Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Audrey Vernick's Five Favorite Back-to-School Books (PLUS A 'FIRST GRADE DROPOUT' GIVEAWAY!)

Are your little ones trotting off to school this week? Are you an elementary school teacher welcoming students back to your classroom or library? Perhaps you just need a list of five fabulous books to read as you move into the cozy fall-reading season?

Well, huzzah! AUDREY VERNICK, author of more than a dozen delightful books for young readers—including two of our favorite back-to-school reads, Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein, and the brand new (and totally hilarious) First Grade Dropout, illustrated by Matthew Cordell—is with us in the Cottage today. And she's brought along five of her all-time favorite back-to-school books to share.

And as an added treat, Audrey's giving away a SIGNED COPY of FIRST GRADE DROPOUT to one lucky reader. Leave a comment in the comments section below to enter.

Welcome, Audrey! Please tell us which books are your favorites for back-to-school and why. . .

1. Oliver and His Alligator by Paul Schmid

This book has the most enviable one-two punch. It begins like this: "Oliver sometimes felt his brave wasn't nearly as big as he needed it to be." And get a load of page two: “So on his first day of school, Oliver thought it best to stop by the swamp and pick up an alligator. Just in case things got rough.” Sigh. And swoon! But for me, even with those two wins in its corner, the most amazing thing about Oliver and His Alligator is the beautiful illustrations.

2. Maple and Willow Apart by Lori Nichols

This may be unique to me, the youngest of three sisters, but simply looking at the cover of this book just about breaks me open. After a lovely summer for two close summer-loving sisters, Maple and Willow Apart provides a thoughtful story about a less-explored side to the back-to-school oeuvre—the effect on the child left behind. It’s a sweet and quiet story about the bond between sisters—one in kindergarten and one still at home, with some very sweet pig-Latin moments (issmay ouyay).

3. Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon

I include this book for the kids at every school I visit—the ones who look at me blankly, hopelessly, desperately—when I do a writing workshop, because despite having lived ten years on this planet, they have never had anything worth writing about happen to them, not ever. This is a really nice story for the start of the school year about a child who is sure he has no ideas at all and guess what?! (Spoiler alert: he does.) And it’s a debut!!! Looking forward to more from Abby Hanlon!

4. Rain School, by James Rumford

Sometimes I read a book and know that a particular element would have been absolutely irresistible to young me. In this book, Thomas and his fellow students show up for the first day of school in Chad (Africa) and before their traditional learning can begin, they literally have to build their school. Of course, the act of building itself—walls and desks from mud, grass for the roof—provides its own learning experience. And then traditional classes begin. But here’s the irresistible part: in the summer, every summer, the heavy rains wash the school away. In fall, they begin again.

5. Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes

I went back and forth about this one, because of Victoria, who falls somewhere between Nellie Olsen and Regina George in the literary pantheon of mean girls. But the rest of it—Chrysanthemum’s loving mom and thesaurus-y dad; the divine Mrs. Delphinium Twinkle; and the two-word sentence that, along with “Hey, Boo,” tops the list of Great American Two-Word Sentences (“Chrysanthemum wilted.”) all stand to prove that this one’s been around for decades for a reason.

Happy back to school, everyone!

Thanks, Audrey! We will happily add these books to our Little Crooked Bookshelf. And here are two of Audrey's books YOU should most defintely add to yours. . . 

by Audrey Vernick
illustrated by Matthew Cordell
(Clarion Books 2015)

★ "Vernick’s tousled-haired hero may feel miserable, but he has the self-awareness, timing, and raconteurship of a master monologist; readers will be won over from his intriguing opening line (“I’ve been lots of things”) and quickly assured that this, too, shall pass." So effective is Vernick in conjuring the boy’s blush-inducing, sweat-triggering embarrassment, readers young and old will probably find themselves flashing back to their own not-quite-forgotten moments of humiliation. Likewise, Cordell’s sketchlike illustrations, composed of frenetic ink lines and punctuated with washes of bright color, are almost Feifferesque in their sense of emotional spontaneity and comic angst." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This winning picture book will be popular for its entertainment value, as well as for its potential to introduce ideas about empathy."

—School Library Journal

by Audrey Vernick
illustrated by Daniel Jennewein
(Balzer & Bray 2010)

"This wacky picture book, with its bold cartoonlike illustrations of a buffalo that snorts, dances, and makes faces, may help apprehensive youngsters to be more at ease about going to school. 'Everyone's special in his or her own way. That's the kind of thing you learn in kindergarten.' Vernick's amusing tale will prove handy as a first-day-of-school book recommendation for children and teachers alike." —SLJ

"Just the thing to calm those night-before nerves." —Booklist

Audrey Vernick is the author of over a dozen books for young readers, including Brothers at Bat, a New York Times Notable book. A frequent speaker at elementary schools and conferences, Audrey lives near the ocean in New Jersey with her family. You can visit her online at

Tell us YOUR favorite back-to-school books in the comments below to enter to win an autographed copy of FIRST GRADE DROPOUT by Audrey Vernick and Matt Cordell! 

(Winner will be announced on Wednesday, September 16th.) 


  1. I have always loved Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus and First Day Jitters by Julie Dannenberg. A newer one: Ginny Louise and the School Showdown by Tammi Sauer.

    1. Carrie, great reading suggestions! Thanks for commenting!

  2. I am also a fan of the humor in First Day Jitters by Julie Dannenberg and Is Your Buffalo Ready For Kindergarten. Also love Lilly in Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse.

    1. Love those suggestions, Kim! Thanks for your comment!

  3. The Kissing Hand is a nice one for preschoolers. Splat the Cat is one of our favorites. Pirates Go To School is fun. And we LOVED, LOVED, LOVED First Day Dropout! My kids laughed and laughed. So well done!

    1. Great suggestions, Marcie! We absolutely LOVE First Grade Dropout, too. And all of Audrey's books. Thanks for your comment!

  4. I love Audrey's Buffalo book--it's so funny, and I'm also a fan of Kelly DiPucchio's Dog Days of School. Looking forward to First Grade Dropout too! I really love Matthew Cordell's illustrations.

    1. Us, too! And big we're fans of Kelly's books as well. Dog Days of School is a great back-to- school reading suggestion. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. I love HOW ROCKET LEARNED TO READ and the other Rocket books. I also have a soft spot for the dear MISS BINDERGARTEN :)

    1. Thanks, Lori! Those are two of our favorites as well. Maybe we should ask Rocket and his teacher to be a guest on Mr. Pig Live sometime…:) Thanks for your comment!