If I Built a School

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
If I Built a School Book Poster Image
Inventive, colorful school story has retro-futuristic feel.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Will spark young kids' curiosity and creative thinking. Teachers using this book could do book-themed lessons in writing, STEM, and art.

Positive Messages

Imagination is limitless. Be creative. Believe in yourself. Share your ideas. Great teachers listen and honor student imaginations.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Super-relatable main character is wildly imaginative and confident in his amazing ideas. Teacher listens, considers student ideas with amazement and seriousness. Jack and Miss Jane appear to be White, but kids of many ethnicities/racial backgrounds are present, as well as both a student and a dog that use wheelchairs. A zip line with a full body seat (rather than just a harness) and an empty wheelchair at the base of a skydiving wind tunnel imply that activities would be accessible to all the kids.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that If I Built a School, by Chris Van Dusen, is the third If I Built book featuring inventive young Jack, who previously described his ideal car and house. Thinking bigger than ever in If I Built a School, Jack offers readers the school design of his dreams. Kids will find a kindred spirit in Jack's capacity to imagine a lively school with amusement park vibes, and his idea that it's fun to learn in a school that's fun will surely resonate with them. The bright, vintage-style art packs a lot of detail into each page, and the illustrations are likely to spark young readers' own design ideas. This colorful book is a great choice for kids getting ready to go back to school, or for kids who need reminding that imagination can make school, and life, more enjoyable.

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What's the story?

In IF I BUILT A SCHOOL, Jack takes his teacher on an imaginary tour of his dream school. At the entrance, Miss Jane looks shocked as they are greeted by puppies and zoo animals. Jack then whisks his teacher to "her" classroom via a glass tube transport system. The classrooms open up to the sun like flowers, and Jack reveals that Miss Jane will have holograms to help her teach and a stylus that writes in the air. Next, it's to the library, where books pop open and spring to life (including the author's previous book, If I Built a Car). Whether it's the gym that has skydiving wind tunnels or the grand, three-stories-high slide in the recess yard, Miss Jane looks amazed at the grandeur of her student's fantasy school.  

Is it any good?

This imaginative book is a joy to read aloud, and kids will love examining the detailed two-page spreads that picture a young boy's dream school. Between the color-saturated illustrations that feel both retro and futuristic, the teacher who stares at Jack in impressed wonder, and the delightfully rhyming text, it's hard to decide what's most wonderful about If I Built a School.

Jack's whimsical ideas and confusion about the finer points of executing such an elaborate plan make him an easy character for kids to relate to, and parents might find themselves contemplating school buildings like Miss Jane does at the end of the story, wondering if school could indeed be more fun than it already is. It's a good thing this book is entertaining for kids and adults alike, as it will be requested over and over again.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about building or designing places, like Jack does in If I Built a School. What would you build if you could? What kinds of elements would you add to make it fun for everyone? For example, in the boy's imagined school, kids in wheelchairs can use the wind tunnel for skydiving and can go on the zip line.

  • How do you have fun at school? How do you cope when you have to do something you don't think is very fun?

  • How do the illustrations show Miss Jane's feelings? How does she feel about Jack's imaginary school?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love school stories and picture books

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