Book Review: Stanley at School

StanleyThis is the sixth book in the Stanley series written by children's author Linda Bailey and illustrated by Bill Slavin. It was my first introduction to the Stanley series and the experience was a good one.

One of the best things about being an elementary school teacher is that I am exposed to children's books all day, every day. In graduate school, I had to take two or three classes just on children's literature alone in order to be fully qualified to teach. I love picture books and I find that, as I've noted elsewhere, it's kind of difficult to write a bad children's book. I mean, you really have to work hard to mess it up. Bailey and Slavin did not mess this book up at all. It was well written and a fancy story about some dogs and a dog name Stanley.

Part of the problem I had with reading this book is that it is the latest in the series of Stanley books. I had no context for how to interpret these characters. Early on I had to get to know the characters in the book (viz., Stanley's friends) and get a feel for who they are and what they are about. Some of that is revealed in their names. They have funny names like Nutsy and Gassy Jack, not terribly original, but fun. I imagine the boys in my classroom would have a proverbial field day with those sorts of names. Of course it's difficult to come up with such a creative name for his female friend, Alice, so Alice is just Alice. And Stanley is just Stanley. Back to my problem: now I have to go to the library and collect the other five because I want to know more about Stanley.

This is probably a good thing.

Humans play a minimal role in the book and the animals move all the action forward in a quick pace–there's a lot to do in 32 short pages. The first human words we hear are 'Bad dogs' from an unhappy custodian wielding a menacing broom. A chase ensues and more and more messes are made as the dogs run from place to place and eventually end up sitting in the principal's office where we hear from another human, "There now, my sweeties." The only voices we hear are those of the dogs and of two adults. There are no children's voices heard in the book at all, although we do see them in action at times. This may or may not be a bad thing; I don't know. Sometimes when reading children's books it is important to hear children's voices. In this case, maybe this is part of the author's purpose in writing. The kids are only shown in school, or going to school, or running around inside the school. The children are always smiling and happy in the story (with one exception). It is interesting that the dogs desired so greatly to be in this place called school where they encounter happy children doing fun things like recess, playing ball, and laughing with the dogs.

Teaching children lessons by anthropomorphizing animals is a time honored tradition. As an elementary school teacher, I see this a lot and, furthermore, I see a lot of dog books. This is another fine 'dog book' to add to my collection and to share with my students who often come into the classroom rather unhappy about being in school and all that being in school entails. Perhaps in reading this book to them, they will see that school isn't such a drag and that even dogs are anxious to get in and get around the building. I like that the dogs are enthusiastic about their plans for the day. Hopefully this will transfer to the students who read this book too. I also like that the principal in the book is kind to the dogs even after the dogs make a wreck her school building. There's probably an important lesson in this for adults.

The artwork is fluid and well done. When I saw fluid I mean to say that the edges are soft and rounded and have a comforting feel. Buildings are somewhat distorted. The dogs have different shapes even if they all seem to have the same feet. And we are always looking at the story from an outsiders point of view. We see the action and the dogs, but we are not the dogs. An opening scene features the dogs looking up at the door to the school. The distortion makes the building appear even bigger than it might be. I imagine this is how a young student might feel when seeing the building for the first time. The artwork gives us the opportunity to have a laugh at the chaos and mayhem and messes created by the dogs. The artwork definitely enhances the story and moves it forward.

I enjoyed this book immensely and I will most certainly be going to my local library to obtain more of the Stanley series. I will also be sharing these stories with my students.

5/5 Stars

Important Book & Author Things

  • Where to purchase Stanley at School Amazon (Hardcover, $17.95) or Kids Can Press (Hardcover, $17.95) (Available August 1, 2015)
  • Author: Linda Bailey
  • Author at Kids Can Press: Linda Bailey
  • Illustrator: Bill Slavin
  • Publisher: Kids Can Press
  • Resources from Kids Can Press: Stanley at School
  • More Stanley books from KCP: Stanley
  • Pages: 32 (picture book)
  • Year: 2015
  • Audience:Children (primarily), anyone who can read would enjoy it
  • Reading Level: K-2
  • Disclaimer: I was provided a free reader's copy courtesy of  Kids Can Press via NetGalley.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s