My daughter starts second grade right after Labor Day and it got me thinking about all of the books we bought her in our nervous attempts to get her “ready” for school back before she started kindergarten. Far and away, my favorite school book that we ever bought her is Emily’s First 100 Days of School by Rosemary Wells, the wonderful children’s book author perhaps best known for creating the widely known (and allegedly parentless) Max and Ruby.
The “school book” is definitely a genre unto itself in children’s lit, and the very large majority of “school books” are focused on helping kids deal with the anxiety of heading to school for the very first time. You generally either have titles like The Berenstain Bears Go to School, in which a nervous child is gently introduced to the concept of school, or you have a book like Kevin Henkes’ beautiful Chrysanthemum, in which a kid is antagonized by their classmates, loses their confidence, and has to learn to love school again.
I totally understand the value of those kinds of school books – a kid seeing that characters in a book are dealing with the same issues that they’re dealing with can be a profound experience – but, I’ll admit, to me, some of these titles feel like they’re working from the hypothesis that “All kids will find going to school to be a terrifying, anxiety-inducing experience” and I don’t think that’s always the case.
Yes, such a major new landmark is SURE to inspire some worry in most new-to-school kids, but I’m always wary of throwing books at a kid to help them “pre-cope” with anxieties they haven’t expressed yet. To this day, I still believe that my daughter never had a fear of the dark until I read her The Berenstain Bears in the Dark, a book that (I’m convinced) introduced her to the concept that some kids regard having the lights out as a scary experience. I’m not placing full blame on Stan and Jan, but I’m just saying – we never owned a nightlight until I read that book to my daughter.
As such, I really wanted to find her a smartly-written book about going to school for the first time that presented school itself as an exciting and engaging experience. And I think Emily’s First 100 Days of School does just that. I particularly fell in love with Rosemary Wells‘ author’s note at the beginning of the picture book, where she spells out her inspirations for writing it:
When I was little, in elementary school, math was no fun for me. It was taught by rote, and it was impossible for me to see how I would use these lessons in real life.
Yet numbers are wonderful things. They appear in all our games, in our poetry, and in songs. Numbers are a vital part of our culture. Some numbers are so much a part of our language that certain things some to mind the moment the number is mentioned; other numbers are shy and need to be brought out of their hiding places. In this book all numbers are equally important, and all are fun.
Isn’t that just completely charming? I love the idea of Wells writing this book to advocate for the inherent wonderfulness of numbers. That just seems like such a fantastic, positive spirit to pass onto new young students.
Emily’s First 100 Days of School follows a young bunny named Emily and her teacher, Miss Cribbage, who tells her class “Every morning we will make a new number friend and write it down in our number books. When we reach one hundred days we will have a big party.”
When my daughter started kindergarten, I had no idea that the 100th day of school was considered to be a big deal, but I can now tell you, new parents, elementary schools take their one-hundredth day very, very seriously. They have parties, the kids do projects – it’s a major event. And that all made Emily’s First 100 Days of School feel like an even more vital “new to school” book, like it was plugged directly into the curriculum itself.
As Emily’s first 100 days progress, she learns to revel in the numbers she encounters both at school and everywhere else. On Day 3, she notes that her school bus is the “number three bus.” On Day 16, she sings the song “Sixteen Tons” with her grandparents. On Day 45, she learns about forty-five degree angles in a triangle. On Day 80, she meets a girl from “Eighty-Mile Beach in Australia.” Wells really does a remarkable job of showing her young readers how they’re surrounded, every day, by this wide tapestry of numbers, and that numbers can reside in places much more lively than Xeroxed math handouts.
Emily’s First 100 Days of School is a gorgeously-designed, over-sized paperback that has so much detail and texture on each page that your kid can sit and flip through the pages without getting bored for a very long time. The one caveat I’ll make about the book is that – because it has so much detail and covers all 100 days – in my experience, it is almost too long to read in one sitting with a kindergarten-aged kid. I’ve definitely read it all in one go with my daughter, but, just FYI, it’s just long enough that, during more than one bedtime read, I found myself stopping around the 50s and telling her that we pick it up in the morning.
So, if your kid is about to start (or has already started) their first year at school, I can’t recommend Emily’s First 100 Days of School enough. It’s beautifully done, it couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the school experience, it treats numbers as something to get excited about, and it creates gleeful connections between classroom learning and the world around your child. I can’t think of a more positive book to help them kick off their first hundred days of school.
THE DETAILS ON EMILY’S FIRST 100 DAYS OF SCHOOL:
AGE RANGE: The stated age range is 3 to 6, but this book is primarily targeted at kids starting their first year at a Young Fives program, Kindergarten, or First Grade.
PAGE COUNT: 64 pages
RELATED WEB SITES: Rosemary Wells has a fantastic website you can find here.
BUY IT, BORROW IT, OR FORGET IT?: I think it’s a perfect book to buy for new-to-school-aged kids, but I wouldn’t blame someone for trying it out at the library first, particularly if they haven’t read any of Wells’ works before.
IF YOU LIKED EMILY’S FIRST 100 DAYS OF SCHOOL, YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
- The previously mentioned The Berenstain Bears Go to School by Jan and Stan Berenstain and Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes are very well-done, very accomplished school books that I know kids enjoy a lot. In terms of books that make schools seem like positive, creative, community-connected places, I’d also recommend Mrs. McBloom, Clean Up Your Classroom! by Kelly DiPucchio and Guy Francis; How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague; and Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t) by Barbara Bottner and Michael Emberley.