From classic tales to new releases, the gals behind Park Circle’s indie bookstore fill us in on the best back-to-school books for kids of all ages.
All Are Welcome
by Alexndra Penfold, illustrations by Suzanne Kaufman | $17.99
With lilting, reassuring rhymes and vibrant pictures, this story walks us through a day at school, where everyone is accepted with open arms. Students of all backgrounds are shown participating in music class, listening to a story, and playing at recess — everyone learning new skills and meeting new friends, with the constant refrain of “all are welcome here.” It’s a great story for anyone who is a little trepid about their first day, and the underlying theme of acceptance is a perfect lesson for young students heading off to meet, maybe for the first time, new friends with different kinds of families and experiences.
Rosie Goes to Preschool
by Karen Katz | $8.99
Rosie is here to get your preschooler Ready (with a capital R) for their first day of school. Rosie Goes to Preschool has helpful tips and advice on every page, from where to find your cubby to how to answer in class (hint: you have to raise your hand!). Bold and clear, Rosieis a straightforward guide for getting preschoolers prepared for their first days, and the board book format means they can flip through her steps as many times as they need without parents worrying about wear and tear.
by Gordon Korman | $16.99
Never has a group of bigger misfits come together than when the Unteachables assembled in room 117 — they are delinquents and academic train wrecks, and possibly the worst of them is their teacher, Mr. Kermit (a.k.a. Ribbit). After an infamous cheating scandal from years ago, Mr. Kermit has been checked out from teaching and is looking forward to his final year before retirement. The Unteachables never thought they’d find a teacher who had a worse attitude than they did. And Mr. Kermit never thought he would actually care about teaching again. Over the course of the school year, though, room 117 experiences mayhem, destruction — and maybe even a shot at redemption. This is a fun, and funny, underdog story set in a year that changes all the Unteachables’ lives.
Unidentified Suburban Object
by Mike Jung | $6.99
Diversity and identity are major themes in this hilarious middle school novel about a “model-minority” student in a decidedly not diverse town. Chloe Cho is going to lose it if one more person assumes she is Chinese (she is Korean, thank you). Not to mention the fact that everyone assumes her good grades and skill at the violin come from her being Asian. Even so, Chloe is eager to learn more about her heritage, which her parents just won’t talk about. A new Korean American teacher arriving in town is just what Chloe needs to blow the lid off her parents’ closed-mouth treatment of their ancestry — and boy, does she ever blow it out of this world. Chloe’s determination to do well at the violin, to remain friends with her best friend Shelley after their falling out, and to find out about her background is the real center of this story. The best middle grade fiction has identity at its core, and Unidentified Suburban Object does this beautifully.
by Rory Power | $18.99
Wilder Girls has great potential for a start-of-the-school-year read: for one, it takes place at a boarding school; for another, it’s a great feminist take on Lord of the Flies, renowned for its appearance on required reading lists across the land. The book explores the lengths to which a group of teen girls will go to survive their own mutating bodies and the vicious wilderness on the island where they are quarantined due to a mysterious contagion called the Tox. Unapologetically brutal, this feminist horror story is both an unraveling mystery and an action-packed thriller, showing humanity’s desperation as the girls try to survive and save those they love most. This may be marked young adult fiction, but it is dystopian fiction at its best.
The Dangerous Art of Blending In
by Angelo Surmelis | $9.99
The Dangerous Art of Blending In is a brutally honest coming of age story about Greek American Evan Panos, who is determined to take his senior year by storm, even if his strict mother only sees him as a disappointment, his workaholic father avoids all conflict, and his best friend, Henry, has returned from summer looking distractingly beautiful. As things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by being silent. This is no easy book to read, but Evan’s realistic struggle to move beyond pain and open up to friends, love and his future, is an honest, heart-wrenching testament to human resilience.
by Andy Weir, illustrated by Sarah Anderson | $14.99
A fun play on the boarding school trope, Cheshire Crossing also gets extra credit for its hearkening to storybook classics Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and The Wizard of Oz. The three main characters — Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy — must team up to combat familiar villains who are bent on destroying not only Wonderland, Oz, and Neverland but also the Earth itself. Students, who may be battling their own figurative Wicked Witches and Captain Hooks in the form of schoolwork, can take a well-deserved break from reality and escape back into their favorite childhood tales with this graphic novel, written by the author of The Martian and illustrated by a fabulous webcomic artist.
Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement
by The March for Our Lives Founders
Glimmer of Hope, a collection of firsthand accounts of the events of February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, may seem like a counterintuitive choice for the start of school. But besides all the reasons we shouldn’t shy away from difficult topics or bury unpleasant pasts, the decision of this group of students to channel their feelings of hurt, rage, and sorrow into action rather than dwell on the pain of the tragedy is, indeed, one that lends hope and inspiration. The March for Our Lives movement reminds us that we can be agents of change, and Glimmer of Hope is especially pertinent in light of the recent events in El Paso and Dayton. The publisher for the book is donating 50 percent of the book’s net profits to the March for Our Lives action fund.