cover image Spider School

Spider School

Francesca Simon. Dial Books, $14.99 (24pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-1975-0

Anxious about her first day at a new school, a girl named Kate opens her eyes to an overcast, gray-green morning and grumpily gets up on the wrong side of bed. All her new clothes are missing, so she has to wear a ``dirty old skirt,'' mismatched shirt and baggy socks. She proceeds (late, of course) to a gloomy school that resembles a dungeon, and she enters a book-free classroom ruled by an ill-tempered gorilla. As for the cafeteria, the title indicates what's on the menu. Simon (The Topsy-Turvies) and Coplans (Cat and Dog) exaggerate the absurdity, lessening the tension with nutty scenarios: the gorilla-teacher, adorned in a pearl necklace, reads herself a comic-book romance called Going Ape. The author also resolves the situation with ease. Kate jumps back in bed and, when she reawakens, gets out of the right side of bed. This time she finds a sunny morning, a restored wardrobe and a welcoming elementary school. Coplans conjures a Halloweenish atmosphere with mildly creepy cartoons. Kate's nightmare school involves dazed-looking children, cobwebby hallways and bleary aqua-and-charcoal shadows; the girl knows her real school by its smiling students and the unmuddied palette. The lesson about the value of a positive attitude gains force by the mildness of its delivery and by the author and artist's dead-on aim at classic back-to-school fears. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)