Considering how quickly the "first day"comes and goes, what could possibly be done with the topic that hasn't been done before?
There are plenty of answers to that question, but the best answer, for this post, is that the very creative and talented JODY JENSEN SHAFFER had not yet written one.
|Beach Lane Books. July, 2018|
IT'S YOUR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, BUSY BUS! is written by Jody and illustrated by Claire Messer. And it's delightful. It was worth waiting for, and I urge you to buy early, and share widely. The book design itself is absolutely a winner: oversized and perfectly square, showcasing the expressive eyes of BUSY BUS. His eyes and smile are aimed at the back cover where eager first-day-kids await his arrival.
From those front and back covers, the title page, and the opening double-page spread (below), it's obvious that the design is an ideal fit for the personality of this appealing bus. The story of how safety-conscious Ben the bus driver prepares "newby", Busy Bus also fits perfectly in that enormous "bus barn"
With only a few brush strokes or strategically placed lines, each bus is as distinct and unique as the newcomer, that chunky little character on the far right. His enthusiastic "HONK!" reflects his eagerness to get underway, meet the kids, and find out if they like him.
On every spread the illustrator's use of lino-prints, black ink, and primary colors suits the subject and the illustrations are as kid-friendly as can be. Messer's use of bus elements (headlights, grill, and those adorable wiper-eyebrows) and subtle motion-lines combine with Shaffer's onomatopoetic sounds and simple terminology for various bus parts to make an engaging story that invites repeated reading.
Once the eager little bus has been thoroughly checked and prepped for that important first day, his nerves kick in and reflect the ambivalent emotions of many first-timers:
Will I get homesick?
Will I make friends?
When Ben installs the yellow-dude's name, Busy Bus's confidence is restored and he's ready to roll.
For some kids the power of that "name plate" may be found in a particular pair of shoes, a favorite cap, or even a reassuring name tag, any of which can reinstate enthusiastic energy and reassure other first-timers that it will, indeed, be a great year!
I featured the imaginative and insightful work of Jody Jensen Shaffer in a previous post about her picture book, PRUDENCE, the PART TIME COW, here. I'm delighted that she was willing to answer a few questions about the "story behind the story" for this latest release. Thank you, Jody, for sharing your process and responses with us.
SB: I’m always curious about the origins of ideas for picture books, especially ones like this. Certainly, “First day of school” books are nearly a genre of their own, and finding an original take on that is quite an accomplishment. In this case, though, your “Busy Bus” is also facing the “first ever” day of school- a distinctly different experience from resuming school year after year. That shows clearly on the “faces” of the other, more experienced, buses. What can you tell us about the origins of this book idea and some ways it may have transformed throughout your writing journey.
JODY: I began playing with first-day-of-school picture book ideas in October of 2010, a genre that is, as you mention, already packed with great books, when I landed fairly firmly on the idea of a school bus's first day. Vehicles + first-day-of-school jitters = what's not to love? But I knew I had to make my book different than what was already on the market. So I thought back to when I was in elementary school and rode the bus. There were times I wasn't sure I would be safe riding the bus, especially on icy roads or steep hills! So I wrote a book to help kids like me who were pretty sure they'd be safe but who could use some reassurance. I decided the element that would set apart my vehicle + first-day-of-school jitters book was safety, and specifically, the safety checklist that bus drivers use before they pick up children.
The manuscript went through tons of revisions, thanks to my awesome critique buddies and agent. There was initially a boy in the text. We took him out. There was also a lost puppy. We left him in. Until we took him out. There was an element of telling time. We took it out and never looked back. In the end, Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane, loved the distilled version and made an offer in 2016. I was overjoyed!
SB: And I'm happy it came about, because the is definitely a wonderful addition to the field of first day titles. You had me going for a moment, though. I asked myself- "WHAT DOG?!?" until I read on and found the dog didn't make the cut.
Do you have other personal experiences with school buses as a form of transportation? Did any of those enter into your creative process for this story?
JODY: My bus driver in elementary school, Taffy, was one of my favorite people in the whole world. He was also my next door neighbor. We not only shared a morning commute; we shared a row of white peonies. He kept us all safe, all those years, despite my worries.
SB: What a delightfully personal story, and what a kid-friendly name for a bus driver, TAFFY! I can picture Ben the bus driver being someone's friendly and helpful neighbor, too.
The book design by Lauren Rill and illustrations by Claire Messer feel absolutely PERFECT for the BUSY BUS personality. Were you consulted during the process? Please share your reactions to the final version.
JODY: I was so thrilled to learn that Claire had signed onto the project! I love her style. I was delighted to see thumbnail sketches early on and subsequent versions of BUSY BUS as time progressed. It's absolutely perfect! Thank goodness no one asked me to "help" with the design or illustrations!
SB: Anything else you care to share about this book? Or an upcoming book?
JODY: I really hope BUSY BUS strikes a chord with parents, caregivers, and especially kids. The first day of school can be traumatic. I hope they find Busy Bus's experiences comforting and fun.
SB: I'm sure they will, and parents will, too, I suspect. The safety check aspects of the book are such an important story element, mirroring (pardon the bus-mirror pun) the many ways that families work to prepare kids for the oh-so-important first day, including the safety reminders that inevitably convey just a bit of parental anxiety, too.
Thank you, Jody, for your thoughts here and for creating a VERY comforting and fun new picture book.
I grew up within walking distance (and sight) of my elementary school, and when the time came to move on to high school I took a city bus. I had few personal experiences with school buses as a child, other than some very rare field trips. As a teacher, though, I was well aware that the yellow school buses loomed large in the lives of kids. I urge those who have a wee one starting a very first day in fall, especially if they'll be riding a school bus, to get your hands and eyes on this book, sooner rather than later. Share it. then rinse and repeat between now and September. And while you're at it, track down an old copy of SCHOOL BUS, by Donald Crews. They will pair perfectly, offering opportunities to compare and contrast a crisply graphic nonfiction bus with this story-based bus. I'm confident that BUSY BUS will become just as beloved and enduring as this classic bus from the past.