Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Back to School with the Little Monster, or Your Bear, or Your Penguin, or Your Dad...A Picture Book Roundup.

While we're always trying to come up with interesting display tables, like "eighty-something is the new thirty-something" that was just highlighted (and thanks for all the additional suggestions, by the way!), there are certain displays that pretty much obligatory. You'll be hard pressed to find a bookstore without tables Mother's and Father's Day, Valentine's, and Halloween, for example, and if you have separate displays for kids' books, add to that the back to school season.

There are so many books published into this subgenre, but much like holiday books, they have a short window of about two months of sale, unless the book is so great that it transcends the genre. But while there's plenty of new books that come out each year, if a book has a strong sale, we bring it back the next year. So for example, last year we hosted Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna for The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School, and it's back this year. The story, a follow up to The Pout-Pout Fish, has a very nice read-aloud chant that becomes almost a chorus in Pout-Pout Fish's story song about the first day of school.

Rebecca Ashdown's Bob and Flo is not just the first book about these adorable penguins, but the author/illustrator's debut as well. In this story, Flo goes to school with her new bow and a bucket of fish for lunch. She meets Bob, who likes her bucket. I mean, he really likes her bucket! And the first day is filled with different uses for the bucket, until Bob gets stuck and Flo has to save the day. And guess what she uses?

I asked our kids' buyer Amie what books I should include and she told me she's a fan of Dad's First Day, by Mike Wohnoutka. The story about a dad's worries when his son Oliver goes off the school for the first day. He procrastinates, hides, and has a panic attack. The teacher gently removes him from the class, but he can't stop thinking about whether Oliver is ready for school. He goes back to spy on him and realizes Oliver's ready, so he's ready too. It's sweet, and I think the author/illustrator did a particularly nice job with Dad's receding hairline. I wanted to go to his barber (seriously, the guy who cut my hair just moved to Portland, Oregon.)

Boswellian Phoebe is also a fan. She writes: "I especially like when the teacher carries the dad out crying when it's time for him to separate from Oliver because it's a scene that plays out the opposite way so often with the teacher holding the student while the parent leaves. Children and parents alike will enjoy this adorable story with cute illustrations and a great ending!"

Another thing I've noticed is that many back-to-school books cross genres with another kids' favorite, the alphabet book and the counting book. I'm right in the middle of Eugenia Cheng's How to Bake Pi, where she notes that knowing how to recite the numbers as a child often has nothing to do with knowing how to count; to a kid, it's just another poem they've memorized (yes, I'm doing that third person plural thing again) and similarly, knowing the alphabet doesn't mean you can read or spell, but nevertheless it feels like an accomplishment and is generally followed by reading and spelling, so why mess with a good thing. I love the Cheng book, and I think math teachers would find it particularly interesting.

ABC, School's For Me, is a book by Susan B. Katz with illustrations by Lynn Munsinger. The school day plays out for little bears, with each activity beginning with a different letter. I'm always interested in Q, X, and Z, and those little bears outsmart the alphabet by playing Duck, Duck, Goose (quack!) and their xylophones at music time. There's a little rhymin' action going on as well. Katz won a Moonbeam Gold Award for Best Picture Book of 2012 while Munsinger has illustrated books by Helen Lester and Laura Numeroff.

Another book that Amie suggested was Elise Parsley's If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't!, by Elise Parlsey. Yes, little Magnolia thought that bringing an alligator to show and tell was a good thing, but really, it isn't. Alligators cause a lot of trouble and it's not just about eating other little kids; it's about throwing paper airplanes and playing with gum, and eating not just their own lunch but yours too. No, it's a lot of trouble. And since Wisconsin is one of those states that has loose laws on exotic pets (we learned this when a lion was said to be loose on the northwest side of the city), it could happen!

I am trying to decide if Amie particularly likes this book because she could imagine her daughter bringing an alligator to school. I can think of a number of young visitors to Boswell who would find the idea delightful, so this book is a very good warning to them.

And of course there's Helen Lester's Go to School, Little Monster, with illustrations by Bonnie Leick. In it, Little Monster meets his teacher Mr. Drool, and finds a friend in Fang, his neighbor. At recess they ride dragons and for lunch, they eat worms and octopus arms and bat wings. It really all goes quite well, with Lester's rhymes and Leick's creepily cute illustrations. L.M is at top left on the blog. Our thanks to Bonnie Leick for letting us use this image.

Oh, and it wouldn't be a back-to-school season without some gear. We've got a nice selection of backpacks, lunch bags, bento boxes, and water bottles from Sugarbooger.

Celebrate back to school with us. Bonnie Leick, a Milwaukee-based artist, will be at Boswell on Saturday, August 22, at 2 pm. We'll have a story time, a little monster coloring, and then you can get your Go to School, Little Monster book signed. Best of all, Leick will draw a picture in your book as well. That's the bonus of hosting artists!

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