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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

Starting a new school year with a smile

August 24, 2012

Some school districts opened this week, more are scheduled for next week. Children may be apprehensive or excited or somewhere in between. Books and a chuckle are a good way to provide a common experience and a fine way to break the ice at the start of the school year.

Blake is exceptional in every way. Not only did this long green snake spell out his name when presented as a gift to his boy, Blake finds lost keys, helps with homework, and remains a very loyal friend. The horizontal shape of the book and expressive line drawings with limited color perfectly highlight the humor and broad reactions in My Snake Blake (Roaring Brook).

Disaster after disaster happens when obedient and rule-abiding Dog is left in charge of his family's five cats. The cats make mess after mess, and even hide from Dog. Defeated Dog makes an even larger mess trying to entice the felines home before he falls into an exhausted sleep. Will Dog loose his status as good, smart, and very best Dog? Readers will howl with laughter at the stylized, expressive illustrations and deadpan text as they read Dog in Charge (Putnam).

Just the cover of Happy by Mies Van Hout (Lemniscaat) makes me smile. The colorful fish on the black cover exudes a child-like joy and well, happiness. More fish follow, each on black with a one word descriptor on the opposing page. Rich words like "astonished" and "furious" are placed on bright colored pages that reflect the feeling of the word and the fish. This seemingly simple title has potential to be shared in any number of ways — to launch an art project, a discussion of emotions, as a story starter, an ice breaker, and more.

There's nothing better to break the ice and start a new school year than a good book.

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"Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them." — Neil Gaiman