Monthly Archives: August 2015

Books about Starting Kindergarten

It’s that time of year! Here are some of my favorite new books about starting Kindergarten:
I’m New Here
This book follows the stories of three kids new to the United States, who come from Guatemala, Korea and Somalia. O’Brien does a great job of showing what school is like from their perspective and being accepted and finding their place.
Ready, Set, Kindergarten
This one is pretty didactic but for a kid on the younger side, it might be just what they need to get ready. The main character experiences a conflict with another child and is able to act out a good solution with her toys, showing she is ready to handle that conflict again and resolve it well.
Dad’s First Day
Oh, this book is so cute. Perfect for families where the kid is super ready but the parents, not so much. Role-reversal and very sweet ending. I also really loved the illustrations.

Ally-Saurus and the First Day of School
by Richard Torrey
Also exceedingly high on the cute scale. Ally is starting Kindergarten and is also obsessed with dinosaurs. She roars around the classroom and is met with blank stares and a few girls who are equally obsessed with princesses. But all turns out well and very cute. I love the way each child’s interest is drawn in around them (like Ally’s dinosaur spikes that you can sort of see on the cover) in a different medium (chalk?) to show their imaginations and how they see themselves. Totally adorable.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

by Jesse Andrews
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Oh man. OH MAN. You wouldn’t think it from the title, but this book is hilarious. For me, it’s mostly in the narration, but also partly the character of Earl. I was quite frequently reduced to fetal position laughing. The narrator is Greg Gaines, a high school senior who has spent his whole secondary career crafting a carefully balanced persona who is vaguely liked by everyone. The upside is that no one hates him or beats him up; the downside is that no one really cares about him. This careful balance is thrown off when a girl he used to be sort of friends with is diagnosed with cancer and Greg’s mom forces him to befriend her again. His mom seems partly, like many moms, pushy and clueless, and partly, like very few fictional moms, really quite wise and ultimately gets through to Greg.

The list of people who don’t deeply care about Greg extends to his supposedly closest friend, Earl. Earl is basically the polar opposite of Greg in everything from physical looks to upbringing to how they relate to Rachel (the eponymous dying girl), and yet they have in common a love of experimental filmmaking. I don’t want to say much more so as not to ruin it, but this is not your typical girl-with-cancer story. The ending turns a little sweet and introspective, but still very much Greg Gaines. A couple of warnings: 1. Earl’s language is pretty crass and there’s talk about drugs, and 2. Some of Greg’s humor is self-deprecating on account of his weight. But overall, the humor is unique and wonderful and had some insights to impart about the nature of friendship and going through life keeping people at arm’s length. (I am curious how they made this into a movie, but have been told it’s very good.)

This Day in June

by Gayle E. Pitman
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

There’s so much I love about this book – vibrant pictures, an accurate reflection of a Pride parade, a matter-of-fact description of the various things one sees there without getting into the why in the actual book. At the end of the book are two useful resources: one is a “Reading Guide,” a page-by-page explanation of why those words were chosen and what they refer to; and the other is a “Note to Parents and Caregivers” about talking to children of different ages about sexual orientation.

I was very glad to stumble on the Reading Guide as I was wondering about one page spread that said, “Sidewalk shaking, tummies aching.” The picture showed a group of unhappy children and I immediately wondered what was wrong and why so many kids weren’t feeling good. Turns out the author just meant, “Hey, there are kids at a Pride parade too – gay couples can have kids, and here’s how.” I wonder if there’s a better rhyme that could have pointed out the presence of kids, but I’m sure the author thought it through and decided this was the best rhyme.

The other curious thing is that I was reading this book with my friends in mind who are gay couples with kids. I was imagining them reading it to their little ones. The text is definitely aimed very young (I would say 0-2), with mostly 4 words per page in a simple rhyme. However, the note to parents is aimed at kids 3-5 and 6-12 and seems to assume the reader and their child are not part of a homosexual family. Granted, there are many more children in heterosexual families than not, but it was still interesting to note.

One last note: part of the 3-5 year old section stated that if your child starts asking about how babies are made, you should “find a book that’s applicable to all types of families for talking about how babies are made” – it would have been helpful to list some books that show all kinds of families and not just heterosexual ones. Overall, though, this is a lovely book and would be good in the hands of any child, provided their adult is capable of talking in an open and supportive way about LGBT people and families. (For the record, I personally like It’s Not the Stork! by Robie Harris – though it talks about how “most often a woman and a man have a special kind of loving” (p.28), it also talks about all kinds of families and shows all kinds of children in the pictures.)

Double Review: books about male nannies

by Christian Burch
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Third-grader Keats Dalinger refers to his male nanny as the manny throughout the story so we don’t discover his real name until the very end. The manny takes care of Keats, his older sisters Lulu and India, and his little sister Belly (Mirabelle) and also serves as a role model for Keats. There is tension throughout the story as Lulu adds to her Manny Files all the evidence she collects that the manny is unsuitable to be left in charge because she dislikes him, but by the end he has won her over. However, their parents suspect that the manny will be part of their lives for a long time (SPOILER: he falls in love with their uncle Max) and so refuse to give in to Lulu (though they handle it respectfully).

The manny is fairly flamboyantly gay, though this is not actually one of Lulu’s complaints about him. As he says, she’s just at an age (12) where she just wants to fit in, and he makes that hard for her (partly by virtue of being a male nanny, but also by doing attention-grabbing things like dressing up in funny outfits to meet the bus). The manny comes off as stereotypically gay and, while he’s endearing, he doesn’t have a ton of depth. Keats also exhibits some stereotypically gay characteristics and behaviors like being fastidious and into fashion. That said, the story is quite fun and funny to read, as the manny’s (and other adults’) actions are relayed mostly through Keats’ narration. He does a great job of stating exactly what happened without any explanation or context, which can be quite entertaining through the eyes of an eight-year-old. Also, if you are susceptible to ear worms, be warned that this book contains quite a few 80s songs sure to get stuck in your head!

by Sarah L. Thomson
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

This manny couldn’t be more different from the one above. He’s 16 and very into girls and he even has a real name – Justin. He babysits, sure, and is great with kids, but his main motivation for taking a month-long nannying gig in the Hamptons with a rich family is to meet a beautiful, rich girl. He’s a typical teenage boy, struggling between fulfilling his immediate desires and doing what he knows is the right thing (charging an expensive new shirt to his mom’s credit card, for example). His two best friends show the competing sides of him: one is a real ladies’ man who can “get away with” treating girls poorly, and the other is a super tech nerd doing a summer internship at the Department of Defense. (FYI for parents: there is a little bit about drinking at a party he goes to, mostly that he has a beer or two but cuts it off because the girl he’s into doesn’t like when guys get drunk. In general, it’s very sweet and innocent, just a little kissing.) Justin does fall in love over the summer but not with the girl you’d expect, though more experienced readers will see the twists coming. And of course, he’s not overly suave so he manages to put his foot in his mouth. The book ends on a hopeful note but you don’t get the satisfaction of seeing his summer come quite to a happy ending. I say, give me the gay Mary Poppins any day and leave this one for the teens, but it’s a good summer beach read.