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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices. Written by Sally Derby and illustrated by Mika Song. Charlesbridge, Random House. 2017. $19.99 ages 5 and up

"J. W. Riley is a big, big school
but I know the way
to my new room.
I have a map in my head.
I go in the front door
and walk straight down the hall
to the third door.
I know my new teacher's name.
It's Mrs. Wilson.
And I remember what she looks like ... "

It's getting closer for most of us! School begins again for another year in the next few weeks, and I hope that you will be able to use this very special book of poetry as you help your kids adjust to their new reality after what I hope has been a carefree summer.

It concerns six children as you can tell from the cover. They are filled with all the emotions that children feel as they anticipate (or not) the start of a new year at school. There are six voices in each of the four sections - The Night Before, In the Morning, At School, and After School. The children and their lives are as diverse as their feelings shared.

Ethan goes to kindergarten, lives with his mom and has his grandfather living close by.

"Before I wen to bed,
I put Bear's blue jacket
in the pocket
of my new kindergarten pants.
Grandpa's the only one who knows,
and he promised not to tell."

Zach is a touch apprehensive about a brand new year, but soon realizes that kindergarten stood him in good stead for first grade, and he gains confidence as his first day moves forward.

"His name is Adam.
He was in kindergarten with me,
and now his desk is right behind mine.
Sometimes he leans forward
and whispers in my ear.
It's nice to have an already-friend."

Katie's mom and grandmother try to ease her concerns about a return to school. She is reluctant to go that first day.

"I think I have a stomachache.
And it wouldn't be smart to start second grade
on a day when I'm feeling sick.
Maybe tomorrow
would be better than today
for starting back to school.
But Mom says, "Your stomach just has butterflies."

Jackie has to come to school early because of her mom's job. Third grade provides new opportunities for responsibility and Mrs. McKinney seems pleased with her early morning helpers.

"A kid named Logan and I
both got here at seven,
and Mrs. McKinney
said she likes having two early birds
to keep her company.
And guess what I found out?
Third grade has a rabbit!"

Carlos shares his concerns about a brand new school with his positive and empowering father.

"What if no one likes me?"
Papa laughs.
"Not like? Un hombre like you?
So smart, so strong, so handsome"?
No es possible."
"It is possible," I argue. "What if - ?"

Mia wears hearing aids, loves books, and is impressed with her new teacher, Mrs. K.

"Mrs. K is like me - she likes poetry.
So first thing every day,
she's going to read us a poem.
I'm lucky I got shuffled, because
now I'll be able
to hear every word she reads!
Fifth grade may be OK after all.
We'll see."

You have met each one. As you read their four poems, you will get to know them better. You will also know what first days of school look like from various perspectives. I think you might even find your younger self in their poems. I know I did!

Mika Song's emotion-packed artwork is created in watercolor and sumi ink.  Her illustrations offer a glimpse into each child's world and feelings, matching the sensitivity found in Ms. Derby's poetry.

What an awesome way to begin a conversation about feelings, diversity, and poetry itself for your classroom, or for your own reluctant child. Having it on your sharing shelf the first day of school will provide perfect openings for kids to start telling their personal stories - perhaps even trying a poem of their own. Enjoy.

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