I hope you’ve all been having as wonderful a summer holidays as we have! So far we’ve made homes for ladybirds, flown to the moon in our rocket, acted out a gazillion deep sea diving scenarios and read pretty much every ‘Alfie’ story Shirley Hughes ever wrote – and that was just before breakfast today ;)
While it’s brilliant that we’ve been having some very full-on fun, we’ve also been gearing up for what is going to be a big event in our home in just a few weeks’ time. Yep, the first of my little babies (C would fix me with a very hard stare if he knew I’d said that) is starting Big School.
Currently, C is pretty excited about it all and coerces H into playing ‘schools’ with him most days. He’s over the moon about his new Octonauts lunchbox and can’t wait to go and choose his new school shoes, but every so often he does have a little wobble and a worry and that’s when we leap into action with the snuggles and the stories.
As you can probably imagine, there are a quite a few back-to-school books around, but this post is about those which we’ve used and loved and which I would recommend to anyone. Although it’s a few weeks until school starts here in England (though I believe other places go back sooner) I thought it might be helpful to post this now to give people a chance to get hold of the books and share them. H is starting a couple of pre-school sessions in September and we’re already re-reading ‘Owl Babies‘ and ‘First Time – Nursery‘ regularly in anticipation, hoping that it’ll have the same positive effect on him that it did on C. Fingers crossed reading the school books in advance will help as well.
So, without further ado, here are the school books that go to the top of our class :)
We’ve had this book for a while now and we enjoyed it as a stand-alone story even before we starting thinking about C starting school. Recently, however, it’s become even more popular and this makes me really happy, as it presents such a bright, positive outlook on this enormous step that little children take. That’s not to say that we don’t learn about Martha’s worries – how can she possibly go to school without ALL of her favourite things? (C and H empathise strongly with Martha here, as they can’t go to bed without being surrounded by their most beloved soft toys, books, torches, trains and other assorted necessities, so goodness knows how they’ll manage without them at school!)
This book suits us very well as it also focuses on how Martha’s little brothers are going to cope once she’s at school, giving us a chance to address how much H is going to miss his big brother. Although there is a lot for C to take on board his days will at least be very full, whereas I think I’m going to have my work cut out keeping H entertained enough to distract him from the C-shaped hole we’ll both have.
Anyway, as always with Clara Vulliamy’s books, this story is told with warmth and sensitivity and I just LOVE all the little lists and the scrapbook feel to some of the spreads. The illustrations are timeless and they feel as relevant to the boys now as they do to my memories of my own childhood, which is no mean feat. We give it a gazillion house points :)
Having already got the ‘Nursery’ book in the First Time series from Child’s Play, we were lucky enough to be sent the ‘School’ series recently and they are equally as fab. The text in each book is a series of questions and statements delivered from the viewpoint of one of the many characters, all of whom are children. This first person narrative approach is such a lovely way of drawing the reader in, helping them to see that everyone worries about these situations, and then starting discussions about how to deal with any worries or queries. As with all Child’s Play books, great attention to detail has been paid to ensuring that a diverse range of children are represented in the illustrations and this is wonderful to see. These simple texts should be shared with every pre-schooler in our opinion.
I’m ashamed to say that I had not even heard of this book before I started our search for school-related books, but I am so glad that we came across it. We all adore the Ahlberg’s ‘Baby Catalogue’ and this is like a pre-school equivalent, catering perfectly to the way that children of that age think. It covers the activities of a few of the children in a Reception class as they journey through their first term at Big School and the simple language and almost list-like style of describing what they do each day is something that C tuned into straight away. Gold stars all round!
Now this is a book that I DO remember from my own childhood and it has more than stood the test of time. As with the preceding book, it uses perfectly pitched words to share the story of Lucy and her little brother, Tom, as Lucy starts school and Tom starts going to playgroup. The boys are so keen on Hughes’ ‘Alfie’ stories at the moment and were therefore delighted to see that one of their favourite authors had written this book about another experience so close to their own hearts. The nostalgic element of reading this story is something I love as, whether rightly or wrongly, it makes my heart sing when the boys enjoy books that were important to me as a child. An absolute classic.
5) ‘Topsy and Tim’s New School’ by Jean and Gareth Adamson (published by Blackie)
N.B. Please note that this book is one of my loft treasures and although it is now available here in an updated format (published by Penguin Books Ltd) the title and front cover are different.
The Topsy and Tim books I found amongst my boxes of loft treasures have been among the boys’ regularly requested reads for a while now, so it only seems apt that the school one should make an appearance here. It touches lightly but thoughtfully on so many of the little things (that actually are the big things, really) such as which picture you have above your peg, where you go to the loo and what to do on the playground. Highly commended :)
This book isn’t so much about starting school as the experience of starting at a new school, which obviously can be equally as big a moment in the life of a child. Marshall Armstrong starts at a new school and initially, the other children in his class don’t feel as though he fits in. However, after they learn a bit more about him at his birthday party, they realise they have judged him too quickly and, in what is a really heartwarming ending, they change their behaviour accordingly when a new girl enters their class later that term. We just adore David Mackintosh’s quirky illustrations (‘The Frank Show‘ is also totally ace) and there are loads of delicious details to spot on each page. Well worth a read.
Apologies for the slightly odd photo, but our copy of this story is part of a book that contains two other ‘Harry and the Dinosaurs’ stories, so we don’t have a proper front cover to show you. This doesn’t in any way affect what is a truly lovely story, touching again on the small things that are so important when you start school. We love the way that the Harry’s dinosaurs are used to share worries that are clearly those of Harry himself, as it’s such a gentle way to show little readers that it’s OK to feel unsure and to not always know how to be brave and also that sharing your worries (especially with someone else who might be feeling the same way) can often make things a lot easier. This happened with C on his taster day at Big School, when he was nervous himself but then went to help a friend who was crying and they ended up making each other feel better. One of the hardest things about Big School for me is knowing that C will have this whole little world that I don’t know everything about, but seeing him independently cope with his own feelings and then look after a friend as well showed me that he’ll do pretty well without me (sob, sob).
This is our final fantastic read, featuring the now well-known Charlie and Lola characters by Lauren Child. We don’t have many books in the Charlie and Lola series (for no real reason, I might add) but this book is brill in its own right and you don’t really need any prior knowledge of the characters to enjoy the story of a big brother helping his little sister prepare for starting school, then worrying about her on her first day, only to find that she has been totally fine by herself. I’ve heard people mention that Charlie does seem to take on a parenting role in this relationship and certainly there is no parent mentioned in the story (I’m guessing this is the case in the other books, though I don’t know for sure). In any case, the sibling bond is an important one and, as we see with Martha and her Bunny Brothers and Lucy and Tom, brothers and sisters play a huge role in each others’ lives. I remember feeling very responsible for my little sister when she started infant school and used to find her every playtime and give her piggybacks so that she’d have someone to play with, though she probably found this a real drag and hated me ruining her street cred! I, however, really enjoyed our first ‘adventure’ together without any other family around and it made school even more special for me.
I’m sure I’ve missed some real classics from this list, so please do comment below and share your own thoughts on the best back-to-school books :)
Disclaimer: I received my copies of the books in the ‘First Time’ series from the publisher. I was not asked to write this post, nor was I given any money for doing so, and the reviews represent my own honest opinion.