August 1 – It’s Get Ready for Kindergarten Month

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About the Holiday

So Big!

By Mike Wohnoutka

 

With six words and cover-to-cover cuteness, Mike Wohnoutka takes kids on a journey from home to school, making stops along the way to experience many of the emotions of that very first day. Little Bear wakes up with a smile on his face. On the calendar hanging by his bed, the day is circled with a big red star, and this bear knows he’s not so little anymore. In fact he’s “so big.” How big? “So-o-o…big” that he can dress himself, reach the cereal box on the counter, and make his own breakfast.

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Copyright Mike Wohnoutka, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

He’s “So, so, big” that he can pack up his backpack, tie his shoes, and walk to the bus stop all by himself. He waits proudly next to a little elephant who looks a bit uncertain and a tiny squirrel who’s in awe of the much bigger Bear. But then the bus pulls up, and it is “SO big.” Now it’s Bear who looks a little uncertain as he climbs in and in awe of the much bigger elephants, rhino, and giraffe he sits near.

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Copyright Mike Wohnoutka, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

When the bus drops him in front of the school, Bear looks up and up at the enormous building. It’s “SO BIG!” While the little elephant he met at the bus stop heads through the open doors, Bear sits on the steps and sheds a few tears, feeling “not so big.” But then the squirrel approaches and looks up, up, up, up at the enormous building and bursts into a flood of tears at the “TOO big” school. Bear notices his distress and even though he’s a little intimidated himself, he reaches out his hand to Squirrel and they enter the school together.

The hallway seems okay—it’s “not so big…,” and when their teacher welcomes them to their room, they see that the desks and the other kids are “just right!”

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Copyright Mike Wohnoutka, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Mike Wohnoutka’s bright, honest look at the first day of school through a child’s eyes and from their perspective is encouraging in every way. As Bear gets ready for his first day of school, his independence will spark confidence in readers. Squirrel’s reaction to meeting Bear and Elephant at the bus stop, and Bear’s feelings on seeing the bus and the school building encourage kids and adults to discuss the emotions involved in the first day of school and other new experiences. Bear’s kindness to Squirrel will help readers develop a sense of camaraderie between the themselves and their new classmates while also fostering an early appreciation for empathy and friendship during this transformative time.

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Wohnoutka’s minimal text takes on various meanings with a touch of italics or the juxtaposition of Bear and Squirrel to their surroundings, allowing for further conversation about internal feelings and physical size. His clever uses of these simple phrases combined with illustrations that put the characters in proportional proximity to kitchen counters, a child’s backpack, the school bus, larger and smaller children, the school building, and more also provide adults with clear visual portrayals of relative size that can encourage math talk and exploration at home or in the classroom.

So Big!—a story that offers so much for kids just starting school or other activities—is highly recommended for children taking new forays into the world. The book makes for a sweet and satisfying go-to story for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1547600793

Discover more about Mike Wohnoutka, his books, and his art on his website.

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month Activity

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Let’s Ride the Bus! Coloring Page

 

Riding the school bus is fun! With this coloring page you can fill the bus with your friends—and don’t forget to add yourself! Then grab your colored pencils, markers, or crayons and color it in!

Let’s Ride the Bus! Coloring Page

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You can find So Big at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 24 – It’s Get Ready for Kindergarten Month

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About the Holiday

One of the rights of passage for children going to school for the first time (or starting the next grade) is shopping for new clothes and supplies. These include pencils, paper, folders, three-ring binders, lunchboxes, and the backpacks to store it all in as well as a few new shirts, a couple pairs of pants, and maybe a jacket to take kids into the cooler weather. And of course a trip to the shoe store is paramount for those fast-growing feet! If only shopping could be as exciting as it is for the little boy in today’s book. With a little imagination it can be!

Secret Agent Man Goes Shopping for Shoes

Written by Tim Wynne-Jones | Illustrated by Brian Won

 

S.A.M. has an important missions to complete. He is “digging for the Lost City of Raisins…tracking down the treacherous green spitting bug…balancing on high places…and stealing home”—all while K is hanging out the laundry. K looks at S.A.M sitting on the ground with his box of raisins and says, “‘You need new shoes.’” And it’s true. S.A.M.’s red shoes are tattered and scuffed, and his toes are even poking out of the sole.

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Image copyright Brian Won, courtesy of brianwon.com

On the way downtown, S.A.M tells K that he can’t decide between rocket shoes and vanishing shoes as he reads a document titled Plans for World Domination. At the store they are met by a clerk carrying a tall stack of boxes. He assures the pair that he’ll help them in a minute, but with his eagle eyes S.A.M. thinks the “Shoe Store Man looks shifty and orders his agents to “‘frisk him.’” The Shoe Store Man turns out to be okay, and S.A.M. tries on lots of shoes. He finally settles on a pair with tiger stripes, and K gets the same for herself.

