First Day at Zoo School

It's the first day of Zoo School and outgoing Amanda the Panda is ready. She's excited and can't wait to go! But for anxious Alfred the Alligator, the first day fills him with dread. Why does he have to go? Isn't he smart enough already? When Amanda gets to school and sees that everyone seems to have a best friend, she decides that Alfred would be the perfect best friend for her. But what does it mean to be a best friend? Does it mean enjoying the same things or feeling the same way? Amanda doesn't notice that Alfred doesn't like sitting at the front of the classroom. And she doesn't notice that Alfred is miserable when she picks him to play Tag. In fact, Amanda doesn't notice much about Alfred at all. She's too busy enjoying everything all around her. And it's up to Alfred to point out to her how he is feeling. A thoughtful story that explores what it means to be a best friend.

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Interest Level Kindergarten - Grade 2
Reading Level Grade 1
Dewey E
Lexile AD420L
ATOS Reading Level 1.7
Guided Reading Level L
Language English
Publisher Sleeping Bear Press
Available Formats Hardcover (9781585368907), PDF (9781627537698), Hosted ebook (9781627537957)
Copyright 2014
Number of Pages 40
Dimensions 9 x 9
Graphics Full-color illustrations
  • 2014 Creative Child Award - Preferred Choice Kids Book Category, Winner, 2014

School Library Journal - First Day at Zoo School

PreS-Gr 1—When Amanda heads out for the first day of Zoo School, she sees that everyone has a best friend except her, so she quickly fixes that. “Hey, Gator! Let’s walk to school together! We can be Best Friends!” Poor Alfred, who doesn’t even want to go to school, is no match for the enthusiastic panda. He spends the day unhappily doing all the things that she wants (sitting in the front row, sharing his cookie at lunch, playing tag) until he finally snaps when she insists they walk home together. “I am NOT walking home with you. You are NOT my best friend. My name is NOT Gator. It’s Alfred!” Predictably, they both go home feeling bad. The next day, Amanda is quiet and Alfred is lonely and guilty. Pushed to the edge by worry when she spends recess hanging upside down, Alfred makes amends. Then Amanda calls him by his given name, and they play happily ever after. The text is the perfect combination of narration and word balloons that lets the story be seen from both sides. Dillard successfully mixes traditional spreads with comic book-style panels. Often the characters or their thoughts slip a little outside the frames, adding an extra dimension to the art. The pictures are crisp and clearly show a wide range of emotions. Pair this title with Peter Brown’s You Will Be My Friend! (Little, Brown 2011) for an aggressively friendly storytime.

Kirkus Reviews - First Day at Zoo School

Dillard explores friendship between two opposites.

It’s the first day of Zoo School. Amanda, a panda, is excited and ready. Alfred, an alligator, isn’t so sure: “Is this really necessary?” When the overbearing and bossy Amanda decides timid “Gator” will be her new best friend, does Alfred have any say? He reluctantly sits where she wants, shares his cookie with her and plays tag, though readers can clearly see his patience wearing thin. It finally snaps when Amanda wants to walk home together: Alfred declares that he won’t walk home with her, she’s not his best friend, and his name is Alfred, not Gator. Instead of relief, though, Alfred feels awful. The next day, the two are not friends, and each misses the other until Alfred finally takes the first step toward reconciliation. While the friendship aspect of the story seems pretty weak and the resolution is unrealistic, Dillard’s illustrations, a mix of spots and comic panels, deftly express the characters’ thoughts and feelings; while Amanda’s speech bubble reads “I LOVE sitting in the FRONT!” Alfred has a thought bubble picturing himself, alone, in a spotlight, under the glare of the grouchy-looking Mrs. Wattles. Amanda’s exuberance cannot be contained, as her out-thrown arms attest. Meanwhile, Alfred’s arms hide behind his back; would that he could hide there too. Eyebrows are especially expressive.
Can opposites be friends? Yes, but real friendship is not the one-way street depicted here.

Publishers Weekly - First Day at Zoo School

Dillard makes excellent use of comic-book elements like sequential panels and speech balloons in this witty, well-observed story. Amanda, an exuberant panda, is delighted to be at school, but Alfred, the introverted alligator, who she decides is her new best friend, is less eager. “Why do I have to go to school?” he wonders. “I know so much already.” Amanda’s ebullience only grates on Alfred’s nerves, resulting in a blowup that gets resolved the next day. Dillard keeps the story’s messaging subtle, and her crisp images and candid storytelling capture the give-and-take inherent in many early friendships.

Author, Illustrator: Sarah Dillard

Author and illustrator Sarah Dillard grew up in Harvard, Massachusetts. She studied Art and English Literature at Wheaton College and Illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. She lives on a mountain in Waitsfield, Vermont, with her best friends: her husband and their chocolate lab.

Narrator: Tamara Ryan

Author/Illustrator biography
Full-color illustrations