Addressed to your own wildling, this laugh-out-loud picture book takes you through a wild first day of school from waking up to home time. It contains loads of hilarious dos and don’ts with some very sage advice as well.
The Wild Guide to Starting School has a grown-up, modern feel; it treats kids like the growing-up people they are becoming and will soon need to be. The jokes are age appropriate and quite sophisticated; they make kids work for the laughs by investigating the illustrations. Great practice for school! There is some plain, good advice like smile and ask questions when trying to make friends. Most page spreads also provide great conversation starters for discussing how kids might handle aspects of their own first days at school. For example, the drop-off spread shows a cast of Australian animals giving their characteristic goodbyes. Dingoes do the ‘smell you later’, Bilbies do the ‘Bil-Bye’. While this is obviously intended to provoke laughter, there’s a real conversation to be had here about how families should approach those anxious moments before the bell rings and this book is excellent at facilitating those conversations.
The artwork for The Wild Guide to Starting School is, as indicated above, a key component of the humour that is on every page. The wildlings are a group of colourful Australian animals that you follow throughout the course of the book as they navigate different aspects of the first day differently. The animal characters are set against a fairly beige background—often brown, sometimes lined. This feels appropriate; schools are institutions and while they can be colourful, students often bring that colour.
The Wild Guide to Starting School is designed for kids; it’s focused on the belly laughs with the occasional piece of advice you really do need. It should tick all the caregiver boxes because every page is a conversation starter that can help you figure out what your little wildling needs to know or needs to plan with you.
A young girl announces to her Mum on the first day of school that she will find a best friend. Her Mum expresses doubt but this little girl knows exactly how to spot one.
How to Spot a Best Friend is a light-hearted yet wise guide to friendship. Told in the first person, the girl protagonist explains to her mum the difference between a friend and a best friend. For example, a friend lends you a crayon, but a best friend lends you their ‘brand-new, extra-sharp green crayon’ even when you have a lot of leaves to colour in. By contrasting good and excellent examples of friendship, Bea Birdsong keeps the text positive and inspiring while dealing with a topic that can often be fraught for young people. Indeed, the text touches on bullying, competition and jealousy which may be useful for parents who wish to guide their children about what true friendship looks like. Moreover, while the title indicates a best friend the illustrations show the girl protagonist being helped by many best friends of various genders, cultural backgrounds and abilities, which may help parents discuss issues surrounding cliquish behaviour too.
Besides adding this inclusive idea of multiple best friends to the text, the artwork for How to Spot a Best Friend draws out the gentle humour of the text, playing up fun references to, for example, zombie games. The bold and colourful spreads match the upbeat tone of the book while taking every opportunity to reinforce its subtle messages. For example, astute use of body language in the bullying scene imbue the otherwise cheery colours with the necessary gravity to match the subject matter.
The simple premise of this excellent picture book belies its complex and thought-provoking approach to childhood friendship. It is a fantastic resource for all parents and children looking to contemplate friendship and what it should involve.
Worry Monster is growing bigger and bigger, keeping Archie awake with worries about starting at a new school. Archie remembers what Mum did last time and he’s going to give it a try, but will it work without Mum there?
Go away, Worry Monster! is a great story for kids who are ready to take a more independent approach to anxious feelings. Archie remembers previous anxious episodes when Mum helped him banish the worry monster, but now he’s a ‘big boy’ he wants to tackle his Worry Monster all by himself. This is a particularly apt approach for a story which involves fears surrounding starting at a new school where kids do have to tackle uncomfortable feelings without key support people physically present. The text also provides some good practical tips for tackling anxious thoughts, namely breathing and using factual information to combat spiralling anxious thoughts, which are appropriate for young people to practise on their own.
The illustrations for Go away, Worry Monster! give due weight to the fear that anxiety can entail—the Worry Monster’s expanding presence and somewhat reptilian features are just the teeniest bit scary but the monster’s sock-like appearance, highlighted by frenetic squiggly marks, always keeps the mood light and fun. Night-time anxieties with their capacity to become distorted and more worrying are given superb expression in the illustrations, which underscore the bedtime setting with a deep purple background that glows a little in the lamplight. A cast of silent, comforting characters—an owl lamp, a dog, and a teddy bear—remain unidentified in the text, but provide Archie with some moral support and the readers with lots of laughs.
Go away, Worry Monster! is a fun story about a not-too-scary worry monster that also provides practical resources for growing-up kids to manage their anxiety independently.