Many kindergarten books are about the anxiety that comes with the first day of school. Anne Rockwell's Welcome to Kindergarten is a book about a boy and his mother visiting school for orientation. On the first page they are approaching the school on Sunrise Street. The boy observes that "it is very big. The boys and girls coming out the door are all much bigger than me." Inside they find the kindergarten classroom and explore the room's centers for science, art, math reading, writing, weather, and cooking. He sees he'll learn to read the calendar and tell time. As they leave the building he says, "the building doesn't look to big at all. It looks just the right size for me!" The illustrations are done with bold, bright colors in a simple, child-like style. The boy, his mother and the teacher are all white. The principal is a darker shade of tan, with gray hair. Several of the other students are black or brown, including the friendly girl who sits at his table for snack. This is a sweet book for a child entering kindergarten and wondering what exactly goes on in that big brick building.
Rosemary Wells' Timothy Goes to School is all about the difficulty of choosing the right clothes to wear. On the first day Timothy wears a sun-suit his mother made him and he looks too babyish. On the second day he wears a jacket his mother made him, in order to look like the kid who criticised him on the first day. Of course he gets told "no one wears a jacket on the second day". Timothy keeps trying to dress to please until he meets Violet, a girl who understands him and enjoys his company. They become fast friends in their mutual dislike of Claude and Grace, the perfect students they had been comparing themselves to and coming up short. First day of school anxiety themes this book touches on are:
- the excitement of the first day,
- the disappointment of not being completely prepared and wearing the "wrong" thing,
- the fact that there is a second day and a third day so you have chances to get it right (or continue to get it wrong),
- the exposure of judgment from peers and teachers,
- the joy of discovering a new friend that likes you and understands you.
Another Rosemary Wells book we found is My Kindergarten. This is a much longer book that covers everything in the kindergarten curriculum, from telling time and reading a calendar to poetry day, lessons on the types of clouds and insects, and field trips to the senior center to "adopt" a grandparent. You can't read this book in one night. It could last you months if you take the time to discuss each page with your child. It's a course in kindergarten in itself. Whether you are homeschooling or sending your child off to kindergarten with no idea of what they will be learning, this is the book to keep on hand to guide you through the year.
Another classic kindergarten book is Joseph Slate's Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten. Cleverly illustrated by Ashley Wolff, it shows Miss Bindergarten cleaning out the room and preparing for her students, who happen to have names that start with all the letters of the alphabet. From "Adam (an alligator) wakes up" to "Zach Blair (a zebra) finds his chair", each child's first name and animal species follow the alphabet while their action rhymes with their last name. It's a fun book that children love to read over and over. There are several other Miss Bindergarten books in the series.
The diversity here is nice to see, but just like in Rosemary Wells books the one disappointment I have is that all the parent/child pairs match completely. Ophelia Nye, an otter, hugs goodbye to her otter mother. Matty Lindo, an moose, looks out the window at his moose father. There is plenty of evidence that good people come in all shapes and colors, but no acknowledgment that families do. I can't tell you how many times we've had children ask us about why Buddy is black and I am white. Kids quickly draw the conclusion that children always ought to match their parents. It would be nice if children's book authors and illustrators took the opportunity to introduce the idea that just like all races can be friends, working, living and studying together, families can be mixed race too.
A really delightful first day book that is new to me is Vera Rosenberry's Vera's First Day of School. Vera is a little girl going to school for the first time, following along in the footsteps of her older sisters. When they get to the schoolyard though, Vera is suddenly overcome with shyness. She hides and doesn't go in with the other children. She is aghast to find herself outside alone with the door slammed shut. She runs home and hides under the bed. When her mother finds her she brushes her off and gently walks her back to school. With brave authority her mother holds her hand, walks her into room 10 and simply tells the teacher, "This is my daughter, Vera. She was not able to come to school this morning, but she is here now." The teacher accepts this, welcomes Vera into the room and gets her started painting. At the end of the day Vera tells her big sister the day "was fun. But I think I will like the second day even better." That is exactly how I always feel. The diversity in this book is pretty much the same as the others, except that everyone in Vera's family has different color hair. Mom has black hair and one sister has red. You could imagine that the oldest of the sisters is Asian and Vera herself could be mixed-race. There is no father mentioned but her teacher is a man. He is brownish tan, with kinky hair. All in all this is my favorite book, perhaps because even though Vera is so excited and happy about going to school that she has woken up at the crack of dawn and gotten dressed with joy, she freezes up when she sees the playground full of children, "more children than she had ever seen before." I also love the way her socks keep falling down when she is shaken, sad or bewildered and her hair is barely contained. Her sisters and her mother show the perfect balance of involvement, paying attention when needed but not butting in to Vera's experience otherwise. The illustrations display their characters with subtle charm in delicate watercolors. There are several more Vera books, including Vera Rides a Bike, Vera Gets Sick, and Vera's New School. We will have to look for them all!