Book Reviews: Stories of the Schoolyard

Heading off to school for the first time can be so distressing. Plenty of books offer help, the newest being When an Elephant Comes to School (Orchard/Scholastic, $16.95; ages 4 to 8). With the arrival of a shy little elephant, the more experienced kids give him the tour. “Show him the bathroom right away” is one reminder. Slowly and sweetly, the kids demonstrate how to act around others, the rudiments of arts and crafts, what to do when things go wrong, the meaning of quiet time and more. Author/artist Jan Ormerod, also with sweetness, proves school is not so scary – and even suggests that helping newcomers adjust can be a way of making it even better.

Once a child gains confidence at school and – we hope – loves language, check out Schoolyard Rhymes: Kids’ Own Rhymes for Rope Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing and Just Plain Fun (Knopf, $15.85; ages 6 to 12). The collector, Judy Sierra, who has a doctorate in folklore, amasses 50 classic rhymes that parents and grandparents may recall, from “Miss Mary Black” to “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll eat some worms. …” Charming for chanting at all times, even creating your own hip-hop style as you go on to improvise. Energetically illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

An inspirational autobiography for success at school or any endeavor is Reaching for the Moon (HarperCollins, $15.99; ages 6 to 9). One of the first astronauts to walk on the moon, back  in 1969, Buzz Aldrin tells his life story in terms young children can understand. It all started with collecting rocks – something he liked to do as a child, and got to do on the moon. Aim high and don’t give up your dream – that’s his underlying message. Photo-realistic paintings by Wendell Minor pay it suitable tribute.