Each year when the kindergarten students enter the library for the first time, they do so with guarded eagerness. They are not sure what to expect, so everything done is designed to set them at ease. They are allowed to select their seats. The tables are covered with books ready for speedy booktalks. We have multiple read alouds and everyone leaves wearing a newspaper sailor hat. (Tom Goes To Kindergarten by Margaret Wild and illustrated by David Legge)
Those first days are a mix of excitement and worry for the new gals and guys. Stepping into the unknown is never easy for anyone. Mae's First Day Of School (Abrams Books For Young Readers, July 10, 2018) written and illustrated by Kate Berube takes us on a journey of discovery. You are truly never alone.
Today is Mae's first day of school.
When her mother said,
"It's time to get dressed!"
Mae said, "I'm not going."
No matter what her parents said, Mae replied with the same answer. There was no way she was going to school. Mae did go to school. As she and her mother walked toward the building, her mother talked about all the fun things she would do. Mae was brimming with doubt.
When they arrived at school, Mae's mother chatted with a man waiting outside with his daughter. Mae disappeared. She climbed into a big shady tree. She was not leaving.
She was deciding if she could live here on this comfy branch. A rustling sound broke into her thoughts. A girl's head popped into view. Rosie was not going to school either.
As the two determined girls chatted a tall lady climbed the tree up to their branch. She was not going to school either. Three peopled sat in a tree and none of them were going to school on their first day. This woman, Ms. Pearl, was afraid of the same things as the two girls. School was about to start. What were they going to do?
Without a doubt the words of Mae,
"I'm not going!"
are uttered throughout the world by students (and staff) overly concerned about their first day of school. In the character of Mae, Kate Berube reveals universal truths. These are further affirmed in the conversations Mae has with Rosie and Ms. Pearl.
Through a blend of narrative and dialogue the story unfolds with natural realism. Repetition of key phrases provides a gentle cadence. When Ms. Pearl appears it supplies a special twist of humor. The addition of Mae's cookies enriches the commonalities of the trio while initially creating a spirit of compassion. Here is a passage.
"I'm not going to school," said Rosie.
"Me neither," said Mae.
"Would you like a cookie?"
Today is Mae and Rosie's first day of
school, but they are not going.
When you open the dust jacket the use of white space enhances the artwork of Kate Berube. Mae's demeanor, her hands, her feet and expression, in front of the school speaks volumes about her feelings before we even open the book. To the left, on the back, two interior images from the classroom, one changed and the other the same, give hints as to what the story will tell us about Ms. Pearl and Rosie.
The marvelous book case on the right, the front, shows a view of Mae and Rosie seated together on the branch in the tree. They are framed by brush strokes of leafy green. To the left, the back, a scene of the trio gives us a view of the happy resolution. It, too, includes a large portion of the tree.
On the opening and closing endpapers shades of bird's egg blue are marbleized across both pages. On the title page, a hesitant Mae stands in front of the school doors. Rendered
with ink, flash paint, acrylic paint, and colored pencils on cold press watercolor paper
the illustrations span two pages, single pages and for pacing are sometimes grouped two to a single page. Kate Berube gives readers varying perspectives. We are close to Mae when she utters her opinion about attending school. When she and her mother arrive at school we are far enough away to see what the parents cannot see. We are even farther away when we see the arrival of more students at school as well as a view of the girls in the tree. As she did on the dust jacket, Kate uses white space to accentuate specific moments for all three characters. It's truly wonderful the way Kate can convey emotion in her facial expressions with the smallest of details.
One of my many favorite illustrations is when Rosie climbs the tree. This image is spread across two pages. To the right we are looking down at Mae's legs hanging over the branch. On the left, coming up the trunk is Rosie. Her hands are placed on smaller branches to her left and right. We see her face and a portion of her backpack. All across the top and to the middle of the right side are green leafy branches.
Whether it's your first day of school ever or your first day of the upcoming school year, Mae's First Day Of School written and illustrated by Kate Berube will resonate with all readers. It's a reminder of the worries we all have and how alike our worries are. It emphasizes the value of facing fears together. I highly recommend this title for your professional and personal collections.
To learn more about Kate Berube and her other work, please follow the links attached to her name to access her website and blog. Kate maintains an account on Twitter. The cover for this book with process art and explanations by Kate is shown on the site of teacher librarian Matthew C. Winner. Kate Berube is featured at KidLit411.