These stories are perfect for ushering in the school year.
By SAMANTHA CRITCHELL
The perfect complement to a child's bright new backpack -- maybe with an electro-luminescent wire sewn into the piping or an iPod pouch this year -- is a new book, and maybe even a book about school.
Some new books describe to first-time preschoolers or kindergartners what to expect on their first day; others help explain the diversity they'll find in a classroom. School is, after all, a microcosm of the rest of the world, complete with highs, lows and emotional struggles.
"The Berenstain Bears Go Back to School" by Stan and Jan Berenstain, illustrated by Michael Berenstain (HarperCollins, $9.99, ages 4-8).
Brother and Sister Bear already know the drill. They're returning to the same playground full of familiar faces, and trusty bus driver Gus is the one who'll get them there. But Brother finds out that third grade is going to much harder than second: There's geography, math, science and book reports. And sister learns that her new teacher has eyes in the back of her head.
"Brand-new Pencils, Brand-new Books" by Diane deGroat (HarperCollins, $15.99, ages 4-8).
Gilbert, a bespeckled opossum, excitedly packs up his bag on the eve of first grade, and he shares his excitement with his younger sister Lola, who is about to start preschool. But his smile turns a little sour when he gets to Mrs. Byrd's classroom and finds out that Philip already knows how to read -- and that Lewis is a bully. And there are a lot more rules in first grade, and keeping his desk tidy was going to be a big challenge. Then two good things happen: Gilbert makes a new friend, and he almost reads an entire book. When his mom comes to pick him up, he's not ready to go!
"Matthew ABC" by Peter Catalanotto (Aladdin Paperbacks, $6.99, ages 4-6).
Principal Nozzet has to wonder how Mrs. Tuttle can tell her students apart considering each one of them is named Matthew. It's easy, says Mrs. Tuttle. Matthew A is affectionate and Matthew B loves Band-Aids. Matthew C's hair has cowlicks and Matthew D pretends he's a duck. As for new student Matthew Z, who is rather fond of zippers, "he is exactly what her classroom needs," she says.
"Hunter & amp; Stripe and the Soccer Showdown" by Laura Malone Elliot and illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (HarperCollins, $15.99, ages 4-7).
Two best friends go nose to nose on the field, and they almost come to blows. Once they take the time to admire the other's skills, however, they realize they could learn from each other. They shake hands before leaving the field, head to their tree house side and, in the end, share a good chuckle.
"Mr. Monkey's Classroom" by Jiwon Oh (HarperCollins, $14.99, ages 4-7).
Cat, an elementary school veteran, takes her pal, newcomer Mouse, under her paw as they prepare for the first day of school. They shop together; Cat buys a new floral umbrella and polka-dot tights, and Mouse buys new sneakers and a baseball cap. But Mouse gets a little jealous when they do get to school, and Cat wants to play with her friends from the previous year. She persuades him that old friends are just as important as new friends, and that pretty soon he'll have lots of friends. Oh illustrates the book in the Japanese pop-art style of Hello Kitty and Tamagotchis that's so popular with kids.
"When an Elephant Comes to School?" by Jan Ormerod (Scholastic/Orchard, $16.95, ages 4-8).
What happens when an elephant comes to school? He does just what everyone else does. He shares, does arts and crafts, he helps his friends (even though he's the only one who can hang multiple lunch boxes on his nose), he asks questions and he loves story time. Author/illustrator Jan Ormerod does realize, however, that elephants aren't typical students either, so each page offers some words of wisdom, such as "Show him the bathroom right away" and "Take an extra sandwich."
"Dora the Explorer: Go, Team, Go!" by Phoebe Beinstein and illustrated by Zina Saunders (Simon Spotlight, $7.99, ages 2-5).
Preschoolers know their pal Dora the Explorer quite well already, but they'll see another side of her -- her athletic side. But no matter how good Dora is at running, jumping and throwing balls, she knows that it's teamwork that will lead her to the finish line of the Super Adventure Race.
"Slippers at School" by Andrew Clements and illustrated by Janie Bynum (Dutton Children's, $12.99, ages 2 and up).
A puppy knows he's going to miss his human pals when they go back to school, so he decides to go with them. He sneaks into Laura's blue, red and yellow backpack and he doesn't come out until she puts the bag into her cubby. He hides from Laura all day long, but lots of other people see him, including the lunch lady.
"On My Very First School Day I Met..." by Norman Stiles and illustrated by Bill Mayer (Milk & amp; Cookies Press, $9.95, ages 3-6).
What if you found yourself sitting next to a dragon with three heads and a cute little face on its tummy on your first day of school? That's what happens to one little red-haired girl with a red headband, yellow T-shirt and green backpack, and she doesn't seem to mind a bit.
"Tucker's Four-Carrot School Day" by Susan Winget (HarperCollins, $12.99, ages 2-5).
Tucker the bunny is dreading his first day of school so much that he doesn't even want to get out of bed. His father eventually gets him up and out, and it turns out that Miss Blossom's classroom, with its cheerful alphabet, shape and number posters, is a pleasant surprise. Tucker likes art time, music time, play time and nap time, especially after he finds a family photo that his mom and sister sneaked into his backpack. He takes a long look at it before closing his eyes.
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