Add some back-to-school buzz to your fun-in-the-sun summer by throwing Yoko, Splat or Wiggles into the beach bag for your kids, especially those prone to first-day jitters.
In addition to new and familiar characters to soothe and prepare is a two-tier counting book celebrating teachers and what they teach — from art to geometry.
Written by husband-and-wife educators Steven L. Layne and Deborah Dover Layne, "Number 1 Teacher: A School Counting Book" (Sleeping Bear Press, $17.95, ages 6-12) includes quick rhymes full of science terms (liquid, solid, gas), musical help (five lines in a staff), a memory tip for the colors of a rainbow (Roy G. Biv) and the number of parts of speech in a sentence (8).
The rhymes are accompanied by longer, fast-moving narratives offering older students fun facts and hard-core history.
Why do we give apples to teachers? The practice began in the 16th century because teachers weren't paid very well and apples were usually plentiful. What used to be a gift of a bushel from grateful parents became just one apple as teachers began to earn more.
The counting book begins at zero ("the age at which learning begins") and goes up to 100, with some of the subject areas a little much for the younger set. Watercolor illustrations from Doris Ettlinger are traditional and detailed.
Teachers don't exactly rule in another fun book for back-to-school, this one featuring a pirate — a hot theme in kid-lit these days.
In "Uncle Pirate" (Simon & Schuster, $15.99, ages 7-10) Wilson the fourth-grader is "recess roadkill" at rough-and-tumble Very Elementary, named for the first teacher who went crazy working there. Then his mother's brother, Bob, shows up years after running off to sea.
The peg-legged, eye-patched Bob was a terrible pirate, having never found buried treasure. His crew mutinied and left him on an icy island in Antarctica, where he met "Captain Jack," a straight-talking penguin. After Bob decides to become a landlubber, he and his first mate head for Wilson's school with raucous results.
Librarian Doug Rees wrote "Uncle Pirate" and Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist Tony Auth lends a hand in black-and-white.
Among other back-to-school keepers:
--"Yoko Writes Her Name" (Hyperion, $15.99, ages 3-6) written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells.
Having moved from Japan to the United States with her family, sweet-faced Yoko the kitten heads off to kindergarten, bursting with pride that she can write her name in Japanese. What she discovers there is a kind teacher but a couple of mean classmates who tease her for not writing in English. Wells and her green-eyed cutie prevail come graduation day.
--"Off to First Grade" (Simon & Schuster, $16.99, ages 4-8) by Louise Borden and illustrated by Joan Rankin.
Otto has a new pair of red sneakers and new-kid Li has some like-minded friends on the first day of first grade at Elm School. Simple vignettes cover just about every emotion a child could possibly have as the 23 animal youngsters in Mrs. Miller's class clutch lucky pennies, get help from older sibs and successfully handle the freak-out moment as they realize kindergarten is history.
--"Big Words for Little People" (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 4-8) by Jamie Lee Curtis and illustrated by Laura Cornell.
The eighth book from the best-selling Curtis-Cornell team offers words to live by for kids heading off to school: "persevere," "different," "responsible" among them. There's also "consequence," which is what happens when you lose recess for blowing a big gum bubble that explodes in class. Curtis prevails on little people to strut their "intelligence," work hard and have fun.
--"Hooray for Reading Day" (Simon & Schuster, $15.99, ages 5-8) by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by Arthur Howard.
With help from her dog Wiggles, a freckle-faced, first-grade worry wort is flummoxed by the mysteries of reading. When her teacher, Mr. Martin, decides to invite parents for a costumed "Reading Theater" presentation in class, Jessica's fretting kicks into high gear, until Mom reveals a secret.
--"Splat the Cat" (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 3-7) written and illustrated by Rob Scotton.
Scotton, whose sheep Russell is a best-seller, introduces spindle-legged worrier Splat as he shakes in his bed expecting the worst at Cat School. Scotton's richly detailed environmental print work brings Splat's world alive with lessons of love thyself and all creatures great and small as a stowaway in Splat's lunchbox touches off a chaotic cat-and-mouse adventure.
--"Greater Estimations" (Henry Holt, $16.95, ages 9-12) by Bruce Goldstone.
Math dude Goldstone follows up his 2006 "Great Estimations" with this fact-packed collection that shouts: "Numbers are fun!" How many hairs on a cat? Veterinarians know how to make a good estimation, and so can you.
Colorful photos of red blood cells, skydivers, rubber ducks and popcorn kernels cover length, volume, area and other measures.
--"Hamsters, Shells, and Spelling Bees: School Poems" (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 4-8) edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa.
A Level 2 reader, this eclectic collection touches on art class, science projects, school plays and the joys of a bulging lunch bag. It's perfect for revving up the kids for the start of school. The assortment of 20 poems includes odes to bus drivers, backpacks and pencil stubs, with contributions from Jane Yolen, Alice Schertle and J. Patrick Lewis.