In just a few short weeks, classes will resume in schools across Central Texas. Whether your child is starting school for the first time or returning (with all their summer assignments completed, of course), there’s still time to ease back into an academic mindset by designating time for reading.
Here are some new titles to inspire you — from overtly school-themed picture books for the newest of students to diverting short fiction and novels for older readers.
Most students thrive on routine — much to the chagrin of those unsung heroes of the classroom, substitute teachers. Austinite Liz Garton Scanlon and co-author Audrey Vernick show how change doesn’t have to be bad in “Dear Substitute” (Disney/Hyperion, $17.99), a picture book encompassing a series of letters that chart a young narrator’s journey to acceptance. “Dear Library, The substitute says we’re not coming to you, even though it’s Tuesday, and I remembered my book” gives way to “Dear Story Time, We usually only get you on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Today’s an extra” as Miss Pelly slowly wins over the Mrs. Giordano fan club. Caldecott medalist Chris Raschka illustrates this sweet ode to adaptability. (Ages 3-5)
School is about learning to read, write and calculate, but just as important are the social and emotional skills children develop as part of a classroom and school community. “ABC Ready for School” (Free Spirit Publishing, $15.99) is a primer for those intangible but crucial skills. Author Celeste C. Delaney includes both expected rules like “Ask: You can ask questions if you don’t know or understand something” as well as conversation starters such as “Understand: Understand that people are all different. We look, dress, and talk differently.” The classrooms depicted by illustrator Stephanie Fizer Coleman are wonderfully inclusive throughout the entire volume, with students of different races and religions clearly represented as well as children using wheelchairs and arm crutches. (Ages 3-5)
Melly’s parents have the worst timing — and camp dropoff is no exception. Just before they take her and best friend Olivia to Camp Rockaway for two weeks’ worth of music, they announce that they’re divorcing. To make matters worse, Olivia and Melly are separated into different bands for the course of the camp, even though they’ve been playing together forever. Lisa Jenn Bigelow digs into the challenges that shape us in “Drum Roll Please” (HarperCollins, $16.99) with equal parts humor and pathos, showing how Melly explores different facets of her personality once freed from Olivia and her parents’ mostly benevolent shadows. Bigelow adroitly captures the highs and lows, with Melly thinking at one point “What could I tell Olivia besides, ‘Life doesn’t make sense anymore, and I hate it.’?” and feeling the thrills of her attraction to bandmate Adeline the next. It’s a coming-of-age story perfect for middle-schoolers who are trying to figure out exactly who they’re becoming. (Ages 8-12)
T’Shawn adores the pool, and would love to learn how to dive like the kids who leap off the board like it’s nothing, twisting and turning before they slip near-silently into the water. But money is tight in his family, especially with his mother still trying to pay off medical bills from when T’Shawn’s father died. And worse, Lamont is coming home. T’Shawn used to idolize his big brother, until he joined a gang and got arrested for robbery. “That was only two years ago,” thinks T’Shawn, who’s about to turn 13. “I’m supposed to be all grown up before he can come back to mess up my life again.” Debut middle-grade author Barbara Binns shows how T’Shawn’s “Courage” (HarperCollins, $16.99) helps him navigate Lamont’s return, the challenges in his Southside Chicago neighborhood and even an unexpected scholarship to an elite diving team. (Ages 8-12)
Jess knows if she doesn’t have a plan, she won’t survive. But it hasn’t been that long since she joined her estranged father in the Canadian wilderness, after the car crash that claimed her mother’s life and left her limping and in chronic pain. Kate Alice Marshall showcases the power of perseverance in “I Am Still Alive” (Viking/Penguin, $17.99), a thriller that chronicles Jess’ quest for survival after her father also perishes. Jess’ fierceness fuels her beyond her physical limits, bookending the twists and turns that reveal what led to her father’s death — secrets that could come back to claim her, too. “Alive” boasts a powerful heroine in Jess, whose indomitable spirit demands attention as it also propels the plot. (Ages 12 and older)
A teenage vampire, rival siblings and a mother who literally becomes the ghost in the machine all get star billing in “A Thousand Beginnings and Endings” (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, $17.99), an inviting anthology of reimagined classic myths and folklore from East and South Asia. The collection — edited by We Need Diverse Books leaders Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman — shines in its mix of genres, settings, and themes, all of which showcase deeply wrought characters despite the tales’ brevity. (Indeed, the shorter lengths might entice those with shorter attention spans.) Postscripts from each author explaining his or her inspiration and the thought process behind the newest version of these classics offer welcome insights. (Ages 13 and older).