Time for lunch? “‘ROAR,’” answers S.A.M. All the shoe buying and secret agent prowling has made S.A.M. hungry. “He orders the double buffalo burger with a side of snakes and an electron float. “‘We are matching tigers,’” he says to K. K pokes her fork into a snake fry. “‘ROAR,’” she says.

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Image copyright Brian Won, courtesy of brianwon.com

The bus ride home is fraught with danger as S.A.M. foils an attempt by a spy in a stroller to steal the Plans for World Domination. “‘Phew! That was close,’” K says. The stairs to the front door seem unusually steep and tiring, and S.A.M is feeling “whoozy.” There’s only one explanation, he decides: his electron float must have been spiked. S.A.M drifts off into a short nap where he dreams of “beautiful poisonous butterflies and dangerous inflatable frogs.”

Later he has a secret meeting with Agent Coyote, Agent Ted, and Agent Pig. Their mission is to decode the Plans for World Domination by three o’clock. S.A.M. then goes looking for K. He can’t find her anywhere—not in the Chamber of Silence (the closet), not in the Holding Cell of Dispair (the bathroom), not in the Torture Chamber (the piano room), and not in the Rocket Silo (the utility closet). She’s not even in the Darkest Valley of Doom (the basement). Just then S.A.M. hears thunder.

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Image copyright Brian Won, courtesy of brianwon.com

S.A.M. grabs his new orange and black striped shoes, ties up the laces and races to the rescue with the speed of a tiger. K is outside “bringing in the clouds.” Some are being torn away by the wind, and S.A.M. makes a flying leap to save them. As the storm rages outside, S.A.M. and K relax inside with “steaming mugs of lava topped with dollops of candied gardenia and pearls” while discussing S.A.M.’s latest mission. It’s lucky, he says that his “Team of Expert Spies warned him about the storm.”

K recognizes the group “‘T.O.E.S.,’” she says. S.A.M. concurs. “‘We’re ready for anything.’” And indeed they are—in fact S.A.M. has even learned to ties his own tiger shoes. “‘ROAR!’”

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Image copyright Brian Won, courtesy of brianwon.com

Tim Wynne-Jones channels every kid’s dream of being a spy in this funny send up of an ordinary day of shopping and doing laundry. Using clever acronyms and a full dose of imagination, Wynne-Jones turns raisins into gemstones, French fries into snakes, fluffy laundry into clouds, and a boy into a secret agent man with tiger shoes and abilities. K is a supportive sidekick, encouraging S.A.M’s ingenuity and quick thinking and playing along with his day-brightening shenanigans. S.A.M.’s names for the various rooms in the house will make kids laugh, and they will also love his sweet little boy alter-ego.

Brian Won deftly and humorously shifts between S.A.M.’s secret missions and his reality, depicting S.A.M.’s imaginary world in blue, black, and white and his real world in vivid color. Crafty juxtapositions include an image of the Shoe Store Man, his arms loaded with boxes and his face peeping between them on the left-hand page while on the right-hand page, S.A.M. in his spy gear shuffles along a wall of shoe-display shelves where two illuminated eyes search the darkness. Another occurs when S.A.M and K are having lunch. The top two-thirds of the two-page spread is cloaked in darkness, snakey French fries, an exploding drink, and cool costumes while the lower third shows their regular clothes and new matching tiger sneakers. The tiger unleashed by the new shoes is a vibrant flash in this book that moves as smoothly between life and fancy as a wild cat on the chase.

Ages 4 – 8

Candlewick Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-0763671198

Check out Tim Wynne-Jones’ website for a vast array of books and other fun stuff!

A gallery of work by Brian Won is awaiting you on his website!

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month Activity

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Coolee-o-lee Shoe Laces

 

It’s fun and easy to design your own shoe laces for your favorite sneakers or boots or even for tying up hair styles, decorating your room, or you name it!

Supplies

  • White or colorful shoe laces, wide
  • Fabric paint or markers

Directions

  1. Draw or paint special designs or figures on the shoe laces
  2. Let dry
  3. Wear with pride!

Picture Book Review

August 18 – It’s Get Ready for Kindergarten Month

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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.”

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Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

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.

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Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

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.

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Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

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.

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Image copyright Anne Wilsdorf, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

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

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Smile for School! Word Search

 

Find 20 words about school in this printable Smile for School! Word Search. Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review