Friday, August 22, 2008

School Days: Countdown to Kindergarten by Alison McGhee

I'm in big trouble. I'm going to kindergarten in ten days.

I've heard from a first grader that they have a lot of rules there. . . .

Rule #1: You have to know how to to tie your shoes. By yourself. You're not allowed to ask for help. EVER!

The heroine of this story can count backwards from ten to zero, but she CAN'T tie her shoes! As she counts down the days until the fearful first day of kindergarten, she really tries to learn how to tie a bow. Her dad is sympathetic and helpful and reassures her that lots of kids can't tie their shoes, but her attempt to learn ends in despair, tangling up the cat, who tries to help in the way cats always handle shoestrings. Next she tries to get rid of the shoes themselves, hiding them in a haystack, where Mom finds them with a cheery "Looky here! Here's the missing shoe AND that needle I've been searching for!"

All of her amusing ploys to lose her shoes or laces are foiled by her ever-optimistic parents, whose reassurances that she won't be the only non-shoe-tier in her class fall on deaf ears. The girl visualizes herself as a kindergarten flunkee with a sign labelled VELCRO GIRL around her neck.

The days dwindle down until two days before K-Day, and the whole family is so absorbed in the shoestring crisis that even Dad, taking her out for her favorite dinner to keep her spirits up, asks, "How's your bowl of shoestrings--er, I mean spaghetti??" I"M DOOMED! she concludes.

But when the dreaded day comes, our heroine discovers that Rule #1 doesn't actually exist: there are lots of kids who can't tie shoes in her class, and her teacher promises that the first order of the day on Monday will be a lesson in shoe tying for everyone!

I guess I'm not in such big trouble after all!

Alison McGhee's Countdown to Kindergarten, with her young drama-queen's conjured-up fears shown effectively in Harry Bliss's humorous illustrations, helps to put first-day anxieties into context for kids whose imaginings are worse than the reality. For stories of other kids with start-of-school hangups, combine this one with Kevin Henkes' wonderful Wemberly Worried, Chrysanthemum, (rpkg) and award-winning Owen. (Caldecott Honor Book)



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