Saturday, July 15, 2017

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices

A New School Year
written by Sally Derby; illustrated by Mika Song
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Now I have to learn everything
all over again.
What if I make a mistake?

Six children, one for each grade level of K-5, share their concerns, hopes, and observations in the form of alternating short monologues as they prepare to start the school year at J.W. Riley Elementary. It's the night before the first day. Clothes laid out on his bed, kindergartner Ethan puts his stuffed bear's blue jacket in his pants pocket for a feeling of security. First grader Zach is worried about starting over in a new class and with a new teacher. Katie, a second grader, didn't get the teacher she wanted. And he is a Mr. and not a Miss or a Mrs. Kneeling at her bedside, third grader Jackie says a prayer of thanks that she didn't have to move. She also asks God for her teacher not to be bothered that she has to be in class an hour early so Mama can go to work. Carlos wonders if he'll make any friends in fourth grade. His father gently tells him not to worry about the "what ifs" that are constantly in Carlos's mind. Unable to sleep, fifth grader Mia is deciding whether or not to wear a ponytail that will show the hearing aids that are in her ears. Three more sets of narrative poems, for the morning, at school, and after school, share how the day progressed for each student.

I think this is my favorite back to school book of all time. As a teacher, this is what I need to read a few times as I prepare for the new year. It raises the empathy meter way up. These stories pull at your heart and are so true to the voices of children. I know because I've heard many children comment at the beginning of school that they got the "man teacher", meaning me, in second grade. I have taught all of these children at one time or another.

A New School Year would be a great choice for a Reader's Theater performance, but I want you to also consider it for a writing activity in 2nd-5th for the first week of school. After reading the book, ask students to write about how they felt the first day of school. You need to write and share as well because that will make a huge impression on your students. I would even ask parents if they would like to volunteer to share their thoughts.

I was really touched reading A New School Year. This book is simply wonderful.

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