes different things. Richard Torrey’s unique illustrations intrigued me immediately. Each child gets a pop of color as we see their personality and preference towards what they want to be emerge! Ally’s pink dinosaur tail is drawn down her back and as classmates show preferences for princess or astronaut or pirate life, we see a crown or helmet or pirate hat adorn their heads. Ally navigates the feelings of loneliness, listening to others’ ideas, welcoming others in and finding common ground, all in the first day of school! The book ends with the class taking a trip to the library and it would look like Ally has found another book to spark her imagination – you’ll have to read it to find out!
TALKING TIP: Compare and contrast your child and their friends’ likes and dislikes. You can use comparative language such as ‘Both of you like Lego but he likes Ironman while you like the Hulk.”
5. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst and Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
This book has helped countless readers of all ages across the world cope with separation anxiety, loss, loneliness, and grief. The story begins twin Jeremy and Liza being scared of a story and their mother telling them that they’re all connected by this thing called an Invisible String, an invisible string made of love. Give it a little tug and you’ll feel one right back. How far can the string reach? Can animals feel the string? What about across oceans and into heaven?
We’ve heard many parents use this book to support their little people with separation anxiety, saying their kids were so excited to ‘try out’ the invisible string.
TALKING TIP: Talk about who your child is connected to through the invisible string. Mirror the language from the book, “Even though Uncle John lives in Sdyney, you are connected by the Invisible String.”
We’ve love to know, have you read this book and used this concept of the invisible string?
6. The Battle by Ashling Kwok and Cara King
Cara King’s bold and vibrant watercolour illustrations will entice your kids right away. A kid battling against monsters, dragons and ogres? Yes please! We meet Edward on his first day at knight school. He is anxious, knowing that there’ll be beasts everywhere. Edward gets invited by one of the dragons to play and although he’s scared, he decides to join in. As Edward begins to have fun, his amour falls away, the illustrations revealing that he wasn’t really surrounded by monsters and dragons, but children just like him. This book helps children to think about how their perception effects how they view the world, their feelings and often the choices they make. Ashling Kwok’s wonderful line of “It’s my armour, it always gets in the way” is both literal and figuratively, causing Edward to fall as he runs during hide-and-seek but metaphorically challenges us to think about how we could reframe our thoughts and realise that things aren’t always as they seem.
TALKING TIP: Make a prediction about what would’ve happened if Edward refused to play.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these books as much as we have enjoyed finding them for you! Let us know which ones you have read before and which ones you might pick up a copy of now!
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Your Little Birdies,
Tania & Janice