3-back-to-school-picture-books

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Get ready to fall in love with Max, the irrepressible elementary school narrator of That Always Happens Sometimes. He’s full of energy and enthusiasm that constantly erupts like a volcano.

In Kiley Frank’s clever text, Max poses a series of questions that reveal his personality, such as “Have your electric pencil sharpener privileges ever been revoked because of an unfortunate incident with a crayon?”  On each spread, K-Fai Steele’s illustrations beautifully capture Max’s gusto and the path of debris—not to mention consequences—that follow. His parents and teachers try to rein him in with multiple checklists (items include “keep hands to myself”) and interventions (tennis balls on the legs of his chair to squelch his noisy movements).

Both Frank and Steele excel at conveying much with small, powerful flourishes. For instance, in the chaotic aftermath of Max’s parents trying to get him to school on time, Frank writes, “The car ride to school was very quiet,” while a full-page spread uses just a few strokes to show Max in the back seat clutching his backpack and his father gripping the steering wheel, fury flashing in his eyes and tight-lipped mouth.

Frank uses Max’s questions to reveal life at home and at school, and poses variations on his answers to move the story along in creative ways. Max repeatedly notes, “That always happens sometimes,” or “I always feel that way.”  One day, however, he says, “This has never happened before,” as he participates in an intriguing team-building exercise that produces surprising and affirming results for all.

Young and old readers alike will recognize themselves or someone they know in Max. That Always Happens Sometimes is a delightful book guaranteed to bring on both laughs and greater understanding of the many Maxs in the world.

That Always Happens Sometimes is a delightful book guaranteed to bring on both laughs and greater understanding of the many Maxs in the world.
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On the first morning of preschool, Ravi comes downstairs wearing ladybug wings and antennae. When he refuses cornflakes for breakfast, his mother tells him that it’s actually a bowl full of “aphids,” leading him to slurp it down. Later, when she suggests that Ravi brush his teeth, he replies, “Ladybugs don’t have teeth . . . but my mandibles could do with a clean—they’re full of aphid guts.” Such is the delightful back-and-forth between a mother and her imaginative son in Ali Rutstein’s Ladybugs Do Not Go to Preschool, a familiar tale of first day of school jitters with a creative twist.

Despite his reluctance, Ravi is a “curious sort of ladybug,” somewhat tempted by his mother’s promise of new friends and art projects. There’s a perfectly balanced interplay between Ravi’s worries and his mother’s support and encouragement. Kids will enjoy the exchange of ladybug details, although additional educational facts about these insects would have been a nice addition for eager learners.

Niña Nill’s cheerful art adds just the right touch, transforming Ravi and his bowl haircut into a ladybug look-alike, and adding subtle details such as an “Aphids” label to the cereal box. Nill puts elements like this on every page—Ravi’s red cheeks look like ladybug spots, and the house’s bright floral dining room rug, seen from an overhead perspective, makes readers feel as though they’re gazing into a garden scene.

Ravi’s worried expressions readily transmit his fears, which evaporate when he sees a helpful omen once at school, as well as other students’ imaginative costumes on the final spread. Ladybugs Do Not Go to Preschool overflows with imagination and humor, making it an excellent choice for young new students.

Ladybugs Do Not Go to Preschool overflows with imagination and humor, making it an excellent choice for young new students.

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