Synopses & Reviews
Oliver is nervous about the first day of school, so he picks up an alligator at the swamp, just in case. And boy, does it come in handy! Whenever anything scares Oliver be it a teacher, a classmate, or the prospect of learning everything the alligator makes the problem go away. Quickly, school becomes much simpler... and a little lonely. But Oliver knows just what to do! Paul Schmid's gentle, funny tale about overcoming first day of school jitters is destined to become a modern classic that fans of Olivia and Kevin Henke's books will love.
Oliver, first seen cradling a toy alligator and staring at an uneaten breakfast, dreads the first day of school. He "felt his brave wasn't nearly as big as he needed it to be," so he invites an alligator to join him. When a "lady who wasn't his mom" greets him and asks his name, he musters only two words: "Munch, munch!" Each time Oliver feels anxious, this response makes his alligator swallow the perceived threat. Soon his friendly fellow students and some intimidating educational materials are inside the ballooning reptile. Schmid (Perfectly Percy) sketches Oliver in a few angular dashes of pastel pencil. The soft, crayony lines belie Oliver's anxiety, and his alligator, for all its alleged ferocity, never shows any teeth (and lacks even a visible mouth). Readers are left to imagine the offstage "munch, munch" and later learn-as Oliver questions his limiting desire for solitude-that the students are having fun inside the beast, while Oliver (temporarily) stays outside. Schmid focuses on how a child uses imagination to devour, and finally to conquer, a fear of socializing. Ages 3 5.--PW
Little Oliver is so nervous about starting school that he takes along an obliging alligator, "just in case things got rough." The boy is quickly overwhelmed at school when "a lady who wasn't his mom" asks him his name, so he tells the alligator, "Munch, munch!" and down the alligator's hatch goes the teacher. When a fellow classmate introduces herself, Oliver wants to reply but can only manage, "Munch, munch!" and the girl goes the way of the teacher. This process is repeated with the remaining students until Oliver is alone with his (now extremely rotund) reptile. "School is maybe kind of a little boring," thinks Oliver, until he realizes that it's happily going on without him, inside the alligator. With a final "Munch, munch!" Oliver joins his class, and the final spread shows him apparently not inside the alligator at all, but running to join his classmates at play. (A small picture on the closing verso reveals the alligator, a stuffed toy, tucked into Oliver's bed.) This is an entertaining guide to the topic of school anxiety, and many children may feel empowered by the thought of a protective alligator pal who can simply swallow up any slightly scary obstacles. Schmid's simple, succinct text perfectly partners with his modestly elegant art, in which carefully composed pastel pencil drawings are colored digitally using a minimal palette of soft pastels. Share this in the days leading up to the start of school or in those first few days in the classroom. JH--BCCB
As the first day of school approaches, Oliver, a timid boy dressed in an oversize woolly sweater, isn't feeling very brave. He takes an alligator to school with him "in case things get rough." When he meets his teacher and she asks his name, all Oliver can say is "Munch, munch!" The alligator conveniently swallows her. Inside the classroom, Oliver finds a lot of noisy kids who make him nervous. He wonders if they will fit inside his alligator. To his relief, they do. Alone in the quiet classroom, he waits for school to begin, but then he hears singing and laughing. Inside the alligator, the teacher and the other kids are having school. Without him. Once again, Oliver says, "Munch, munch," so he can join in the fun. The gentle pastel illustrations are infused with appealing school-related details and add humor to the story. The helpful alligator becomes rounder and rounder as Oliver tries to cope with his fear. The pink-cheeked little boy and his classmates are simply sketched but brimming with individuality. Young readers who are about to begin school will identify with the hero of this quirky story. For a more reassuring, family-centered look at first-day jitters, try Toby Forward's What Did You Do Today? The First Day of School (Clarion, 2004) or Lauren Child's I Am Too Absolutely Small for School (Candlewick, 2004). Linda L. Walkins, Saint Joseph Preparatory High School, Boston, MA--SLJ
Going into the darkness beyond Petunia Goes Wild! (2012), Schmid enters the tongue-in-cheek metaphorical alligator/crocodile waters of Candace Fleming (Who Invited You?, illustrated by George Booth, 2001) and Joe Kulka (My Crocodile Does Not Bite, 2013). Oliver isn't too sure about starting school-will his "brave" be big enough?-so he stops by the swamp and picks up his own tough: an alligator. "Just in case things got rough." When he is asked his name by a lady (not his mom) and can't remember, two little words take care of the difficulty: "Much, munch!" The same happens to a friendly little girl when Oliver's answer gets stuck. A classroom full of noisy kids? Decorations that intimidate with all Oliver must learn? Not a problem for the now-rotund alligator. But now the problem is, "School is maybe kind of a little boring." But where is that singing and laughter coming from? And can Oliver solve his newest quandary? Munch, munch! The simple, spare pastel pencil and digitally colored illustrations masterfully use both white space and the page turn to add to the humor. Retro pinks, yellows, blues and greens highlight details in the otherwise gray-and-white illustrations, while the three stripes on the alligator (and his never-open mouth) give him an appealing, nonthreatening look. On the first day, both the light and the dark sides of kindergartners will go to school, their kissing hands clutching a stuffed alligator, self-confidence soaring. (Picture book. 4-7)--Kirkus
Oliver is quiet, shy, and a bit short on bravery. Facing his first day of school, Oliver picks up an alligator at his local swamp to help him make it through those fraught first interactions. When directed to "munch, munch," the alligator helpfully swallows Oliver's teacher and his classmates to spare the boy further anxiety. Finally, alone in his classroom and rather bored, Oliver hears the sounds of fun coming from inside his new companion. Ready to embrace the joy of community, he comes up with an unexpected solution. Schmid gives a standard tale a new twist by using a carnivorous reptile, usually an easy object of fear, as a vehicle for courage and security instead. Oliver's fears will be easily accessible to his young audience, and Schmid (Petunia Goes Wild, 2012) uses solid but gently curving lines and light pastels to encompass both Oliver's glum trepidation and, later, his exuberant realization, giving the book a visual through line and a sense of happy fulfillment. A comfortable story to help ease young readers with their own transitions. - Jesse Karp--Booklist Online
About the Author
Paul Schmid is the author and illustrator of A Pet for Petunia, Petunia Goes Wild, and Hugs from Pearl. In 2010, he was awarded a month-long fellowship with Maurice Sendak. He lives in Seattle, with his wife, Linda and their daughter Anna, but no alligators. Visit him at www.paulschmidbooks.com.