Tuesday, October 4, 2011

School Stories (FAMILY magazine reviews)

School is the work kids do. And relationships are an important foundation. For children and the adults who love them, these stories offer opportunities to explore the establishment and strengthening of long-lasting friendships. From bullies to gender identity, to exclusion and welcome, we all need determination and gumption to make our way in the world. These books will make you laugh in recognition and appreciation. Have fun and take heart!

The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School
by Laura Murray
illustrated by Mike Lowery
Putnam, $16.99, Ages 4-7

Especially if you are a fan of the famous Gingerbread Man tale, this version by author and former teacher Murray is perfect for introducing students to school staff members. Beginning the story, children mix and roll and bake; then after he’s done, they pull out the pan, and it’s time for recess. When they leave to go outside, he races after shouting, “I’m the Gingerbread Man, and I’m trying to find the children who made me and left me behind.”
This attempt to find the children takes him on a series of adventures, introducing him to the coach, the school nurse, the art teacher, and even the principal, who helps him relocate his class. Lowery’s cartoon-like illustrations use pencil, traditional screen-printing and digital color to grab attention and sustain a high level of energy. Additionally, a couple maps give readers an idea of the school’s geography, and enhance the rollicking rhythm and rhymes of Murray’s text.
A poster, similar to ones the children make in the story as an attempt to locate the missing Gingerbread Man, is included inside the back cover, with activities and a gingerbread recipe.

Pirates and Princesses
by Jill Kargman & Sadie Kargman
illustrated by Christine Davenier
Dutton, $16.99, Ages 4-7

Based on an actual kindergarten incident, author Kargman and her eight-year-old daughter Sadie, team up to share a spirited playground story. Ivy and Fletch have grown up together since they were infants, born a day apart. Pregnant at the same time, the moms spent time together, and the two babies played with each other, from babbling to crawling, to preschool.
But when they get to kindergarten, things change. During recess the girls play with the girls, and the boys with boys. Initially Ivy and Fletch play together, as always, on the swings. But, the boys invite Fletch to play pirates, while the girls persuade Ivy to join them in the princess palace.
Veteran illustrator Davenier uses colored pencils, watercolors and oil pastels, especially pinks and blues, to establish typical gender identities. The lines and designs give shape and form to support the text, establishing personality with facial expressions and movement in this energetic picture book.
Fletch and Ivy almost forget each other, they are having so much fun. Until the pirates decide to RAID! Pirates and princesses chase each other and Ivy is captured! At first this is fun, and Ivy doesn’t mind. But when the princesses can’t rescue her, Fletch realizes it’s not fun anymore. Together he and Ivy change playground expectations.
This cheery tale of gender differences, trumped by imagination, friendship, and shared history, supplies kids and parents with samples of the importance of sharing swings and cupcakes for overcoming obstacles to getting along.

You’re Mean, Lily Jean!
by Frieda Wishinsky
illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Albert Whitman, $16.99, Ages 5-8

Carly and Sandy always play together, using their imaginations as only sisters can. And then ---- Lily Jean moves in next door, and wants to play only with Sandy. At Sandy’s insistence Lily Jean agrees that Carly can play if she’s the baby. Then, if she’s the cow. And again, if she’s the dog.
With watercolors, acrylic ink, oil crayons, gouache and salt, award-winning illustrator Denton deepens the text with her characteristic blend of colors, expressive faces, and motion to show Carly’s inventive solution to transforming a bully into a friend. (With her sister, Sandy’s help, of course!)
While its characters are three girls, this brief, bouncy tale is accessible to both genders, since the games are not specific to girls only, and open-minded boys will not be put off by girly games.

Back to School Tortoise
by Lucy M. George
illustrated by Merel Eyckerman
Albert Whitman, $15.99, Ages 5-8

Tortoise is nervous about school. Maybe he will trip and fall, or hate his lunch, or the kids will be mean to him. He gets to school, but sits down by the door and doesn’t go in.
Sunny illustrations show Tortoise’s preparations for school and his anxious imaginings about potential problems. As his imagination changes, his uneasiness abates. He begins to think about the possible fun and new friendships. He takes a deep breath, opens the door, and bravely greets everybody with a “good morning!”
The ending will surprise you and make you laugh! And remind us all that courage is something required of adults and children alike.

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