Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Back to School We Go! by Ellen Jackson

Illustrator: Jan Davey Ellis
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Publication Date:
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: K-5
Back to school is right around the corner for many kids. As summer's end approaches, minds are on new teachers (who will it be?), new clothes (what will I wear?), school supplies and much more. First day jitters may already be appearing. In my house we have long been anticipating the start of school. Don't get me wrong--summer has been fun, but my boy is ready to go back. To get ready for school we've been reading a bit about what school is like for kids in other countries. It's Back to School We Go!: First Day Stories From Around the World, written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis, provides a wonderful introduction to schooling around the world.

The book opens with a world map that highlights the countries that are featured. On each double-page spread that follows, a child is introduced through a first-person narrative of their school day on the left page, while interesting facts about children in that country are presented. Readers meet:
  • Achieng - An 8-year old girl from Kenya
  • Anton - A 7-year old boy from Kazakhstan
  • Kendi - A 6-year old Inuit boy from Nunavut, Canada
  • Jessica - A 9-year old girl from Australia
  • Misaki - A 6-year old girl from Japan
  • Jinsong - An 8-year old boy from China
  • Thomas - A 7-year old boy from Peru
  • Gunther - A 6-year old boy from Germany
  • Rajani - An 8-year old girl from India
  • Nadia - A 7-year old girl from Russia
  • Casey - A 9-year old boy from California (Why CA and not United States?)
The author's note at the beginning of the book provides some information about the children highlighted. It begins:
Each of the eleven children portrayed in this book is a composite of several real individuals. Obviously, every country provides a variety of educational opportunities and no one child can represent them all. Some children live in villages; others in cities. Some schools have computers and science labs; others don't even have desks or books.
Here are just a few of the interesting facts readers will learn from this book:
  • In Kenya, children go to school six days a week, from January to November.
  • In China, students who exhibit good behavior earn red neckerchiefs.
  • The first day of school is a time of celebration in Kazakhstan. Students there bring flowers for their teachers. (Much better than apples, I think!)
  • In the United States, 9 out of 10 children go to public school.
There is an extensive bibliography at the end of the book, as well as a list of web resources. I particularly liked the link to Children's Games from Around the World

Overall, this is a terrific book for thinking about back-to-school and for studying different cultures through a common, shared experience. I recommend pairing it with Margriet Ruurs' book My School in the Rain Forest: How Children Attend School Around the World. This  title examines how children attend school in 12 different countries. Readers are introduced to a school run over the radio and the Internet, a floating school, a school in the rain forest, one in the jungle, another under a tree, a school in a monastery and more. 

For even more titles, check out my Book Links article entitled Classrooms like Ours—Books about Schools around the World (January 2011). The books in this annotated bibliography will help readers appreciate the similarities and differences that exist. Some of the books represent a cross-cultural view of schooling, while others are more thematic in nature. Still others follow individual children or communities on their educational journeys.