By Maureen Tai, 26 November 2018
“Soon the teachers will come, and then you’ll be filled with children.” – Janitor
Do you remember the muddled-up feelings that you experienced on your first day of school? A concoction of fear and joy, excitement and anxiety, freedom and homesickness? I do. And so does the newly built Frederick Douglass Elementary school, the unexpected narrator in the whimsical and clever School’s First Day of School. This is the perfect picture book to read with a pre-schooler whose first day is looming. What will School’s first day be like?
School is a solid, rectangular brick building, an American school named after a former slave turned civil rights activist, Frederick Douglass. There are large windows on every side, a flat grey roof from which one can gaze at passing airplanes, a large basketball court that doubles as an assembly hall and a playground with colourful monkey bars round back. School is just how you’d imagine an elementary school to be.
School’s idyllic first days are spent alone with Janitor, a man in blue overalls and a blue cap. Janitor looks after School, mopping and buffing his floors, washing his windows, and getting School ready for his first day of school. The prospect of being filled with children makes School uneasy, and creaky. “Will you be here?” School asks Janitor timidly. To which Janitor replies reassuringly that he’ll be back after the school day and that School will be just fine.
But the worry doesn’t go away.
Until the children arrive. In droves. In big yellow school buses, on bicycles and scooters and skateboards, and on foot. There is even one reluctant child who has to be carried in through the front doors by her mother. And these children swarm like ants all over School, clambering and swinging on the jungle gym, playing ball and hand-clapping games in the playground, lining up for the water fountains, sitting on rugs to have their lessons and at large tables to have their lunch.
Nervous and unsure at first (and after recovering from accidentally setting off the fire alarm), School slowly comes to realize what sort of space it is. As the day progresses, School learns about itself. School also learns a few facts about the children. For instance, there are two Aidens in the same kindergarten class with the reluctant freckled child, and kids are kinda messy (especially at lunch time).
By the end of the day, the freckled child has come around to the idea of school – this is conveyed so charmingly in the picture book – and School is no longer worried or anxious. True to his word, Janitor shows up after all the children have gone home and listens patiently and knowingly, like a parent, to School recounting all that it has learned. School loves being a school and it can’t wait for everyone to be back tomorrow. Do you remember feeling that way too? I do.
For ages 2 and up.