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Friday, September 4, 2015

First Grade Dropout, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. Clarion Books, Houghton MIfflin Harcourt. Thomas Allen & Son, 2015. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"Maybe I'll just put on
glasses and change my
hair and pretend to be a
new kid from ...
Or France.
Or Cincinnati.

I can't stop thinking
about it."

Bring it on ... Audrey Vernick? Matthew Cordell? I have great admiration for both talents, and will check out any book that has one of those names on it. So, imagine having both together in a collaboration about humiliation on the first day of school.

Calling his new teacher 'Mommy' is enough to discourage our young, red-faced first grader from coming back to Lakeview Elementary School again ... ever! He is done with it. He can't get the mistake, or the laughter of his classmates, out of his head. He's mad at them, and thinking he should just make new friends.

"But I really like the friends I already have.
I'll miss playing basketball
with Emma.
Spying on Tyler's sisters
from the treehouse.
Fishing with Levon and his uncle.
But they all laughed.
And stomped their
feet. And pointed."

Seeing his embarrassment and feeling empathetic toward him might also have readers remembering some of those incidents in their own lives that have been shame-producing. When he inevitably meets up with Tyler, his best friend, who also laughed at his silly mistake, our narrator is surprised that it no longer seems to be an issue. Perhaps, he is making too much of it. When Tyler makes a simple mistake of his own, and with his own faux pas still front of mind, he laughs with his friend. All's well!

Matt Cordell's signature work in ink and watercolor bring all of the emotions felt to the forefront, inviting readers to experience those feelings as they read. He matches the humorous, imaginative tone with loose lines, wonderful expression, and lots of white space to assure attention to the plight of one young school student.

Building a classroom community takes time and patience, and is a work in progress. Sharing wonderful picture books that help listeners look at a situation from another's point of view is an effective way of bringing empathy to the forefront. When we care about the others who share our space, the classroom becomes a safe and welcome place to spend our days.


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