Ease children's fall as they hit the books


There's no cure for the first day of school blues. But here are a few books that might help take the edge off the dread.

* "Kindergarten Kids" by Ellen B. Senisi (Scholastic Cartwheel paperback, $2.50, 32 pages, ages 3-6) is a great way to get kids ready for preschool and kindergarten. It's a photo essay starring the 21 kids going to kindergarten at Lincoln School.

They're an all-American, multi-racial bunch, doing and saying things that most readers can identify with. LaVonne makes pretend breakfast in the house corner. Michael and Meagan build a wall of wooden blocks. Rachel gets to be the teacher's helper, pressing today's date on the calendar of felt.

Kids sit around a quilt, talking about the letter Q, and learn to count with real coins. There are art projects, music lessons and playground time.

And this is real life, not Barney's silly studio. Two photos of cranky kids are accompanied by the text: Most of the time, school is fun. But sometimes kids get tired. Sometimes they're not sure what to do. And sometimes they just have a bad day.

The teacher, Mrs. Simeone, is quick to dispense hugs -- and justice. After one boy pushes another, the offender is shown in a "time out" by himself.

This is a reassuring book for school rookies.

* Ms. Frizzle and "The Magic School Bus" hit the big time this fall, with an animated television series on PBS (9:30 a.m. Sundays on Channel 22, starting Sept. 18). Lily Tomlin will star as Ms. Frizzle, the world's most imaginative science teacher.

But fans of the books will be even happier to know that the latest is just out: "The Magic School Bus in the Time of the Dinosaurs" by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Bruce Degen (Scholastic, $14.95, 50 pages, ages 6-9).

After trips inside the Earth, at the waterworks, inside the human body, in the solar system and on the ocean floor, the Friz and her class journey back in time to the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. After a few miscalculations and unplanned pit stops, the bus finally pulls up at a Maiasaura nesting ground, where the kids get to rub elbows with dinosaurs that lived 144 fTC million years ago.

As with all "Magic School Bus" adventures, the best parts of the book are the jokes, diagrams and information-packed asides that are crammed into every page. Some are presented as reports written by kids in the class -- No Swamps for Sauropods, by Ralphie: People used to think sauropods waded in swamps. But fossil footprints show they walked on land and may have traveled in herds.

Ms. Frizzle and the kids carry on running dialogue, with their words appearing in balloons that give the book an approachable, comic-book feel. Even kids who are reluctant to pick up anything resembling a book will find themselves drawn to the busy pages.

* Once kids hit fifth grade, they've usually made up their minds about English class. Either it's something they do OK in, or it's something they hate. If they haven't been lucky enough to have a teacher or parent who inspires a love (or at least a respect) of words, they're likely to wrestle with writing and reading the rest of their lives.

Maybe it isn't too late. "It Figures!: Fun Figures of Speech" by Marvin Terban, illustrated by Giulio Maestro (Clarion paperback, $5.95, 64 pages, ages 8-12), shows that there's more to English than diagramming sentences.

There are chapters on similes (my room is as cold as ice), #F metaphors (my room is an iceberg), onomatopoeia (choo-choo trains clattering and clacking), alliteration (vampires are vicious villains), hyperbole (my backpack weighs a ton) and personification (the branches reached down to tickle the roof).

Each chapter gives readers a chance to come up with their own examples, and the emphasis is on having fun and using your imagination. Puns and other silliness are encouraged. Best of all, Mr. Terban approaches writing in a down-to-earth manner that is both practical and inspirational for kids of any age who have been turned off by word snobs.

* Nancy Patz of Pikesville will read two of her books -- "No Thumpin', No Bumpin', No Rumpus Tonight!" and "Moses Supposes His Toeses are Roses" -- during the read-aloud story hour at Owings Mills Mall on Sept. 7. Every Wednesday at 10 a.m. from now through Dec. 28, the mall will hold a story hour for kids 5 and under, at the Conservatory. Storyteller Miss Julie will read "Fish Out of Water" and "Rainbow Fish" on Sept. 14, and "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" and "If You Give a Moose a Muffin" on Sept. 21.

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