We are Room 2K.
We are fine!
Assertive. Clear-eyed. Defiant-like. Almost... anthemic. And, written as it is beneath a drawing of three little kids hanging upside-down, big smiles on their faces and their belly-buttons showing, "fine" begins to assume a whole bunch of meaning:
- First kid (subtext): "Not only are we 'fine,' we are happy and fine!"
- Second kid (subtext): "And we're just going to get fine-r!"
- Third kid (subtext): "Not only did we have nothing to worry about, you parents can quit your hand-wringin' too!"
I love Antoinette Portis for this book. I love Antoinette Portis for all of her books, actually, but this one is such a winner for anxious 5-year-olds and their anxious progenitors. It's a first day of school book that avoids the following first day of school book pitfalls:
- It does not introduce new fears. "What if the lunch lady is scary?" is, I'll bet, something most kids have never thought to worry about before starting school, and yet, it shows up as a two-page spread in another first day of school book. (And let us not forget the wonderful Garmann's Summer, which uses first day of school worries as a springboard into an exploration of fears such as traffic accidents and death! Not for your average pre-kindergartner!)
- It does not suggest a security prop: "Take your duckie, you'll be fine as long as she's with you." The amount of trouble this can cause in school is a lot, and most of the teachers I know shudder inwardly when the little blankie or bunny has to accompany the kid to school.
Further, it is so cheerful! Written in a day-by-day diary format, it acknowledges the kid's specific worries (mean big kids, scary teacher) and contrasts them to reality (mean big kids, perfectly nice teacher). It takes that matter-of-fact tone that many of us parents strive for: "My mom says I have to look nice today. And I have to wear socks," but makes it clear that mom is not some heartless witch: "My mom walked me to my classroom and held my hand hard." When it's time to learn how to write her name, Annalina decides that "Annalina" is just too many letters, and decides to go by just Anna. She makes friends, shares, and practices on the monkey bars until she can get all the way across and back.
Antoinette Portis's characteristic crunchy bold lines and forthright faces depict kindergarten as an open, friendly place. She branches out from her usual minimal color palette with great success, employing photographic elements and textures and the kind of fun printed patterns that make textile fanciers go "ooh!". I want the before-and-after drawings of kids and their cupcakes as the front and back of a t-shirt.
On the first day, the parents are drawn peering in through the classroom window, an image that immediately caused me to tear up. It is not that long ago that I dropped my oldest little boy at his first day of Kindergarten. I was a wreck. He was fine. The other parents were also wrecks. I remember our friend T's daddy, a burly tattooed fella with intricate facial hair, admitting to me later that he kept his sunglasses on that first morning when he walked his daughter into her classroom - so that she wouldn't see his eyes brimming with tears.
Of course, that was his first child. It gets a lot easier. Antoinette, if you're reading this, I understand that you wrote this for and about your little girl Alexandra (there's an adorable picture on the dedication page). I want to say, "Go, Alexandra! Good job being brave! And hey - as much fun as you're having now, it JUST GETS BETTER!" And I want to say, "Antoinette, if you have another one, first day of school will be a little less heartbreaking second time around."
Even though, 99% of the time, school turns out to be nothing to worry about, that does not diminish the courage that children have to summon when making this first trip into the unknown. This book delicately honors that courage without over-emphasizing it. Perfect.<.div>