Your First Day of Circus School – Tara Lazar and Melissa Crowton, Tundra Books, 2019
Ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages! Step right up to Your First Day of Circus School. This madcap map of a first day at school will reassure an apprehensive child, not through patient explanations that school will be great, but by offering an inventive metaphor for just how great it will be. In fact, it will be the greatest show on earth. Don’t worry; no animals were harmed in the making of this book!
The little boy in the story is awoken by his older brother blaring into a megaphone, and he is propelled out of bed with a look of terror on his face. Why should he want to leave his room, an inviting setting for imaginative play, as proven by all the fun toys and scattered items surrounding him? A circus playset in the lower right corner leads to the next page, where he begins to warm to the idea of school, even if he is still a bit confused about what it will entail. That’s what controlling big brothers are for; his shows him that “you’ll/find your way/around,” and gives him practical advice: “Don’t let the kids in the/ HIGHER GRADES /run you over.” Many of the lines are combined with visual puns; the kids in the higher grades are elevated on stilts, and “The cafeteria/can be a real ZOO” is accompanied by an assortment of animals and children eating, socializing, and performing daredevil feats in the lunchroom.
Some of the puns, as well as the clichés and aphorisms updated with visual interpretations, may be unfamiliar to kids. Like many of the best children’s books, this one operates on more than one level. Adults know that their kids will have “a lot to/JUGGLE/on your first day,” while young readers will instantly acquire that expression by seeing an image of their peers happily juggling small objects. “HIGH EXPECTATIONS” can be attained by climbing a ladder. Instead of a mundane school bus, the time worn joke about the endless number of clowns fitted into a tiny car, becomes a cheerful allusion to a community of excited kids ready for school.
Does the book raise expectations that will be contradicted by real school, where you can’t actually sit backwards on your desk while wearing a cape, and where the tall kid in front of you isn’t an elephant? Only the most literal-minded child, or caregiver, will fail to recognize that imagination and reality can coexist in young minds, especially when thinking about and working through new situations. Your teacher, even if she is not named “Miss Stupendous,” does want you to enjoy learning. Your fellow students are also hesitant on the first day. Your first day of school should indeed by “awesome,” even without the cannon blast conclusion pictured here.
Kids will love this book. Parents, look for the picture of the poodle writing on a typewriter.