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Review: New picture books from Adam Rex and Christian Robinson, Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, and Sandra Feder and Aimée Sicuro

School's First Day of School

Written by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson, Roaring Brook Press, 40 pages, $24.99

Growing up in the age of Pixar, few things stressed me out more than the idea that all inanimate objects were sentient. If my toys had an inner life, what did they think about me? This new book is set to reassure the anxious, overthinking child. Frederick Douglass Elementary is a brand new school, and is nervous about meeting the schoolchildren. (Yes, the school is anthropomorphized.) When the kids show up, the school is excited to finally have a purpose – until it hears them talking about him. The kids hate school and don't want to be there. The school in turns resents them, suffering a totally understandable existential crisis in the process. But soon the school starts to listen in on classes and decides that, even if there are bad parts in its day, being a place where children come together to learn and play isn't such a bad thing. It will be a favourite for kindergarten teachers looking for a read-aloud story to win over a new class on the first day back.

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Ada Twist, Scientist

Written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 32 pages, $21.95

Beaty and Roberts struck gold with their previous collaborations Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer about curious schoolchildren who love to build and tinker. Here, they visit Iggy and Rosie's classmate, Ada (the books are connected, but each works as a standalone). From a young age, Ida was a peculiar child, never speaking, until one day she bursts out with a barrage of questions. She pesters her parents, wanting to know why everything in the world is the way it is: Why do clocks tick? Why are there hairs on the inside of your nose? Her parents indulge her for a bit (and here, it should be pointed out, is where the illustrations shine – Ada's mother is depicted in some killer retro ensembles) but Ada's curiosities lead to experiments, which lead to a mess, which leads to a timeout. Eventually, Ada's parents realize that their daughter has a passion, and that even when she can't figure out answers herself, the questions she asks are worth investigating. Yes, it's a book with a moral, but one for the parents to learn; Ada herself is doing just fine.

The Moon Inside

Written by Sandra Feder, illustrated by Aimée Sicuro, Groundwood Books, 32 pages, $18

Ella's favourite colour is yellow. It's the colour of the sun, the source of lightness and life. When the sun goes down and darkness sets in, she starts to panic, turning on every lamp in the house and gripping her mother's hand in fear. Yellow totally takes over Ella's waking hours, from the wallpaper in her house to the daffodils on the kitchen table to the clothes she wears, all rendered in a thick, luminous gouache. One night, Ella's mother introduces her to a new type of yellow: the soft, butter-yellow moon of the horizon brings with it glowing fireflies. Against the dark backdrop of the night sky, these yellows get a chance to act as the spotlight. Ella doesn't learn to confront her fears; she learns to approach them with a new perspective. Perhaps that's all six of one and half-dozen of the other, but by the end of the book, she decides to turn off the lamp and fall asleep in the moonlight, looking completely at peace.

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