Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Perfect Pair: School Stories

Written by Amy Hest
Illustrated by Jill Barton
Candlewick Press, 1999

Baby Duck isn’t excited at all about going to school. She’s got first day jitters. She tries to put off the inevitable. At home, it takes a long time for her to button her sweater and to buckle her shoes. She walks behind her parents on the way to school. Her feet feel too heavy for her to hop. She can’t skip because her school bag keeps bumping against her. Her shoe buckle pops open.

Grampa just happens to be sitting on a bench in front of the schoolhouse. He asks Baby Duck questions. He understands that she is worried. He tells her it might help to sing a song. So baby Duck sings:

Please don’t make me go to school.
My teacher will be mean.
I won’t have any fun or friends.
And who will buckle my new shoe?

Grampa buckles Baby Duck’s shoe. Then Baby Duck shows him all the special things in her school bag, including the pencil she got from her younger sibling Hot Stuff. Grampa reminds baby that she draws nice pictures—so she draws a picture. Grampa praises her creation. Then, with Baby Duck at his side, he talks to Miss Posy, the teacher, about the kinds of things she likes…and the kinds of things that the children will do in school. Baby Duck listens. We see her smiling in the illustration. Evidently, she’s changed her feelings about going to school.

Baby Duck’s parents kiss her good-by and promise to be there when school is dismissed. Then Baby Duck hops and skips into the schoolhouse with her new friend Davy singing a happy song.

Written & illustrated by Anna Alter
Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2003

Francine is having a contrary day. She doesn’t want to do anything that she is expected to do. She doesn’t want to get out of bed…or take off her pajamas. She does not want to go to school…or find her desk in school…or sing the morning song…or recite a poem in front of her classmates…or sit at the snack table…or sit at the art table…or go out to the school playground at the end of the day. No, she’d prefer to have a picnic at home with her mother—and to sit on her porch and draw pictures all afternoon.

Francine’s Day has a very spare text. Much of the story is told through Anna Alter’s pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations. For example, the text tells us that Francine doesn’t want to recite a poem—but it doesn’t tell us that she does. She is, however, shown in a two-page spread standing at the front of the classroom. It’s easy to infer that Francine DOES recite a poem.

Francine may not WANT to do the things she is expected to do—but she does them anyway. She sits at the snack table when Mr. Wendell, her teacher, sets her a place…and she sits at the art table when he pours out bright, colored paints and hands her a brush…and she goes out to the playground when he tells her that it won’t be long before her mother meets her at the bus stop.

That night, Francine recites a poem and sings a song to her stuffed animals—just as she was asked to do in class. It appears that Francine is enjoying herself playing school. In fact, she does not want to climb into bed.

But Mother pulled back
the covers, kissed her
good night, and turned off
the lights in her bedroom.

“It is time to close your
eyes and go to sleep,”
said Mother.

And she did.

There is nothing in Alter’s text that tells us that this is Francine’s first day of school. Still, Francine experiences the reticence that many young children do before they set off for school for the very first time.

Alter’s uncluttered illustrations focus on Francine…lying in bed, looking at her fall clothes folded on the rocking chair, sitting eating breakfast, walking down the front walk to the school bus, entering her classroom, sitting at her desk and at the snack table and at the art table, holding her teacher’s hand, hugging her mother upon her return home, playing with her stuffed animals, and being tucked into bed at night by her mother. Alter’s palette of soft pastel colors and her use of pale yellow in many of the backgrounds lend warmth and coziness to this story.

Francine’s Day is a good book to read to a young child who may be worried about beginning school.

For more school stories, check out my earlier post Book Bunch: School Stories.


Vivian Mahoney said...

I'm looking for school stories for my soon to be preschooler. I never thought she'd have a problem, but after her clingon cries at her little two hour "camp" this week, these books sound great. Thanks!

Elaine Magliaro said...


I was a school phobic in first grade. I refused to get on the school bus a couple of times. I hope the books help.