A new story from Jane Godwin, just in time for starting school

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As the year draws to a close, some four-year-olds are already thinking about 2014. Some will be excited about what the new year brings and others might be a little apprehensive. Because for lots of kids, 2014 is the year they start school.

From author Jane Godwin and illustrator Anna Walker, the extremely talented team that brought us Cat and the Big Red Bus, All Through the Year and Today We Have No Plans, comes Starting School, a beautiful picture book that prepares kids for their first days at school.

The story focuses on the experiences of five very different children and their first day of school. As with Goodwin and Walker’s previous books, the brilliance is in the carefully observed details and the focus on the small things that kids notice – how easily a lunchbox opens, shoes that feel a little tight, big kids in the playground, standing in straight lines.

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As the children arrive at school, some want their parents to stay and others get stuck into activities. Having had four ‘first days’ with my own children, I know that these initial few minutes in the classroom vary dramatically – my eldest son barely looked over his shoulder to say goodbye as he tore into the classroom and started drawing. In contrast, my daughter had an iron grip on my hand and I was only able to slip away when she was immersed in some cutting and pasting.

Starting School includes many aspects of the first day – getting ready at home, introductions to classmates (notably the children are in school uniform, which is a big change for many kids who suddenly think that everyone looks the same!); finding their way around the school; playtime; classroom rules and lunchtime.

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My favourite section is titled ‘New things to get used to’ and includes managing canteen lines, using the toilets (accompanied by a very sweet illustration of a little girl ‘holding the door’ for her friend), and remembering all the things that you need for each day of school.

As always, Walker’s illustrations are perfection. She manages to create five very different personalities in the drawings alone, each distinguished by the tiniest thing – Sunita’s confidence, her arm straight in the air when asked a question; Tim’s nervous clasped hands; Joe dropping out of line to pick up a leaf. And there’s more to look at on each page as well as following the story – tiny drawings serving as lists run across the bottom of many pages  – ‘Things we do with friends’ is accompanied by drawings of a ball, a jigsaw, cards and so on; ‘Things we eat at school’ includes a watermelon wedge, a sandwich and a biscuit; ‘Work we do at school’ features tiny drawings done by each member of the class. It’s these kind of elements that have children revisiting story books over and over again.

Starting School was inspired by a book that Godwin made with her own daughter (who is now twenty-one) when she began school. There is great comfort in knowing that things haven’t changed all that much!

Find Starting School at all good book shops or online at Fishpond.

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Katrina Whelen

Katrina studied planning and design, did the hard yards working in a big office building and then traded it all in for a relaxing (!) life at home with four children. She now fills her time with writing, completing a degree in genetics and taxiing her children around Melbourne to their various sporting commitments (not necessarily in that order).

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