The main character of Adam Rex’s delightful School’s First Day of School (Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, ages 3-7) is the school itself, Frederick Douglass Elementary. The school’s only friend, the janitor, prepares the building the way a parent would prepare a child — making everything look shiny, talking about what it might be like when the building is filled with children, and reassuring the school that he’ll be there at the end of the day. Rex’s gentle, warmhearted narrative is perfectly matched by Christian Robinson’s sunny, welcoming illustrations. The familiar sights of a school — windows, walls with art, a playground with tetherball and hopscotch — are surrounded by busy, purposeful people. Children and assorted adults, neighbors and even a few dogs on leashes look pleased and happy. School experiences all the things a kindergartner might: anticipation, shyness, embarrassment (“I accidently had a fire drill, but everyone was nice about it,” the school later tells the janitor), silly lunchtime humor, and of course new things to learn. Children preparing for their first days at school will understand how the school feels, and may feel a bit more ready to head through its doors after experiencing this unique perspective.
— Kathie Meizner
Folk singer Pete Seeger (1919-2014) performed live for millions of people, but how many preteens know of him now? With the engaging, well-illustrated biography Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger (Clarion, ages 10 – 12), author Anita Silvey explains how this unlikely folk-music hero turned singalongs into social change. One of his colleagues in the Almanac Singers once said of Seeger: “He wasn’t the greatest banjo player, he didn’t have the greatest voice, but there was something catchy about him.” Silvey locates that appeal in Seeger’s enthusiasm for his audiences and the folk songs he performed. Instead of flooding readers with details, she emphasizes Seeger’s mentors, most influential songs (such as “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn, Turn, Turn”), and the movements he helped galvanize. Seeger’s pro-labor activities and onetime membership in the Communist Party got him summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and his active roles in the civil rights and antiwar struggles of the ’60s brought him further trouble. But he kept on taking on big causes, most visibly with a cleanup campaign that included helping kids to sail on — and better appreciate — the Hudson River. Perhaps a young reader will be moved to write a folk song about him.
— Abby McGanney Nolan
With Moo (Joanna Cotler, ages 8-12), Sharon Creech adds a third memorable animal — a cow named Zora — to those in her popular middle-grade novels in verse “Love That Dog” and “Hate That Cat.” Twelve-year-old Reena meets stubborn Zora and her cranky, reclusive owner, Mrs. Falala, when the family moves from a busy big city to a “sea salty harbor town” in Maine. Initially, the girl is wary of the big Belted Galloway, whose black-and-white markings resemble an Oreo cookie. Her eyes are as “big as apples” and she utters these “lone, low” calls. But before you can say “lobster boat,” Reena and her younger brother are roped into helping Mrs. Falala with the few animals still left on her small, dilapidated farm. Plot becomes almost secondary to the pleasures of the poems themselves as Reena begins training the cow for the county fair. Creech, who won a Newbery Medal for “Walk Two Moons,” pushes the boundaries of the verse novel beyond that of her previous books. She manipulates form, font and spacing and adds prose snippets and dialogue to bring a dramatic energy to the page. These textual collages capture the sights, sounds and rhythms of New England farm life as the children bond with the animals and probe Mrs. Falala’s talents and secrets. A summer setting, vividly developed characters and liberal use of white space make this book a breezy companion for the days before school starts.
— Mary Quattlebaum