by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
Back-to-school jitters happen to everyone.
Llama Llama misses his mama, and so does Chester Racoon!
Even the school itself has been known to be nervous about its first day. (We featured this book on the blog!)
And David Vozar remembers what it felt like for him as a child to head back to school:
And for me, even at this stage of the game, I was worried that I wouldn’t know where to go, wouldn’t be able to figure out how to use all the new online applications, or make friends or have anyone to sit with at orientation when I headed back to school this fall.
The first day of school—which has come and gone already for some of you reading this and still lies ahead for others—is one of the year’s seminal moments. All of us have to meet new people, make new friends, figure out what we’re going to wear…and meet our new teachers!
We also have to decide how we want others to perceive us—who we are in the classroom. Are we that pushy person who is shouting out the answer before the teacher has even finished asking the question? Are we too shy and nervous to even raise our hand? Do we want to be neat and organized and on time for class every day? Or come across as disheveled and sloppy and tardy? Do we want to sit in the front row? Or position ourselves way in the back of class, hoping against hope to avoid eye contact? (Note: to future adults—that strategy never works. Teachers are immune to eye-contact avoidance.)
Over the years, I have fretted for many hours about all of these back-to-school transitions. As with everything in life, they get more complicated as we get older, and worrying about if your best friend is in your class gets replaced with all kinds of peer pressure and hormone-filled anxieties that go along with being a teenager starting high school. Or a college student leaving home for the first time to live in a dorm. Or juggling commuting to school while working at a job. All these experiences are valid and so significant in the moment. But one way or another when we head back to school, we have to find ways to adapt and modify our behaviors to conform to the norms of the classroom.
Penelope, the T. rex heroine of Ryan T. Higgins’s We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, expresses her own tyrannosaurus version of first-day-of-school-behavior-modification challenges in this oh-so-funny picture book that we are offering as the Scholastic Book Clubs Book of the Week.
“Fans of macabre, tongue-in-cheek humor (and twist endings!) will enjoy time spent with Penelope.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Ryan T. Higgins’s art is full of life and energy—readers can feel what Penelope’s classmates are going through and definitely follow Penelope’s every emotion.
I love the scene where the bug-eyed goldfish stares down Penelope before the big chomp. My colleague Alana Pedalino shared with me that her friend who teaches PreK loves reading this part to her students, and that they always howl with laughter when Ms. Kazalunas impersonates the big-eyed fish.
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates can also open important back-to-school conversations, such as the qualities that make a good friend, how to introduce yourself to new classmates and a new teacher, and setting expectations for appropriate classroom behavior.
And I appreciate how positive and inclusive the story is. Once Penelope learns from her mistakes, her classmates and teacher alike are willing to forgive her and move on.
Ryan T. Higgins is a dynamic and laugh-out-loud picture-book author whose work you may know from other hilarious, heart-filled stories such as Mother Bruce. Alana discovered some YouTube videos Ryan created at the beginning of the pandemic in which he takes readers behind the scenes into his Maine studio. The videos offer a charming look into his daily life and his creative process amid the occasional perils of working from home (his commute to the backyard studio is short and sweet, but getting the kids ready in the morning for virtual learning was anything but!).
We are also lucky that Ryan recorded an exclusive Behind the Scenes video for you!
To help you and your students have as much fun as possible with We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, we came up with some free resources on the blog for you to share with your class:
• The Book Boys explain their favorite parts of the story (and Max dresses up as a T. rex, of course!)
• K–5 elementary STEM specialist Sara Bowers shares how she uses We Don’t Eat Our Classmates with her students
• Sara also inspired us to create an activity called “I Can Illustrate My Emotions!” to help you bring the story to life in your classroom. (I am studying Constructivism in my class this semester, and this is a great example of the theory in action.)
On behalf of all of us at Scholastic Book Clubs, I want to send everyone a hearty WELCOME BACK TO SCHOOL. We wish you the best for a happy, healthy, fun, and productive 2021–2022 school year filled with lots of good books! You and your students deserve the very best of everything.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs