About the Holiday
Starting a new year and discovering a new book make a perfect pair, so I’m happy to be celebrating the book birthday of First Day of Unicorn School by Jess Hernandez and Mariano Epelbaum. Sharing today’s book, which is full of the same kinds of dreams, new experiences, friendships, and even laughs that await kids over the next twelve months, with your kids is a terrific way to start 2021.
Thanks to Capstone Press for sending me a copy of First Day of Unicorn School for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.
First Day of Unicorn School
Written by Jess Hernandez | Illustrated by Mariano Epelbaum
When the acceptance letter from Unicorn School finally arrived, Milly was thrilled. “Unicorn School taught only the best and the brightest unicorns.” Milly knew she was the “best” and the “brightest,” but Milly also knew that she wasn’t a unicorn—she was “a donkey in a party hat.” While the pictures of her wearing a cone-shaped hat had fooled the admissions counselors, Milly began to worry that the other students would notice something amiss. For a moment, Milly considered staying home. But then she remembered the school’s rainbows, “sparkling fountains…and dragon-taming class.”
With her hat firmly in place, Milly confidently entered the gates of Unicorn School on her first day. As Milly looked around at her fellow classmates, she was taken with their sparkly hooves and shiny horns. Just then she bumped into “a big unicorn with a tall horn.” Milly apologized, but with an odd look and a cry of “‘Mooo-ve it!’” the big unicorn stomped away. Milly was so distracted that she ran into a wooly unicorn, collided with a three-horned unicorn, and just got too close to a lumpy unicorn who actually spat at her. They all warned her to stay away with the same unusual expression.
Teary-eyed and with her hat slipping sideways, Milly decided to leave school. “She was a donkey. And that’s all she’d ever be.” Then Milly took one last glance back and was shocked to see that all of the unicorns’ “horns were crooked.” She had to know the answer to a very particular question and asked, “‘Are any of you real unicorns?’” The animals hemmed and hawed until one horse finally admitted that his horn was “‘an ice cream cone.’” Then the other animals revealed that they weren’t unicorns either and told how they’d each fashioned their glittery horns. They all had a good laugh together, and Milly realized she’d finally found where she belonged.
In her silly and insightful story, Jess Hernandez reveals that readers don’t need to pretend to be something they aren’t in order to be their “best” and “brightest.” She also touches on the prevalent and distorting notion that beauty is found only within a narrow spectrum or even a single ideal. As Milly comes close to exposing the other animals’ disguises and sets off their harsh rebukes, Hernandez demonstrates that transformations can extend past the physical to affect one’s personalities and the way they treat others. When the animals can be their true selves again, however, they’re able to become friends and create a happy community where all are welcome. For children facing a new experience or worried about fitting in, Hernandez’s story shows them that everyone has the same types of feelings at one time or another.
Mariano Epelbaum’s candy-colored illustrations are a unicorn-lover’s paradise. Milly luxuriates in a room as pink as cotton candy and filled with the fluff and glitz of glamour. Likewise, Unicorn School—with its rainbows, shining stars, manicured grounds, and dragon to be vanquished—has all the trappings of a child’s sweetest daydream. As Milly and the other students trot up the pathway to the school building, kids will love finding and guessing at the false horns on each animal’s head. Epelbaum’s clever variety of headgear will bring plenty of giggles and is sure to inspire kids to create their own horn from household items. The final page reminds readers that they fit in just the way they are, unadorned with pretense.
A light-hearted look at a subject many kids grapple with, First Day of Unicorn School gives children and adults a charming way to talk about being yourself and finding where you fit in, whether it’s at school, sports, or other activities. The book would be a delightful addition to home, school, and public library collections.
Ages 4 – 7
Capstone Editions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684462797
Discover more about Jess Hernandez and her writing on her website.
To learn more about Mariano Epelbaum, his books, and his art, visit his website.
First Day of Unicorn School Book Birthday Activity
Unicorn Mask and Coloring Page
How do you think it would feel to be a unicorn? Color and cut out this printable unicorn mask, cut out the eyes, and add a string or elastic to pretend to be a unicorn. You can also enjoy coloring this printable unicorn picture. And don’t forget to use plenty of glitter!
Unicorn Mask | Unicorn Coloring Page
You can find First Day of Unicorn School at these booksellers
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million
To support your local independent bookseller, order from
Picture Book Review