Tuesday , October 27 2020
First Day Critter Jitters

Book Review: ‘First Day Critter Jitters’ by Jory John with Illustrations by Liz Climo

After reading Liz Climo’s Please Don’t Eat Me last month, I was curious to dive into her other work. Climo is popular on social media for her wholesome comics and children’s books about animals. In addition, she illustrates children’s books by other authors. This week, I picked up a copy of First Day Critter Jitters by Jory John, who is a New York Times bestselling author and two-time E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor recipient.

As with Climo, John’s books often focus on the plight of animals in a hilarious way. With that shared interest, it makes sense that they present a winning team showcasing John’s amusing narration and Climo’s dynamic and cute drawings. They collaborated previously with Can Somebody Please Scratch My Back? in 2018.

First Day Critter Jitters is their newest release this year. It tells the story of young animals who, like many human kids, are nervous about the first day of school. We’re introduced to several cute critters with fears about all sorts of issues: the snake can’t carry a backpack no matter what he tries, the kangaroo misses the safety of mother’s pouch, and the near-sighted mole is afraid he won’t see what’s on the chalkboard. The young bear asks, “Can’t I just dream about school?”

After each two-page introduction, the critters are off to school with a collective “sigh” and “gulp” along the way. However, they aren’t the only ones with the jitters, as they discover in the classroom. Their teacher, an armadillo, is also worried about first day impressions despite being the adult in the room.

The rest of the book demonstrates how every critter’s worries are largely unfounded. It turns out that everyone had something unique and interesting to contribute to making the school experience a happy time for all. The positive sentiment is best summed up by one of the student’s remarks, “We’re all in this together.”

Perhaps it is an overused saying, but the quote does not come across as cliché in First Day Critter Jitters. Rather, the montage scene that follows is heartwarming as the kangaroo shares his book with snake, while the mole finally gets a seat in the front of the class. Gone are the collective “gulp” and “sigh” speech balloons. In their place, readers see “munch munch munch” as the critters take a relaxing break and eat.

There are hilarious moments throughout the school day, but I’ll only mention a couple today so you can enjoy the surprises, too. I loved that the bunny found quiet time to relax and read The Tortoise and the Hare. Although that’s a book bunnies might find interesting, I wasn’t expecting that when I turned the page! These clever touches are spot on.

I also loved near the end how the critters had the opportunity to express how relieved they were about the day. However, their experiences don’t necessarily parallel all the time with what’s expected out of human kids. Snake, who couldn’t take a backpack to school, exclaims at one point, “I guess my backpack wasn’t that important after all!”

Nice try, kids, but you need to take a backpack to school every day! Otherwise, I suspect you’ll be docked a few participation points by the teacher.

I applaud Climo for the mastery in her art skills throughout the book. There are just enough pen strokes to delineate a critter’s form, depict what its interested in, and demonstrate its slow or quick movements. Every critter’s unique personality shines through on each page, perfectly complimenting John’s narration and dialogue. Readers of all ages have a lot to enjoy from the artwork and the story.

There’s a lot of worrying right now in the world but as First Day Critter Jitters points out, it’s okay to admit those fears. By extending a helping hand and likewise being open to help from others, we can move through our unique challenges together. It’s an encouraging lesson that is timely to share with the kids in our circle of family and friends.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros earned a B.A. in Art History at the University of Virginia on a full scholarship. Pat is a frequent reviewer of all things Washington, D.C., but she's also covered events in Canada and London. Highlights in her work include articles on Simon Callow, Ian McKellen, Mark Rylance, Derek Jacobi, and Ndaba Mandela.

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