Friday, September 6, 2013

The Night Before First Grade

I was invited to take part in Natasha Wing's Back-to-School blog tour this year.  It was a perfect fit for us, since Frances just started first grade last Wednesday.  We were lucky enough to receive The Night Before First Grade from Natasha (and you can too! - details at the end of the post).  I was amazed at how many of the details of the book felt like they came right  from Frances' experiences, and I can't wait to tell you about her review of the story.  But first, a summary of the plot so you can see why it fits Frances so well.

The night before school starts, Penny is so excited she can hardly stand it.  She is packing school supplies and her lunch and planning her outfit.  Penny and her best friend Jenny have matching outfits already picked out, and neither of them can wait to start the new year.  But when the day dawns, and the girls scurry off to school, there's a problem.  "The principal told us that some changes were made. 'We have some new students.  So we split the first grade.'"  You might predict the outcome - the best friends have been split up.  This sudden, unexpected change might make the day terrible for some first graders.  But Penny realizes "I had to be brave because I'm a first-grader."  And it turns out her new class isn't all that bad - she knows most of the other students already, and her teacher, Mr. Barr, is great.  Penny plucks up her courage and goes to say hello to someone she doesn't already know.  It turns out that the new girl and Penny have things in common - favorite colors and pet turtles.  When Penny and her new friend, Nina, join the crowd going to the lunchroom, looking for Jenny, there is one more surprise in store for Penny.

There are seventeen books in The Night Before series.  We read The Night Before Kindergarten last year too.  So many of the books in this series have to deal with everyday worries and events that I could have requested any title, and they would have all resonated with Frances and Gloria.  Wing really knows what this age child is interested in.  There's The Night Before the 100th Day of School, The Night Before the Tooth Fairy, and we even could have read The Night Before Preschool since Gloria's preschool started last week too.  Since all the books are based on Clement Moore's "Twas the Night Before Christmas", the poetry is familiar.  Wing does a great job of adapting it to her themes without making it wholly unrecognizable.  There is the twinkling and wondering of eyes, just like in the poem.  Impressively, the rhymes also never seem forced into this artificial structure, which is very tricky to do.

Now for our personal experience reading this story with Frances (I feel obligated to say that Gloria was there too, even though her opinion doesn't matter as much this time).  Frances was very surprised at how much Penny's experience on the first day of school echoed her own.  Some of this is because many first grade experiences are alike - for instance, the classroom routines or the bus ride.  Then there were some things that were just luck - the fact that Frances, too, has a male teacher.  But there were a couple of things that really spoke to Frances.

This year, Frances' school, unlike many of the other district schools, didn't tell students who their teacher would be next year at the end of the previous school year.  Many of our friends spent time in the classrooms and knew what they were in for, and we spent the summer jealous of them.  Frances wondered all summer who her teacher would be.  There was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the school's decision not to announce teachers, and it very much like what happens to Penny.  There is quite a bit of mobility in Frances' school, and the school could not be sure how many students there would be or in which first grade classroom children would end up.  When the teaching assignments were made, and the letter came in the mail, Frances had gotten the teacher she wanted.  On the downside, much like Penny, only a few of her friends were in her class.

Frances handled this change in much the same way Penny did.  She has become closer with other friends during the school day, and looks forward to spending recesses with a whole large group of  girl friends.  The Night Before First Grade definitely helped with this transition, as Frances realized that there were opportunities in her new class, and that she didn't have to be nervous about meeting new friends.  Just like the Girl Scout song, she can "Make new friends, and keep the old."

One of the other things that I liked about this book was the bus ride.  Frances took the bus last year, but didn't love it.  The district rule is that kindergarteners and first graders sit in seats with five-point harnesses for safety.  Frances felt that this was babyish, and she was frustrated with the amount of time it took her to get buckled and unbuckled.  Even in the last few days before school started, Frances didn't want to take the bus again this year.  But her bus experience has improved - maybe it's because a close friend is now riding the bus with her, maybe she's figured out how to buckle faster.  Regardless, she has adopted the attitude that Penny's dad celebrates in the book "What a big girl you are to be taking the bus."  Frances is enjoying the bus now.

I loved the book because it also recognizes the strange gap between kindergarten and first grade.  There is only one year's difference between them, but first graders seem so much older.  Penny sees kindergarteners in the hall and wonders "They all looked so young, were we ever that small?"  Frances is still my little girl, but this book celebrates how first graders have become older and wiser.  Our transition to school went so much more smoothly this year because Frances knew the ropes.  She knew where the bathroom was, the gym teacher's name, and where the library is.  Just like The Night Before First Grade, her night before school started was full of anticipation, not nerves.  Thank you, Natasha Wing, for sharing this with us.  I think the surest sign of the popularity of this book is that both Frances and Gloria continue to read it on a daily basis.

We are lucky enough to be hosting a giveaway for an autographed copy of The Night Before First Grade.   a Rafflecopter giveaway
But you should also go to Natasha's website for more titles in the series.  I also want to point out a reading of this book on YouTube here .  

Happy back to school to all of you whether you are a parent or a teacher, librarian or school employee.  Enjoy this book and the giveaway!  Good luck!  The giveaway closes next Friday night, September 13th.

The Night Before First Grade.  Natasha Wing; illustrated by Deborah Zemke.  Grosset & Dunlap, 2005.

The author sent this book to me as part of an organized blog tour for review.


  1. That's so neat that the story paralleled Frances's experience!

  2. Susan Murray! Thank you for sending back our Lost Postcard! There are two 4 1/2-year-olds in our household, both boys. They like the purple guy's feet, too. (My daughter Anna and I have been hiding handmade postcards in library books wherever we travel, for over a decade.)

    1. Mejaka,
      Thank you for your comment! And those lost postcards are a cool idea. Even though I was the one who read the book, it was so fun to share the idea behind it with my girls. And thank you for reading my blog - I hope that you find some great recommendations for your boys. I am going to post a blog *very soon* on a new book called Alphabet Trucks that they might like!

  3. I'll watch for it!

    After our last trip to Helena, Anna (13) got a little ahead of me and made a blog for the Lost Postcard Project. Unfortunately, I was not quite ready to tackle blogging them. For one thing, my scanner's in a closet. And then there are the boyos and home preschooling, and my eldest's son's wedding was coming. I'm one of those people who tends to like to do a lot of prep and research before taking something on (and who often gets bogged down in the prep-and-research step, admittedly).

    But I should, at some point, I really should!