For some children, the end of August means preparing to go to school for the very first time. For them August has been designated Get Ready for Kindergarten Month. If you are hunting for a book that might help the very young overcome some of their anxieties about school, today we’ll look at Kevin Henkes’s Wemberly Worried and tomorrow, Antoinette Portis’s Kindergarten Diary.
First published in 2000, Wemberly Worried appears to be one of the many Kevin Henkes titles headed for classic status. As a young artist, Kevin got a head start on creating books for children. He always knew he wanted to write and illustrate books, and he got his foot in the door of a publisher when he was nineteen. Since then, he has crafted one fabulous book after another.
Although Kevin is now married with children of his own, he is one of those gifted creators who has never forgotten what it feels like to be small and young and vulnerable. His books always have a truth to the way children think and feel.
In our book of the day, Kevin opens the story with these words: “Wemberly worried about everything.” And readers get to see all the things that concern our mouse heroine—such as shrinking in the bathtub. Although everyone in her family tries to tell her not to worry—including her pretty hip grandma mouse sporting a “Go with the Flow” T-shirt—Wemberly just can’t help the thoughts that go through her mind. The radiator might contain a snake; a tree might fall on their house. So when school looms, she worries about the beginning of school. On a two-page spread her worries are even listed in large type: a mean teacher, a smelly room, finding the bathroom.
But of course, in Kevin Henkes’s universe, everything turns out for the best. Wemberly finds a friend and discovers that her teacher, Mrs. Peachum, may not be so bad. By the end of the first day, she jauntily walks out of the room, telling everyone she’ll return. “I will,” she says. “Don’t worry.”
By creating a character full of neuroses, Kevin Henkes allows children to laugh at their own fears and feel that, in the end, going to school might just not be so bad after all.
So to relieve your children’s anxiety—and your own—about the beginning of a new school year, pick up Wemberly Worried. I should probably read it to my graduate students on the first day of class—it applies equally to them.
Here’s a page from Wemberly Worried: