Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, July 25, 2016

Planting Change

They are very easy to spot if for no other reason than they are usually smaller than the rest of the students.  They and their caregivers who walk with them are filled with a mixture of excitement and nervousness on the first day of kindergarten.  For many of these little guys and gals this is the first time they have been away from home for an entire day in a school setting with other students older than they are.

For some of them with sisters and brothers who are in higher grades, the experience is less stressful.  If these new kindergartners are the oldest child in their family or an only child, it's not quite so easy.  If they happen to be shy, it can be exceedingly difficult.  The charming child we met and loved in Sophie's Squash (Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, August 6, 2013) has returned in a companion title, Sophie's Squash Go To School (Schwartz & Wade, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, June 28, 2016) written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf.

On the first day of school, Sophie peeked into her classroom.

Regardless of the fun exhibited by her classmates and the kind words of her parents, Sophie is certain school will make her miserable.  Nothing is right, not the chair, the milk and certainly not her fellow students' attitudes about her best friends, Bonnie and Baxter, two squash. She is appalled when someone asks if the squash can be eaten.

To make matters even worse, in Sophie's opinion, Steven Green with his toy frog, Marvin, follows her everywhere.  Her replies and standoffish air do nothing to dissuade this boy's pursuit of her friendship.  Her parents chat with Sophie about Steven but she remains firm in believing the only pals she needs are Bonnie and Baxter.

Little by little Sophie starts to enjoy others but only in her mind.  And she still wants absolutely nothing to do with Steven Green.  With autumn in full swing, Sophie knows it's time to put Bonnie and Baxter to bed in the ground.  When an art activity results in disaster, Sophie is completely disgusted with Steven Green.

Finding something inside her backpack, a chat with her father and a nighttime visit with Bonnie and Baxter help Sophie to think.  Sophie needs the assistance of a very persistent person to put a new plan into action.  Tender loving care and patience generate a happy dance in Ms. Park's kindergarten classroom.

When Pat Zietlow Miller writes it is with considerable compassion and insight into the personalities of her characters.  Her words evoke empathy in readers for the people found in her books.  In this narrative several realistic topics, first days of school, shyness, and friendship (all kinds), are intertwined into a pleasing whole.

Ms. Park, the kindergarten teacher, and Sophie's parents are supportive and kind. In some of their conversations her parents exhibit little bits of humor as well as nicknames of affection for Sophie.  I really like that Miller continues to have Sophie give her squash names beginning with the letter b.  Here is a sample passage.

Sophie's parents were no help at all.
"Steven sounds adorable," said her mother.  "And it's good to have friends."
"Especially human ones," added her father.
Sophie hugged Bonnie and Baxter tightly.  "I have all the friends I need."

Fine lines, soft brush strokes and delicate details define the work of artist Anne Wilsdorf in this title.  On the matching dust jacket and book case as Sophie strides to school carrying Bonnie and Baxter glancing over her shoulder, we readers wonder what has caught her attention.  This is a definite invitation for us to open this book.

The opening and closing endpapers are a patterned array of Sophie, Bonnie, Baxter, a blue chair from her classroom and a surprise appearance by another character in the final vignette.  Each one of the forty is different alluding to the energy found in Sophie and her love of Bonnie and Baxter.  On the title page Sophie is standing on the blue chair in front of an easel drawing a portrait of the smiling Bonnie and Baxter sitting on the floor.

Rendered in watercolor and China ink the image sizes are altered to heighten the pacing.  The double and single page pictures are brimming with multiple elements asking us to pause and increase our understanding of the scene and the characters' moods.  In several of the visuals Wilsdorf extends her illustration to the left across the gutter tying it to the smaller image shared on the left page.  Her sequences of pictures grouped on a single or double page indicate tension or a turning point. Good cheer and charm are evident in the colorful, textured and patterned clothing worn by all her characters.

A favorite illustration is the first two-page picture of Sophie standing in the doorway of her classroom with Ms. Park welcoming her in front and her parents, behind her, encouraging her.  Spread before the reader is a good glimpse of the room; the children engaged in creative chaos.  Shelves are filled with interesting, playful items and lots of books.  There is a geometric shape and block table, big letters of the alphabet on another table, children are drawing at a third table and another group is sprawled in the storytelling area on a rug with pillows.  This IS kindergarten.

If you are looking for a fresh new title for the start of the school year, Sophie's Squash Go To School written by Pat Zietlow Miller with illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf is the perfect book for you.  It's a lively, joyous story with realistic themes lovingly told in words and pictures.  You also might want to consider visiting your local farmers' market to pick up a supply of squash.  I predict Sophie will find a spot in many readers' hearts.

To learn more about Pat Zietlow Miller please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  An older post but still valuable about Anne Wilsdorf can be found at Emu's Debuts, "A book...is a whole world.": An Interview with Anne Wilsdorf.  To get some views of interior illustrations please visit the publisher's website.  Pat Zietlow Miller wrote a post, Five things to know about SOPHIE'S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL, at Picture Book Builders.  Pat Zietlow Miller was recently interviewed at The Winged Pen.


  1. A sweet back-to-school book. I really love Sophie's Squash, and my new favorite is School's First Day of School!

    1. It is definitely a welcome title in the back-to-school theme. Dear Sophie always finds a way into my heart.