New School

The titles below focus specifically on starting at a new school. Parents and kids may also find the titles on our Starting School page useful.

Harry and the dinosaurs go to school

Ian Whybrow (author) and Adriam Reynolds (illustrator)
Penguin: 2006
ISBN: 9780553534009
Age: 5+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Harry is excited about his new school, but he’s not sure he can bring his dinosaurs and they are starting to get nervous. Harry takes charge and gets the dinosaurs ready, but when they arrive at school Harry is too shy to ask his teacher, Mrs Rance, if the dinosaurs can be part of the class. Left in the hall, the dinosaurs pine. Harry misses them too. When at last there is an opportunity to be together, Harry and his dinosaurs are able to settle in and help another new boy feel at home too.

Harry and his Bucket Full of Dinosaurs is a popular series and this title does not disappoint—it’s reassuring, positive, and filled with fun and fantasy. By sharing the new school nerves between Harry, his dinosaurs, and another new boy, Ian Whybrow (author) allows his main character, Harry, to be a pretty brave role model who can even help others struggling with school. At the same time the hints about Harry’s own nerves may help reassure young readers that feeling shy or nervous is normal. The warm welcoming teacher who, when given a chance, enters into Harry’s dinosaur world, also shows that school is a supportive environment.

The artwork by Adrian Reynolds is full of bold bright colours with an overall orange tone; the mood is happy, despite the occasional worries explored in the text and is therefore perfect for sending a positive reassuring message to kids attending a new school for the first time.

Little Nic’s Big Day

Nic Naitanui (author) and Fátima Anaya (illustrator)
Albert Street Books (Allen & Unwin): 2019
ISBN: 9781760876876
Age: 5+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Little Nic is worried about going to a new school. Will he make friends? Will everything be different and strange? ‘Yes’, replies his Mum and that’s a good thing! At his new school Nic finds out about all the different languages the kids in his class speak, the different foods they eat for lunch, their different interests. Nic fits right in and that’s just what he tells Mum when she picks him up from school—he’s made lots of mates!

Going to a new school is a recurring topic in children’s literature and Little Nic’s Big Day has a wonderful take on an understandable fear for the new kid—that they won’t make friends. By stressing difference and its capacity to bring joy and opportunities for sharing, Little Nic’s Big Day provides a comforting message to all children. The illustrations, which use lots of bright block colours, match the lively rhyming text perfectly and echo the positive and reassuring messages throughout the story.

My Friend Ernest

Emma Allen and Hannah Sommerville
Harper Collins: Sydney 2016
ISBN: 9781460750537 (HBK)
Age: 5+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Oscar the Brave is excited about the knight’s costume in the dress-up box at his new school. He puts it on, but then another kid takes the dragon’s tail and stares at him. The dragon growls. Later the dragon jumps on Oscar’s sandcastle. Oscar tries hard not to be scared but he is, until he meets a princess in a castle who asks for his help. She listens to Oscar’s fears and when Ernest the Dragon roars at the door of the castle, they both find out he’s not so scary after all.

My Friend Ernest touches on a number of topics relevant to child-parent teams—sharing and friendship, feelings of anxiety and fear of acceptance at a new school. It treats these related range of topics sensitively and provides a subtle encouraging message that fear is okay and sharing one’s feelings is a good thing to do. The positive and fulfilling friendship that develops between Oscar and Ernest also suggests to young readers that our relationship with others can change, for the better. The illustrations mingle fantasy and reality, highlighting both the fear that Oscar feels and the fun he has with his new friend.

Old Friends New Friends

Andrew Daddo (author) Jonathan Bently (illustrator)
ABC Books: 2018
ISBN: 9780733338137 (hbk)
ISBN: 9780733338144 (pbk)
Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A girl, excited about the new school year, arrives to find that none of her old friends are in her new class. Bubbles of excitement in her stomach soon start to pop. But when she thinks about the advice her mum and grandfather always give her, she starts planning what kind of new friends she’d like to make.

Old Friends New Friends is not quite a ‘new school’ story but the scenario (being in a new class with no familiar faces) treats similar types of concerns about making friends and fitting in. The central character and narrator takes a thoughtful approach to her friendships, starting with herself as her own ‘BFF’. She then considers all the different kinds of friendships she’d like to start. This age-appropriate rumination on friendship types is a great way to discuss friendship generally with kids—what makes a great friend, how different friends fulfil different needs, and the advantage of making friends with lots of different people.

The artwork for Old Friends New Friends is dominated by the red and white uniforms—the warm colours chosen for the uniform give the book an overall mood of fun. The children’s faces are slightly enlarged and fantastic for discussing emotions—both those nerves and more enjoyable feelings too.

Old Friends New Friends is a positive and encouraging story with which to focus in on the topic of making new friends in a new environment—be that a new class or new school.       

The Day you Begin

Jacqueline Woodson (author) Rafael López (illustrator)
Penguin: Nancy Paulsen Books New York, 2018
ISBN: 9780399246531 (HBK)
Age: 5+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A child narrator, who we come to know as Angelina, begins by observing, ‘there are times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you’. She then speaks about the differences of appearance, accent, experience, and ability that are reasons some children use to exclude or isolate others. Yet when Angelina finds her voice and tells her own story, difference is not all that people see or hear.

The Day you Begin is a poignant read for any person, young or old. It explores in quiet but powerful and rhythmic prose what it is like to feel different, and moreover what it is like for people to see and treat you as different. The tone is empathetic to the speakers. At times the mood reflects the heartbreak of those who feel different, yet it also offers hope in the insistence that speaking one’s own story has a positive impact.

While The Day you Begin is not explicitly about going to school there are hints that this is one of the scenarios being presented and may well help kids that fear exclusion for difference before they attend a new school. Similarly, while the book is not about bullying per se it may well have resonances for children who have experienced teasing and exclusion at an old school.

The artwork by Rafael López uses space, facial expressions and body language to convey the children’s feelings of sadness and exclusion. The images are, however, full of colour and pattern, and draw in the natural world too. These aspects of the artwork mean that the hopeful message in the text blossoms on every stunning page.

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