imgres-11So many picture books are aimed at first school experiences like “Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten,” “Kindergarten Rocks,” or “Countdown to Kindergarten.” But two recent PAL Award winners offer some depth to the story of starting school or maybe just meeting the challenges of the next grade:

“The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School” by Deborah Diesen with pictures by Dan Hanna has Mr. Fish swimming off to his first day with a backpack looped around his front fins as he searches for his classroom. After three false starts, he is plenty frustrated with his flub-flub frowns making “blub-blub bubbles” as he tries to keep up with classmates writing their name, drawing shapes, and figuring math problems. After each attempt he repeats his mantra, “I’m not smart…I’ll never get it…I don’t belong…Forget it!” Attempting tasks over his head can be tough on a little guy until the soft voice of Miss Hewitt led him to her classroom for “Brand-New Fish.” Kids and parents can relate to the anxiety provoked by lessons over your head. Getting in the right reading group or even receiving some special help can help build self-esteem and make school fun. A more positive message resounds in his new classroom for Brand New Kids, “We are smart…We can get it…We belong…We won’t forget it!”

Ironically, I received this book for review when I was in the middle of working with a 5 year-old who was struggling with reading. In the process, he moved out of kindergarten back to a private setting where he was diagnosed with dyslexia and began to thrive with the additional specialized help that he needed. I watched his attitude change from “I don’t get it” to “I am smart” as he slowly began to identify letters in his favorite Pout-Pout Fish book.

imgres-12“Rooting For You” by Susan Hood, illustrated by Matthew Cordell sends a special message to break out, grow up, sprout, go toward the light and bloom. This delightful flap book is multi-layered with meaning as a little sunflower seed declares he’s not coming out of his dark, soil of comfort.  With the help of his cast of new friends–worms, ants, beetles and spiders–this seed is making progress toward the light. So with some encouragement and self-talk, “I can do it,” he kept “whirling…unfurling…going…and growing” into a beautiful flower. This book is full of prompts to start the dialogue about how it feels to start something new or difficult, who encourages us and maybe even what WE can do to help someone who is challenged. This insightful book can be used to  encourage a child who has bumped up against his first “rock” on the ascent to new learning.