In Australia, the new school year doesn’t start until the end of January, but in many parts of the world, the summer holidays are almost over. August/September mark the beginning of a new term and the first day of primary school for a whole intake of young children. It can be a daunting time for new pupils and many picture books that I have read focus on allaying children’s fears of the unknown as they take this important step in their learning journey.
But let’s not forget that a child’s first experience of school can be a challenging time for their parents, too. They have devoted the last 4-5 years to caring for their son or daughter; they have seen them grow in confidence and ability. Their child’s first day at school may represent a big life shift for them. Don’t Go to School! is a refreshing portrayal of the fears and anxiety they may be experiencing. Or more specifically, Mommy!
There are two main characters in this story, which was originally published in Irish by indie publishing house Futa Fata. In my version from the US, they are Mommy and Benno, two very appealing and expressive brown bears (complete with gorgeous outfits and, in Benno’s case, a pair of large, round black-rimmed glasses). On the day he is due to start school, Benno is excited. He leaps out of bed, gets dressed and helps himself to breakfast. Mommy Bear, however, is slow to surface; she doesn’t want Benno to go to school at all! It is Benno who takes her by the hand and tries to put her at her ease. And so it continues as Mommy and Benno confront all the situations every parent and child have to face on their first day at school. As Mommy Bear struggles, Benno supports her and he shows confidence and maturity in his words and actions. He really is a great role model for young children about to start school!
Don’t Go to School! is both touching and entertaining – I so enjoy reading a back-to-school book where the traditional narrative has been turned on its head. Another big fan is Miss 4, who starts school next year. I am sure that we’ll be reading this story again and again in the lead-up to the big day. The choice of animals rather than people adds to the book’s gentle appeal: the cast of furry friends (koalas, pandas and bears) is simply gorgeous. And each page features brightly coloured backdrops (Benno’s family home, a local ice cream parlour, lollipop trees in the school playground.) Readers big and small will find treats aplenty when they explore the illustrations more closely.
If you are looking for a back-to-school book that will appeal to parents and pupils alike, then pop this one in your backpack!
Don’t Go to School! by Máire Zepf, illustrated by Tarsila Krüse (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017).
Máire (Myra) Zepf is Northern Ireland’s first Children’s Writing Fellow. She is based at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast. She has written five children’s books and two works of historical fiction. She also translated Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kulhmann from German to Irish.
Tarsila Krüse is a children’s book illustrator with a background in teaching. As well as creating illustrations for picture books and other fun projects, she also reviews children’s books for Inis Magazine. Originally from Brazil, she has been based in Ireland for the last ten years and currently lives in Dublin.
Don’t Go to School! was originally published in Irish by Futa Fata, an indie publishing house that specialises in children’s books and audio recordings in the Irish language. It won a Children’s Book Award from the Literacy Association of Ireland in 2017 and was also shortlisted by IBBY Ireland for the 2018 IBBY Honour List.