Going back to school means making some adjustments. New classrooms. New classmates. New problems.
Several new kids’ books feature young characters struggling with — and overcoming — obstacles from bullying and stage fright for younger readers to adoption and troubled parents for older readers.
And for beginning readers who may just need a laugh, Kate DiCamillo introduces a new series featuring cowboy Leroy Ninker and his horse Maybelline.
Here’s a look at some new titles, just in time for young people who may be facing challenges:
▪ “Calvin, Look Out!: A Bookworm Birdie Gets Glasses,” written by Jennifer Berne with illustrations by Keith Bendis (Sterling Children’s Books; $14.95; ages 4-7).
Calvin the starling trips over chairs in the library and has trouble reading words, which is not good for a bookworm. A trip to the eye doctor reveals that Calvin needs glasses. But when he goes home to show his family his spiffy new spectacles, they tease him and make fun of him. Calvin has the last laugh, however, when he’s lost in the forest and uses his glasses to rescue himself. All of a sudden, glasses are cool.
▪ “Llama Llama and the Bully Goat” written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney (Viking Juvenile; $17.99; ages 3-6).
Although this picture book was published last year, it’s a good story to approach the topic of bullying in a nonscary way for young children who may be in a classroom setting for the first time. Gilroy Goat is a meanie who kicks sand at his classmates and calls them a not-nice name. Teacher says name-calling is not acceptable. While Llama Llama learns to handle the bully by walking away and telling someone, he also learns that bullies can reform and become friends when they are given a second chance.
▪ “Hermelin the Detective Mouse” written and illustrated by Mini Grey (Random House Children’s Books; $17.99; ages 5-8).
Young readers will identify with Hermelin, a misunderstood mouse who only wants to help the people of Offley Street find their missing pets and valuable items. When the neighbors discover that their mysterious note-leaving, case-solving detective is actually an “unwanted, unhealthy PEST!” they run away screaming. Fortunately for Hermelin, a girl named Emily sees beyond the stereotypes attributed to rodents. She turns the tables and leaves him a note inviting him to breakfast. A new detective team is born. True to her “Traction Man” series, Grey creates a world where a typing mouse who reads the dictionary and solves mysteries is totally believable and her detailed cartoons are visual treasures.
▪ “Flip & Fin: We Rule the School!” written by Timothy Gill with illustrations by Neil Numberman (Greenwillow Books; $14.99; ages 4-7).
Sometimes the scary part of school isn’t fear of the bullies, it’s stage fright. Flip and Fin, the sand shark twins, are looking forward to Joke Day at their school, so they practice telling jokes to each other. Flip improves with practice — a good lesson that applies to brain games and not just sports. But when it’s time to step up to the microphone to tell his joke, he freezes and the older kids begin to poke fun. Not to worry, his brother sticks up for him and helps guide him through the performance. Funny jokes and comical sea creatures drawn with droll expressions make this silly tale one that will be requested repeatedly for story time.
▪ “Shhh! We Have a Plan” written and illustrated by Chris Haughton (Candlewick; $15.99; ages 2-5).
The spectacular colors and shapes of this book overshadow the story itself, but young readers will identify with the smallest of the bird hunters, who ends up luring more birds with sweetness than with stealth. Sometimes it’s tough to be the one going against the crowd, but this picture book shows that good things can happen when you listen to your heart. The characters’ body language and faces are so expressive that words are hardly needed.
▪ “Alexander, Who’s Trying His Best to Be the Best Boy Ever,” written by Judith Viorst with illustrations by Isidre Mones in the style of Ray Cruz (Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $17.99; ages 4-7).
Forty-two years after Viorst wrote the classic “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” Alexander is back. And he’s in trouble. And there are consequences. So Alexander declares he will be the Best Boy Ever for the “complete and entire rest of my life ” — or at least for a week. The author nails the thought process of a young boy trying his very best to be good, despite taunting and temptations from his big brothers and exasperation expressed by his teacher who is worn out by his eagerness. As the tension creates mess after unintentional mess, the reader will correctly surmise that Alexander can’t be good forever.
▪ “Half a World Away,” written by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum Books for Young Readers; $16.99; ages 10-14).
Twelve-year-old Jaden believes he is an “epic fail,” and even though his adoptive parents, Steve and Penni, assure him that they love him, he can’t imagine why they would. Maybe that’s why his family is heading to Kazakhstan to adopt a new baby, one that won’t be like him, a hoarder who steals and lights fires. As Jaden worries about being replaced, a new problem arises. The baby they were promised has already been adopted! In this fascinating story that gives a disturbing peek into the world of foreign adoptions, Kadohata digs deep into the troubled mind of Jaden and shows her readers that when he starts to care for another person, he ultimately opens his heart to love.
▪ “Nest,” written by Esther Ehrlich, (Random House Children’s Books; $16.99; ages 10-12).
A sad story that in the end brings hope for the future, Ehrlich’s debut novel follows 11-year-old Naomi “Chirp” Orenstein as she deals with her mother’s spiral into depression after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The author delicately handles tough issues such as suicide, depression and suspected abuse. Ultimately, the friendship that develops between Chirp and her neighbor, Joey, will make readers believe that Chirp will come out OK.
▪ “Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume One,” written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by Chris Van Dusen (Candlewick Press; $12.99; ages 4-8).
Beginning readers will be delighted with DiCamillo’s new series that features Leroy Ninker, the wannabe cowboy, and includes a cameo by the porcine wonder, Mercy Watson. For added character, there’s Maybelline, a swayback horse with four teeth, who Leroy learns he must sweet-talk, keep supplied with spaghetti noodles and never leave alone for more than a few moments. The words and phrasing from these characters are exquisite and will have readers eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.
▪ “Goatilocks and the Three Bears” written by Erica S. Perl with illustrations by Arthur Howard (Beach Lane Books; $17.99; ages 3-6).
This fractured fairy tale that substitutes a hungry goat for the little girl with the golden curls follows the original story line, but with a twist. Goatilocks not only eats the porridge and the spoon, but she also devours the “just right” chair and bed. Poor Baby Bear! Goatilocks makes it all right the next morning when she offers flowers to the three bears, and guess what happens? Simple text and visual details such as bite marks in Goatilocks’ furniture make this a fun read for youngsters.