Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Starting School

This may seem an odd time of year to write a post about books for starting school but I have been asked by several people for recommendations recently and my own preschooler, the one and only Rosie doesn't stop talking about going to school (she's been going on about it since last year!). I think it's great that she's excited but in reality she doesn't really know just how life-changing it's going to be. Five days a week for the foreseeable future are going to be a 9-3 cycle of learning. So it's helpful that there are a fair few books available to help us through the transition.

These are the books that we have been reading and enjoying:
Starting School by Janet and Alan Ahlberg, this is a classic and possibly the best of the bunch. It's a little old fashioned now, it was published in 1988 after all. But as an introduction to the routine and relentlessness of starting school this takes some beating. We meet eight characters as they start school, they take us round their first day, then the second day, then the first week, until we get to Christmas and the holidays. The detail is fantastic and the emotions of the children and their ups and downs are minutely documented, it's quite surprising what a picture book can achieve in just 32 pages!

Alfie and the Big Boys by Shirley Hughes is not a book about starting school exactly but I think it's great at pinpointing that even boys who are big and tough might sometimes be weak and vulnerable (and want their mummies!). Alfie is still in nursery at this point but it is in the nursery attached to the school and every morning at playtime he and Bernard watch the older boys led by a big tough boy called Ian Barger playing in the playground. Alfie and Bernard long to be part of their gang. But then one saturday morning Alfie is out with mum and Annie-Rose when he discovers Ian Barger crying and becoming quite hysterical because he's lost his mummy. I won't explain the entire plot but Alfie and Bernard come to realise that there is another side to their hero!

I also have two books by Ladybird from their series Start School: Talkabout My Big School and When I Start School by Richard Dungworth and Emma Dodd. Unfortunately these are now out of print but they are available from abebooks or other second hand retailers. These are really great for going through in close detail what happens at school and addressing any worries a child might have. When I Start School follows a boy who is worried about lots of little things like not liking the school dinners and not knowing anyone and as each worry is addressed you turn the page to find the solution. Talkabout My Big School gives more a sense of place and shows a child exactly what their school will be like. Out of the two I think Rosie prefers When I Start School - probably because we follow a character throughout.

The lovely folk at Random House very kindly sent me a few books at my request. One of them was Bobbo Goes to School which is a classic Shirley Hughes title. Lily is not quite old enough for school yet but her toy dog, Bobbo accidentally goes to school one day and when Lily picks him up she gets to see the school and the classroom. It's not a lot about the routine of the school day but is a nice gentle introduction to the concept of going to school and the difference between being at home with mum and being at school.

They also sent me Dear Panda by Miriam Latimer which follows the story of Flo who has just moved house and is starting a new school (although not for the first time). The new teacher writes to her and asks her if she will be able to stand up in front of the class and tell them a little about herself and this makes Flo very worried (I must say I can totally understand that!). So Flo makes friends with a Panda who lives in the zoo next door and he proves to be a great ice breaker (oh I wish he was a penguin!). This is a lovely story and a sweet introduction to school and the fear about making new friends and being in a new place.

We have been Topsy and Tim mad in our house ever since the TV series started. If allowed Rosie would probably just watch it non-stop back to back. So I decided that she might enjoy the original books on which the series is based. Topsy and Tim Start School by Jean and Gareth Adamson is a lovely book which has the advantage of having twins so there are two perspectives of the first day at school and as usual in the books Tim is a little bit grumpy. They find their pegs, join their class, have playtime, lunchtime and more class time and then go home. It's a great introduction to the routine of the day. I'm not sure Rosie recognises them as Topsy and Tim though, which makes me sad since the books came first and I used to read them to my brothers.

I love a Charlie and Lola book so I decided that we'd definitely want to have a look at I Am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child. It's a cracker of a book with the inimitable Lola finding various reasons why she doesn't want to learn numbers, reading and writing and Charlie finding just the thing that will appeal to her and change her mind. The invisible friend character is funny too!

So that's our collection! I do have a few more books that address starting school and school life but I think the above are the cream of the crop.

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