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A ride through new kids' lit

An eclectic mix of new books celebrates the dog days of summer, along with castles and kings and fall's first day of school

By Karen Carden / August 7, 2003



What visions does August conjure for you? Swimming, snow cones, and savoring the last days of summer? Or back-to-school shopping, new pencils, and getting ready for the academic year? Either way, publishers are ready. They've been looking backward and forward to have something for this in-between time. Dive into a bookstore for some summery reading material or start your back-to-school shopping with a book.

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Picture books

If visiting a theme park was a highlight of your family's summer vacation, Roller Coaster, by Marla Frazee, might just take you to new heights. It's a story of a young girl's first coaster ride, captured in detailed watercolor illustrations. Summer seems to be sandwiched between the pages by Frazee's color choices: red, yellow, and aqua, with lots of white background space. Observant readers can follow recognizable characters from page to page and note how each reacts to the Rocket ride. Whether you like - or loathe - these thrillmaking machines, you'll find something to relate to in this book of summertime fun.

Feeling stuck in the dog days of summer? Then here's a refreshing treat: Stanley's Party, by Linda Bailey. Most dog owners wonder what their beloved pets do when their masters are out. Now, you'll know what pooch Stanley does - although you might not like it. Bill Slavin enriches this amusing text with engaging canine illustrations, comically portraying Stanley and friends in all their doggy splendor.

Imagine getting up for school or work without an alarm clock. What would you do? In England, as late as the early 1900s, a "knocker-up" might have been your answer. Andrea U'Ren's Mary Smith tells all about that little-known worker - someone who went around waking sleepy heads at the proper time. Most used long poles to rap on windows, but Mary was more creative: She used a peashooter. This tale (based on a real-life Mary) is full of fun and dash, and it's begging to be read aloud. "Tink ... clak ... dink!"

Off to school

Little School is a charming Australian import. Written and illustrated by Beth Norling, it features a multicultural group of 20 youngsters who attend preschool. In this reassuring book, the little ones wake in their own homes; travel to school by various methods; spend the day singing, snacking, painting, playing - and more. Then they rejoin their families, head home, eat dinner, bathe, and get in bed - to be ready for another full day. Pages are cleverly organized, loaded with character and characters. (Even prereaders will be able to pick out children and follow them through the day.) Some pages are grids, providing peeks into 20 little lives. Other times, Norling uses a catalog technique (pictures and labels) to illustrate sundry toys, school supplies, and activities. This well-conceived and beautifully designed volume is apt to be one of the most well-loved and often-used books on a toddler's shelf.

First Day describes a new student's concerns. Dandi Daley Mackall's rhythmic, rhyming text bounces along as a pigtailed girl readies herself for the first day of school. She starts out eager and happy: "Brand new shoes -/ heard the news?/ This is my first day." But her enthusiasm fades once she's actually in the unfamiliar environment: "Don't go, Dad!/ Can't Mom stay?/ Help me plan my getaway...." Predictably, she and the other children warm to the idea of being part of a class. A bunny is the classroom pet; there is coloring to do; story time is fun and silly. By day's end, this little pupil is won over. She ends the tale with: "School ... / COOL!" Bright, energetic illustrations by Tiphanie Beeke give this story plenty of visual appeal.

I Am NOT Going To School Today just about says it all for the new first-day-of-school book by Robie H. Harris. A little boy decides he won't go to school when he realizes that he won't know any of the other kids' names, or what kind of juice they'll drink, or where the crayons are kept - and, worst of all, that his stuffed monkey, Hank, will miss him. These first-day worries are understandable, so his parents suggest that Hank accompany him. He pops Hank in his pack (head "sticking out the top - so he could see") and goes to school. Once there, his many questions begin to be answered. The children sit in a circle and tell each other their names, they drink orange juice, and a teacher shows him where the crayons (and the toilets!) are. And - since Hank liked going to school - they'll both return uncoaxed in the morning. Jan Ormerod's realistic illustrations set a comforting and satisfying tone for this happy-ending book.

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