cover image Billy and the Big New School

Billy and the Big New School

Laurence Anholt. Albert Whitman & Company, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8075-0743-8

The Anholts (The Big Book of Families) offer a poignant but reassuring treatment of the anxiety a child feels facing the first day at a new school. Billy confides his fears to the birds in his backyard; he's worried not just about getting lost, but also about the new shoes his mother has bought him, ""with laces that were hard to tie."" The day before the big start, Billy rescues a young sparrow that is not strong enough to fly. Using a characteristic mix of vignettes, spot art and large-scale illustrations, the Anholts affectionately juxtapose the drama of Billy's sheltering of the bird with the preparations made for school. While Billy makes the bird a nest in a shoebox, his mother is ironing and writing his name on his clothes. The parallel becomes explicit the next morning, when Billy and his mother release the recovered sparrow: ""`You have to fly away,' he whispered. `You have to learn to take care of yourself--like me.'"" The drawings of the school (showing children romping on the playground, the kindly teacher, the toilets, the painting area and the computer) will kindle young children's interest, addressing both the strangeness of a new school as well as its possibilities for promoting friendships and positive experiences. As school-jitters stories go, this has an advantage apart from its gracefulness: because the Anholts never spell out Billy's exact situation, their book will be equally appropriate to children facing their first day of kindergarten or moving from one school to another. Ages 4-6. (Mar.)