10 Excellent Books for the New School Year

The year was 1985. My family had just moved to Nigeria, West Africa. While my parents were moving back to the country they grew up in, this was my first time there. I do not remember the move as traumatic, I remember it as exciting and right…except for school. I was terrified of starting school.

I was beginning second grade and this would be my third school in three years. My nerves were raw, my stomach roiled, and my emotions were a chaotic disaster. I could not identify it at the time but the shortness of breath, the accelerated heartbeat, and the feeling of overwhelming panic I experienced were the beginning of many years of mini-panic attacks. On paper, there was no reason for my visceral reaction to the start of school. My teacher was the kindest, most gentle teacher at the school. My classmates were accepting and fun. My environment was adventurous and freeing. But my emotions did not care. I was held hostage by fear, panic, and worry.

Over the years, I learned ways to subdue those waves of emotional struggle. But they never fully abated on each and every first day of school. Even through college I would walk through my schedule the week before school started just so I knew exactly where I was supposed to be at each point.

If at this point you are feeling the need to set up a GoFundMe page for my therapy, don’t worry. I am okay. See. I was a happy child. (Or maybe I am just working on perfecting my side eye. Just kidding, I was happy.) I went on to become a teacher. In a school. That shows progress, right?!

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The beginning of school invokes a visceral reaction in all of us. My own school age children are evidence of this, one is thrilled, counting down the hours, one is in denial, one is nervous and worried.

No matter which kind of school you attended, we all understand the nerves, the excitement, the apprehension, the “no, I don’t want to’s” that come with the beginning of each school year. As with all things in life, there are books to help with that. (Yes, you are right, I did already do a back to school list last year. These will be different books, I promise.)

What Do You Do With a Problem (Kobi Yamada) – This is one of my favorite new picture books. It gives an excellent analogy about resilience and problem solving even when you feel unable. This book would be perfect for the child feeling overwhelmed by the thought of starting school.

I’m Smart (Kate McMullan) – Following in the great tradition of the other “I’m…” books, I’m Smart introduces us to the school bus and the excitement involved in getting children to school.

K is for Kindergarten (Erin Dealy) – Not only is this a fantastic alphabet book about going to school, it also includes very cute ideas in the margins.

School’s First Day of School (Adam Rex) – We have all experienced the first day of school as children, but what does the first day of school feel like to the school building?

How To Get Your Teacher Ready (Jean Reagan) – This book is by the same author of the How to Babysit a Grandpa/Grandma books. It is a very funny story about the beginning of school.

Llama, Llama Misses Mama (Anna Dewdney) – Sometimes even when your fifth grader is happily sprinting off to her classroom, she needs to be reminded that it’s okay to miss her mama! (Not that I would know!)

Milk Goes to School (Terry Border) – Milk has a rude awakening when she gets to school and realizes that not everyone thinks she’s the creme de la creme her parents have told her she is. Everyone needs a little comic relief to calm those jittery nerves.

The Name Jar (Yangsook Choi) – This a is beautiful, important story of acceptance, learning about each other, and creating a welcoming classroom environment.

My Name is Maria Isabel (Alma Flor Ada) – Names matter. As teachers, we have to be careful to honor the importance of  a name.

The Hundred Dresses (Eleanor Estes) – This is an excellent book about bullying and the power of standing up for one another.

I will just be over here taking deep breaths and practicing every relaxation technique I know while I live, vicariously, through yet another first day of school. May all of their first days be filled with joy, acceptance, and a renewed love of learning.

 

 

In Defense of Buying Everything on that School Supply List, When You Can

My family is officially in the single digit countdown to the new school year. The emotions accompanying said countdown range from elated enthusiasm to deepening discouragement to nagging nervousness. (See what I did there? Don’t worry, it’s completely acceptable and not at all cheesy to alliterate as long as your writing about school. Yeah, let’s go with that!)

That’s how the kids feel. As for myself, I am, unsurprisingly, unprepared.

Woefully so:

  • There are backpacks to replace or clean.
  • Lunch boxes to assess and then replace or clean.
  • School clothes to appraise based on summer growth spurts or summer destruction.
  • Shoe sizes to reevaluate.
  • Manners to re-instill.
  • Brain drain to repair.

But all of that pales in comparison to the weight of responsibility that is school supply acquiring. I had to dig through mountains of “to be filed” papers from the end of last school year to find three separate school supplies lists.

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Let me tell you, school supply lists times three make for a very long and expensive shopping trip. In years past I have been known to have a spreadsheet with all the supplies needed along with the store offering the best deal on that item. It is a time-consuming but thoroughly enjoyable process. The subsequent store to store shopping, not so much.

Every year while I am out shopping for school supplies, there is a dull roar heard throughout the store of parental complaints. Parents are bonding on a level unseen since Kindergarten graduation over the atrocity that is the communal school supply list. You will hear no end of, “Why should I have to buy supplies for the whole class?” “I shouldn’t have to spend my hard-earned money on someone else’s child?” “The school should be providing all of this for the classroom.”

While it is nice to hold on to the ideals that the school districts can give schools budgets large enough that they are able to provide Kleenex and pencils for the classrooms or that every child can equally contribute to the classroom necessities, it is simply not the reality. We complain about school districts not filling the classroom with glue sticks and dry erase markers, but then complain about our taxes being raised to increase funding to schools. We complain about having to spend any out-of-pocket money at our own jobs, but have no problem leaving teachers to do the same. We complain about having to buy school supplies for the whole classroom rather than just our own child, but never get to know each other enough to find out what incredibly difficult life circumstance our neighbor is going through that may be preventing them from contributing “equally.”

The fact is, like we tell our children and students every day, life is not fair. And a little perspective goes a very long way. To that end, I suggest visiting an amazing website called DonorsChoose.org before embarking on your school supply finding endeavors.

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DonorsChoose.org is a site where teachers can post their classroom needs and anyone can donate funds to purchase those items. Take a minute to scroll through these teachers’ requests. It is a humbling and sobering experience. You can search by geographic location or greatest need or nearest deadline. Any way you choose to search the needs posted, you will be surprised by what teachers are up against when it comes to furnishing their classrooms.

So now, when I am standing in line thinking about how much it is costing me to help furnish my children’s classrooms, I think about those teachers’ requests. I think about the teachers who don’t have enough books for their students. I think about the teachers who don’t have enough notebooks and pencils. I think about the teachers who don’t have any playground equipment for their students at recess. Perspective is a powerful thing. It is something I sorely need when I feel like grumbling about my purchases of extra crayons and post its.

My challenge at the start of this school year is to not only graciously and generously (there’s that alliteration again!) give to your own child’s classroom needs, but consider taking it a step further and sponsoring a teacher’s dream on DonorsChoose.org. It will come as no surprise to you that many of the requests are for books.

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