Thursday, August 11, 2016

Back to School: School's First Day At School by Adam Rex

That summer they dug up the big field and poured the foundation and sat brick on to of brick until they'd built a school.

A sign above the door read FREDERICK DOUGLASS ELEMENTARY. That's a good name for me, thought the school.

But a new school is like a first-time student. Unschooled. Clueless.

A nice man named Janitor comes every day throughout the summer to paint and polish up the inside, and sometimes Janitor tries to tell School about what is about to happen, but School can't help being nervous about that first day.

Who knew a school has first-day fears, too?

In fresh paint and varnish, School is all dressed up for opening day, just like his students. But all does not go perfectly. School experiences an unexpected fire drill, and the students who have just settled in their new desks have to hustle out and stand on the playground. And as they file back in, School hears some conversations that give him a sick feeling way down in his basement.

Some older students gathered by the back fence and showed their bored faces.

"This place stinks," said one.

School sagged a little.

"I don't like school," says one kid.

Maybe it doesn't like you either, thinks School.

But soon the students are all settling down with their teachers, and Janitor gets to take a much-needed break.

School tunes in to what is going on down in the Kindergarten, where Aiden, Max, Bella, Emma, and Chloe sit together on the circle time rug and learn all about shapes. There's that quiet hum of a school where brains are busy learning new things, and a sense of peace settles over School. It's been a good day, all in all, with more to come, and School knows he's in the right place after all.

Adam Rex's latest, School's First Day of School (Roaring Brook Press, 2016), is a different sort of first-day story, seen from the point of view of a brand-new school, a newbie who, like the students, doesn't quite know what to going to happen. Kids will chuckle at the usual events, a sudden fruit-basket-turnover as an unexpected fire drill sends everyone back outside, one boy giggles so hard that he squirts milk all over School's pristine and polished lunchroom floor. (I'm covered with nose milk, thinks School), and drawings get thumb-tacked to his perfectly painted walls (Ouch!). Building on Rex's polished storytelling, Caldecott-winning artist, (for Last Stop on Market Street) Christian Robinson, adds tidy American primitive collage and acrylic illustrations with wide-angle and up-close looks at the first day of school and--of School himself.

Young students will never look at their schools in quite the same way again. An essential purchase for back-to-school reading. As Publishers Weekly puts it, "Every so often, a book comes along with a premise so perfect, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been done before; this is one of those books."



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