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With school back in session, youngsters are busily learning the rules and limits in their classrooms. Preschool teachers can attest to students’ heightened levels of energy, enthusiasm and wonder, tempered by the timidity new environments sometimes bring. In that light, Ready Readers suggests two comical tales that celebrate school.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by author/illustrator Ryan T. Higgins introduces readers to Penelope Rex, a tenderfoot tyrannosaur with new-school-year jitters. Penelope wonders about her classmates: “What will they be like? Will they be nice? How many teeth will they have?” She also worries about making a good first impression.

Penelope’s parents, meanwhile, tackle first-day-of-school prep as Mom buys a backpack with ponies on it (“Penelope loves ponies because they’re so delicious!”), and Dad packs her lunch – 300 tuna sandwiches, with one apple juice.

On arriving in her classroom, Penelope discovers her classmates are children! As a ravenously hungry dinosaur, she eats them without delay because, “They’re delicious.” However, Mrs. Noodleman, Penelope’s patient teacher, makes her spit them out at once, saying, “We don’t eat our classmates!”

Hilarity ensues as Penelope struggles to strike a balance between being herself and being a good friend and classmate. She finally figures everything out thanks to the class pet, who finds Penelope delicious, too!

Higgins strikes a solid balance between text and pictures, using both to their fullest effect. “She tried hard to make friends at recess” assures the text accompanying an image of Penelope helpfully waiting to catch children at the bottom of the slide – in her open mouth. Likewise, Penelope’s finger painting shows her embracing a smiling child – as she devours him. Higgins blends subdued and vibrant color tones to depict the sameness of school classrooms while focusing attention on characters and their effectively conveyed emotions.

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In this month’s second featured book, Take Your Pet to School Day, author Linda Ashman and illustrator Suzanne Kaufman open the doors to Maple View School through a note to students that begins: “At Maple View, we have a rule: You cannot bring your pets to school. But for just one special day, we’ve decided it’s okay … ”

Excited children thereupon enter school with a wide assortment of pets. Cats and chicks, hamsters, horses and hedgehogs join pigs and parakeets, snakes, salamanders and more as they joyfully begin their day with a song.

Tempering the children’s glee and excitement, however, are the staff’s confusion and consternation as they witness the arrival of the menagerie and the ensuing chaos and cacophony. All hopes of learning vanish as teachers seek to comprehend why every child has arrived at school on this day with a pet. The principal voices the question on everyone’s mind: “Who said these pets could come to school?

Kaufman provides brightly colored illustrations, capturing the joy and calamity detailed in Ashman’s humorous rhyming text. Readers watch the fiasco unfold before ultimately being treated to a satisfying solution to the mystery of who actually authored the phony invitation.

You can join Ready Readers in bringing the magic of books to our community’s most vulnerable preschoolers. Visit our website (readyreaders.org) to learn how you can make a difference. Kids who read succeed!