It’s here — start-up friendships at bus stops, new tennis shoes and backpacks, sharpened No. 2 pencils, erasers intact, and books rich with the scent of fresh ink. Newsbee anticipates the joy and challenges of another school year with his August “School Days, School Days” theme. Celebrate hitting the books again with a trio of newbies you’re sure to enjoy. Page on! Enjoy!

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While kids have been cavorting at camp, lazing at the library, and partying at the pool, the buildings of academia have been spruced up, and in some cases have sprung up.

“School’s First Day of School,” by Adam Rex, features Douglass Elementary School as its main character, a new school that thinks it’s the janitor’s house. What else could Douglass Elementary have thought? All summer it was just the janitor and the school, the diligent worker washing its windows and buffing its floors.

The school’s light goes on when the kids arrive — suddenly Douglass knows what the jungle gym is for, and is taken back by older kids “ . . . (showing) each other their bored faces.” When it hears them say, “This place stinks.”

Then “the school sagged a little.”

Just like its students, the school feels conflicting emotions in this back-to-school story with elementary illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner Christian Robinson. It’s a sure cure for first day blues.

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Too often we take our education for granted—not the African American children in “Steamboat School,” a book by Deborah Hopkinson inspired by the true story of the Rev. John Berry Meachum of St. Louis. In 1847, the Rev. Meachum opened a school on a steamboat in the Mississippi River after a Missouri law closed the “tallow candle school” where students had been attending classes.

Hopkinson uses a fictional family to tell her tale. James and his big sister Tassie are shocked when their school is forced to shut its doors. It had been held in a basement, where the Rev. John told his students “We make our own light . . . ”

When that light is extinguished, the good minister doesn’t give up. With help from James, Tassie and others, the Reverend gets around the law by renovating a riverboat and holding classes on the river, which was considered federal property. Sepia toned-pages, and Ron Husband’s pen and ink illustrations depict all the joy and sadness on the faces of those fighting to learn; history comes to life again, thanks to Deborah Hopkinson, a prolific author and a hive favorite.

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Getting along with others is a valuable lesson to be learned. A student from India gains knowledge about that, and adjusting to a new culture, in “Save Me a Seat,” by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan. The book details the highs and lows of life for several students on the first five days of fifth grade at Albert Einstein Elementary School in New Jersey.

For Ravi, the school presents unimaginable challenges. A brilliant boy in his native country, Ravi is initially confident, but culture shock lays him low, as does his trust in Dillon, a fellow Indian student who’s more smart alek than academic smart.

The classmate Ravi should trust is Joe, a boy with some learning issues, who knows all about Dillon’s mean streak, and has suffered because of it. When Ravi’s teacher sends Ravi to the school’s resource room because she believes he needs extra help with English, it wounds his pride. There he gets to know Joe, but the last thing he wants to do is befriend him.

More is revealed to Ravi as the school days commence in a light-hearted book about bullying that delivers quite a punch about being open to others, no matter their background, personality or learning style.


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