The Kids Are All Right

Starting School In A New Country, Book Worms, And More!

Happy Tuesday, kidlit friends! We spent the weekend going to birthday parties, making art, and reading lots of books as today is the last day of several summer reading challenges we’re participating in (and by ‘we’ I mean my daughter and I). It’s not a bad way to spend the weekend! This week I review picture books about starting school in a new country as well as two excellent new releases.

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Bookish Goods

Rainbow Worm Bookmark by Toasty Teacup

Rainbow Worm Magnetic Bookmark by ToastyTeacup

This adorable bookworm bookmark would be a great back-to-school gift! $5

New Releases

Cover of Vision by Perez

Vision: My Story of Strength by Precious Perez (middle grade)

Precious Perez is a blind Puerto Rican musician also known as “the blind reggaetonera.” This middle grade memoir relates how she became a musician and an activist for disability rights in music. As a young child, Perez loved music, and with the support of her family and teachers, and her own drive, she eventually studied music at the Berklee College of Music. This is an accessible and captivating memoir, and I had fun listening to her music after I read it!

Cover of First Night of Howlergarten by Shum

First Night of Howlergarten by Benson Shum (picture book)

Sophie is nervous about starting Howlergarten. What if she doesn’t change into a werewolf on her first full moon, and she gets kicked out?! Her parents reassure her that they will love her no matter what, and that it’s perfectly okay if she doesn’t transform. On the first night of Howlergarten, Sophie at first struggles with the activities, but soon she and the other children become friends, and the night isn’t nearly as fraught as she had worried. This is a funny and relatable picture book for kids who are feeling nervous about school. My forthcoming kindergartner and I have read it every day for the past week! I’m donating a copy to her kindergarten classroom, and the author also has activities to go along with the book on his website.

For a more comprehensive list, check out our New Books newsletter!

Riot Recommendations

Starting a new school is nerve-wracking no matter what, but when that school is in a new country it’s even more of a change. These four picture books depict children starting school in a new country, and will help kids experiencing a similar situation or help other kids be more understanding towards children who speak a different language and/or have different cultural practices.

Cover of Tomatoes in My Lunchbox by Manoli

Tomatoes in My Lunchbox by Costantia Manoli, illustrated by Magdalena Mora

Constantia’s experience at a new school immediately gets off to a rough start when the teacher can’t pronounce her name correctly. She wishes she had an easy name like one of the many Emmas in her classroom. She also feels set apart from the other students by the lunches her mother packs her, which usually have a whole tomato in them. But when she makes a friend to share tomatoes with, she doesn’t feel the need to be just like everyone else anymore. This picture book is based on the author’s experiences as a Cypriot attending school in London.

cover of Luli and the Language of Tea

Luli and the Language of Tea by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Hyewon Yum

All the other children in the playroom Luli attends speak a different language, and because of the language barriers, they play by themselves, and it’s often quiet. Then Luli has an idea. She brings in tea and cookies to share with the classroom, and suddenly everyone wants to talk and play with one another. While this takes place in a daycare-like situation, the story can be applied to any ESL classroom situation. It’s such an adorable book.

Cover of Isabel and Her Colores Go to School by Alessandri

Isabel and Her Colores Go to School by Alexandra Alessandri, illustrated by Courtney Dawson

Isabel is very nervous about starting school, especially because she doesn’t speak much English. She much prefers the many colors of Spanish, her native language. While Isabel does struggle to understand everything that’s being said that first day, she connects with a new friend through art and decides that maybe school won’t be so bad after all. This sweet picture book is fully bilingual in English and Spanish.

Cover of Starting Over in Sunset Park by Palaez

Starting Over in Sunset Park by José Pelaez & Lynn McGee, illustrated by Bianca Diaz

Eight-year-old Jessica has recently moved from the Dominican Republic to Brooklyn, New York, and she misses the DR so much, especially her grandmother and friends. She doesn’t speak English, but her teacher offers to help. It takes a while for Jessica and her mom to settle into Brooklyn and find a home, but the longer they stay, and the more they explore their new home, the more Jessica enjoys it. This is a broader picture book than the others, focusing not just on school but the struggles of finding work and an affordable home as an immigrant.

Kindness pledge, the kids are all right

My daughter starts kindergarten a week from the day I’m writing this and has been excitedly reading books about kindergarten. This “Kindness Pledge” poster is actually the book cover of KINDergarten by Vera Ahiyya, and, of course, my daughter wanted to hang it up in her room immediately! It’s slightly crooked but oh well. 🙂

If you’d like to read more of my kidlit reviews, I’m on Instagram @BabyLibrarians, Twitter @AReaderlyMom, and blog irregularly at Baby Librarians. You can also read my Book Riot posts. If you’d like to drop me a line, my email is

Until next time!

Margaret Kingsbury