School's First Day of School

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
School's First Day of School Book Poster Image
Start-of-school story with clever twist helps soothe fears.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Basic information about construction of schools -- pouring foundation, laying bricks -- and what happens in school: Kids arrive via school bus; concept of lockers; drinking fountains; playground. What kindergarten kids might expect: sitting on rug, fire alarms and drills, lunchtime in cafeteria. Information about squares, rectangles, and other shapes and what a janitor does.

Positive Messages

The start of school (or any new venture) might be scary, but knowing what to expect helps you adjust. Others have the same fears you do. It's fun to learn new things. School isn't completely scary after all; it can be fun and exciting. Integrated schools are happy places, and kids of different races and backgrounds can be friends.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The school has worries and fears but expresses them clearly and so begins to work through them. At first the school takes the kids' negative comments personally, but as he gets to know the individual kids, he comes to understand and like them. The school takes pleasure in learning new things. The janitor is a helpful friend who listens to the school recount his day and experiences. The two enjoy each other's company.

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that School's First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Newbery Award winner Christian Robinson (Last Stop on Market Street), is about the anxieties and fears kids might face when they first start school, with a very clever twist: It's the school itself that's brand new and worried about the first day. This school has feelings kids will recognize and relate to, and the book provides realistic but reassuring information about what they might expect. (Will the school like the kids? At first he doesn't.) Robinson pictures a warm, diverse environment that's integrated racially and includes a girl in a wheelchair playing with a friend on the playground. This warm, sweet, funny book is an absolute perfect choice for kids about to venture off to school.

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What's the story?

In SCHOOL'S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, a new school, built over the summer, anticipates the start of his busy new life. At first, "a man named Janitor" comes and tells the school that soon children will be there, too. And though Janitor assures the school he'll like them, the school worries that he probably won't and feels overwhelmed when the kids arrive by the busload, "more of them than the school could possibly have imagined." The school day progresses: Kindergartners sit on a rug and introduce themselves, there's a fire drill, lunch in a cafeteria, a lesson about shapes, and an art project. After the kids leave, the school tells Janitor all about his day and realizes he feels lucky to be a school.

Is it any good?

In this perfectly pitched, emotionally resonant book, a school building worries about and adjusts to the arrival of kids and the first day of school and ends up looking forward to the second. The book introduces school routines -- sitting on a rug, eating in a cafeteria, fire drills, recess -- clueing kids in on what to expect. Throughout, the school's reactions are cleverly and recognizably "human" and leavened with gentle humor. At the water fountain, the school sprays a kid who says, "I hate school," but then the school feels bad about it.  At lunch, one kid squirts milk out of his nose, and the school thinks, "Now I'm covered with nose milk." And the only real threat comes from some older kids who look bored and say things like, "This place stinks."

The school, Frederick Douglass Elementary ("That's a good name for me," thought the school), has a seamlessly integrated student body, and, as with most adjustments, it's a friend who helps most. The janitor proves to be the perfect friend -- a good listener who's gently reassuring.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about school and what to expect. What does the book say to expect? What are some other things you might experience in school?

  • Though the school's an inanimate building, it has some of the same feelings as kids. What does it worry about? What do you worry might happen at school?

  • What jobs does the janitor do? How can you tell that the school and the janitor are becoming friends?

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