Brand-new Pencils, Brand-new Books

Written and illustrated by Diane deGroat
HarperCollins 2005
ISBN 006072613X
Ages 4 - 8

Buy this book from or from your local bookseller.

IRA-Children's Book Council Children's Choice 2006

It's the first day of first grade! Gilbert is excited and nervous at the same time. He has new school supplies -- but he'll also get a new teacher, and new kids in his class. Will the teacher be nice? Will Patti still be his best friend? In this humorous and reassuring story by Diane deGroat, Gilbert learns that first grade is not what he had expected. Lewis is a bully, and Philip already knows how to read big fat books! But Mrs. Byrd is nice, and she helps Gilbert discover that everyone has his or her own special talent.

From Kirkus Reviews - deGroat ably threads her way through some well-trod ground: the first day of school. Gilbert, our favorite opossum, has a classic case of the willies as he sets out on his first day of school: Will the teacher be nice, will he be able to do the work, will he make friends? Luckily, he already has one good friend, but then there are all those other unfamiliar faces, one belonging to the loud, bullying Lewis. Then the school day gradually begins to fall into place and Gilbert finds a comfortable niche therein: a new friend, an enjoyable playground, a book to read that is a pleasing challenge. He also learns that Mr. Pug, the principal, isn't grumpy. Pugs just always look grumpy. de Groat's watercolors - with their easygoing charm - evolve from expectant to relaxed as the kids find what first-graders have always found: School rarely meets their dire predictions, and even kids like Lewis have their time-honored place. It's the night before the first day of first grade, and conscientious Gilbert is anxiously checking his backpack to make sure he's ready, all the while reassuring little sister Lola that preschool with Mrs. Duck is going to be a lot of fun. But thinking about it on the way to school with his friend Patti, his first day begins to look pretty scary. What if their teacher Mrs. Byrd in not nice like Mrs. Duck? What if she sends them to the principal, who definitely looks mean? Patti doesn't share his worries. She's too busy chatting and laughing with a strange girl named Margaret.
In the morning circle, one student named Philip waves a big thick book and brags, "I know how to read!" Gilbert squirms as he realizes he can't read a big fat book like that. Gilbert's heart begins to sink as he notices that Patti is the only one in the class he knows. Figuring he'd better stick with her, he plops down in the desk beside her and Margaret, only to be accosted by a really big kid.
Nervously Gilbert looks around until he spots a desk with the sign G-I-L-B-E-R-T. Unfortunately, there's a kid already sitting there. Gilbert hesitantly points to the sign, and the kid hurriedly moves to the seat which says F-R-A-N-K, just in time for Mrs. Byrd to pass out thick reading and spelling books and write a lot of rules on the board. First grade looks likes it's going to be hard and lonely.
At lunch in the strange cafeteria, Gilbert sees that Patti is already paired with the ever-present Margaret again and sadly takes a seat all alone. Just as he's opening his lunchbox, Mrs. Byrd brings another nervous-looking student by.
Things begin to look up from that point on, as Gilbert gets to know his fellow students and realizes that all of the new first graders have their strengths and weaknesses. Philip may be a great reader, but Gilbert realizes that he's a better climber. By the end of the day, Gilbert has gotten to know Lewis and Frank, and Philip has helped him read two new books in the library corner.
"I made a new friend," says Gilbert to Patti's mom, "and so did Patti."
"No, I didn't," said Patti. "Margaret is my friend from dance class. She's an old friend, just like you are, Gilbert." Gilbert breathes a sigh of relief. He has a new friend and an old friend. Maybe first grade is going to be all right.
Diane Degroat's Brand-new Pencils, Brand-new Books a prequel to the popular "Gilbert and Friends" series, provides a bit of the backstory of the familiar classmates who feature in such holiday staples as Happy Birthday to You, You Belong in a Zoo (Gilbert and Friends) and Roses Are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink.