About the Holiday
Starting kindergarten is a huge step toward future learning and fun! This milestone can take a lot of preparation—from buying backpacks and school clothes to establishing different routines to becoming a new member of the school community. Most school years start during August and this month gives families an opportunity to talk about the changes, go shopping together, and look forward to the new experiences to come!
Sophie’s Squash Go to School
Written by Pat Zietlow Miller | Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf
Backed up by her parents and clutching her best friends, two squash named Bonnie and Baxter, Sophie peeks into her classroom on the first day of school. She sees kids running everywhere, talking and laughing. Her parents assure Sophie that she’ll make a lot of friends and have tons of fun, but Sophie is adamant: “‘I won’t,’” she says. And Sophie’s right. “The chairs were uncomfortable. The milk tasted funny. And no one appreciated her two best friends, Bonnie and Baxter.”
The other kids surround her with questions about Bonnie and Baxter. “‘Are they toys? Do they bounce? Can we EAT them?’” Sophie has had enough. “‘No, no, no! I grew them in my garden. They’re my FRIENDS.’” And then there’s Steven Green. He sits near Sophie at circle time, plays near her on the playground, and stands over her breathing down her neck during art time. Ms. Park, the teacher, tells Sophie Steven is just being nice, but Sophie isn’t interested.
Steven does not give up so easily. He returns to show Sophie his best friend—Marvin, a stuffed frog that he got when the toy was just a tadpole. “‘Then you don’t need me,’” Sophie says and decides “that’s that.” But that isn’t that. The next day Steven is back, building a block tower near Sophie, reading her book over her shoulder, and even offering facts about fruit and vegetables during Sophie’s show and tell.
When her parents hear about Steven, they encourage Sophie to make a friend, but Sophie just clings tighter to Bonnie and Baxter. “Still, Sophie knew that Bonnie and Baxter wouldn’t last forever,” so when the other kids dance, spill their milk, or tell jokes, Sophie considers joining in. On the playground Sophie plays hopscotch while the other kids play tag, jump rope, and play other games together. When Steven asks if he can join Sophie, Bonnie, and Baxter, she refuses, leaving Steve and Marvin to sit alone.
When the weekend comes Bonnie and Baxter look “too tired to hop. Or build towers. ‘It’s time,’” says Sophie’s mother. Sophie digs a hole to make “a garden bed and tucked her squash in for their winter nap. ‘Sleep tight,’” she says. “‘See you soon.’ But spring seemed very far away.” On Monday Ms. Park asks the class to tell her what makes a good friend. The kids answer that friends play with you, help you, and think you’re funny. Steven answers “‘They like what you like.’” Ms. Park sends the kids off to draw pictures of their friends.
When Steven wants to see Sophie’s drawing of Bonnie and Baxter, the two get into a scuffle over the paper and it tears in half. “‘You are NOT my friend,’” Sophie says as she walks away. On the way home from school, Sophie tells her mom what happened. “‘Sweet potato,’” her mom says. “‘That adorable boy didn’t mean to tear your picture.’” But Sophie’s not so sure.
The next morning Sophie finds Marvin and a note in her cubby. She ignores it, and by lunchtime, Marvin is gone. Later that night, though, Sophie and her dad discover Marvin and the note inside her backpack. The note contains a drawing of Bonnie and Baxter as well as a packet of seeds. “‘Do friends really like the same things you like?’” Sophie asks her dad. When he answers “Sometimes,” Sophie begins to think. She takes Marvin outside and sits near Bonnie and Baxter to think some more.
The next day Sophie runs up to Steven to tell him the great idea that Marvin had. They then tell Ms. Park. The next day, Ms. Park hands each child “a cup, some dirt and one small seed.” “‘Can we EAT them?’” a classmate asks. “‘No!’” says Sophie, and Steven adds, “‘You never eat a friend.’” The kids plant the seeds and put the pots on the windowsill. Soon tiny shoots appear in the cups and Sophie and Steven invite the kids to do a new-plant dance.
“‘See?’” Sophie tells Steven. “‘Sometimes growing a friend just takes time.’”
Pat Zietlow Miller’s sequel to her award-winning Sophie’s Squash is a heartfelt story for kids for whom the definition of friendship runs deep. Sophie’s hesitancy to join in the freewheeling play of other kids echoes the feelings of many children entering new classrooms, joining unfamiliar groups, or meeting any new challenge. The excellent pacing of the story as well as Sophie’s honest emotions allow for development of the theme that sometimes friendship takes time. Steven’s persistence sets a positive example for not passing judgement too quickly. Sophie’s transition from squash friends to human is treated sensitively and with cleverness. In the end Sophie learns how to make a friend while still staying true to herself.
Anne Wilsdorf’s cartoon-inspired illustrations perfectly depict the world that Sophie reluctantly inhabits. Her classroom is boldly colorful, full of books, toys, separate spaces, and of course all sorts of kids. Sophie’s reactions to the comments and actions of her classmates are clearly registered on her face and will make kids giggle even while they recognize her feelings. Steadfast Steven is, as Sophie’s mom says, adorable, and readers will empathize with his plight in just wanting to make a friend. The nighttime scene beautifully sums up Sophie’s dilemma and provides her and readers a moment to reflect on the story’s ideas.
On so many levels, Sophie’s Squash Go to School makes a wonderful addition to children’s and school bookshelves.
Ages 4 – 9
Schwartz & Wade, Penguin/Random House, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553509441
Discover much more about Pat Zietlow Miller and her books on her website!
Get Ready for Kindergarten Month Activity
Smile for School! Word Search
Picture Book Review