It feels like treason talking about school in the middle of the summer holidays, but the books in this month’s selection are anything but school-y! School is such a big part of kids’ lives (and of family life) that it should come as no surprise to find it a common setting in many children’s books, even those aimed at very young toddlers.
In the early years, books about school are all about reassurance and enlightenment. What happens beyond those imposing school gates? What do kids do in there all day? Is it as scary as all that? Books like Zeki Loves Baby Club by Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson or Sarah Garland’s Going to Playschool are brilliant for introducing very little ones to the workings of parent and baby groups and preschools in a simple, non-threatening way. They emphasize routine and there is a lot of comfort in repetition for the younger ages.
When things get a bit more serious and potentially dramatic, books such as Stephanie Blake’s I Don’t Want to Go to School! can come to the rescue. Again, they can show that school is essentially fun and there is nothing to be scared about. Maire Zepf’s and Tarsila Krüse’s Ná Gabh ar Scoil!/Don’t Go to School! (available in both languages) takes the playful approach of featuring a parent who doesn’t want their (very keen) offspring go to school.
And what if your youngster has started school and things haven’t gone according to plan? Sometimes, being ready and eager just isn’t enough. The ensuing frustration is precisely the topic of I Do Not Like Books Anymore! where Daisy Hirst shares with us Natalie’s disappointment and anger as she struggles with learning to read.
Later on, books set in a school context may well become a great way to escape real-life school. Boarding schools still fascinate as they are a great setting for intense friendships, deep mysteries and amazing adventures. Just think of somewhere like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, or Robin Stevens’s Murder Most Unladylike series which combines all of the above, or again Natasha Farrant’s The Children of Castle Rock (in our July roundup). Readers will love hanging around those corridors, making new friends and sparring with new enemies to the tune of a new syllabus, and all that with the added bonus of having to do exactly zero homework! In a slightly different vein, the delightfully absurd Maudlin Towers by Chris Priestly will most likely leave readers thinking they’re better off where they are!
Finally, for lovers of fact books, the brilliant The Way to School by photographer and UN Ambassador Rosemary McCarney shows the multiple ways children get to school around the world: by bus or buffalo, walking through caves, flying along zipwires and more. A fantastic way to get a new perspective on the sometimes-dreaded school run!
Enjoy the last of the summer. School is still a few great reads away!
Juliette Saumande is a children’s writer who still goes to school to play and learn with books and kids. (http://juliettesaumande.blogspot.com)
For more reviews check out Inis magazine which is published by Children’s Books Ireland, the national children’s books organisation whose vision is an Ireland in which books are central to every child’s life.
Zeki Loves Baby Club by Anna Mcquinn Illustrated By Ruth Hearson
You may have encountered Lulu in her many everyday adventures, now meet her little brother Zeki who has his own line of delightful picturebooks. Sturdy and bursting with fantastically warm and inclusive illustrations, the Zeki books make for a great introduction to the many ‘firsts’ your little one will go through, from the medical check-up to going swimming. In Zeki Loves Baby Club, our hero can’t wait to go through the routine of a parent and toddler group that makes lots of space for songs, games and cuddles. Expect to sing along and rehearse all your head-shoulders-knees-and-toes move! (Age 0–2)
I Don’t Want To Go To School! by Stephanie Blake
Gecko Press 2015
Simon is a bunny who is often found wearing his Super Rabbit costume. But will it be enough to give him the extra boost of confidence he needs to face his first day of (pre)school? Stephanie Blake is a master in the art of carrying a story through both words and pictures and Simon comes across as a cheeky and lovable youngster, a real character! The repetition and the comic-like layout in places will ensure that young readers soon feel confident enough to ‘read’ the book themselves. And there’s no stopping them after that! (Age 2–4)
I Do Not Like Books Anymore! by Daisy Hirst
Walker Books 2018
Natalie loves books and stories and is delighted to be starting school. Now she will, at last, be able to read all the books in the world wherever and whenever she wants! Alas, things are not as simple as she had hoped and soon Natalie is overwhelmed by text that resist deciphering and insipid stories about cats who sat on mats. Hirst depicts Natalie’s frustration with heaps of humour and empathy, and offers a solution you too can try at home… (Age 5–8)
Maudlin Towers: The Curse Of The Werewolf Boy by Chris Priestly
Bloomsbury Children’s Books 2017
A few minutes in Maudlin Towers, a boarding school ‘for the Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy’, should reconcile most readers with their own real-life place in education. Meet Mildew and Sponge, two pupils at Maudlin Towers, as they take it upon themselves to investigate the theft of the priceless School Spoon. And the ghostly apparitions in the attic. And the rumours about werewolves. And the weird Viking-types running around the moor and … Priestly’s book is as action-packed as it is bonkers: ridiculous in the best kind of way! The illustrations balance out the creepiness of a faux-Gothic décor with more silliness and help follow the heroes’ crazy caper. Young readers will be glad they don’t have to go to Maudlin Towers. They’ll also be glad they did! (Age 9–12)