In Bleckwehl’s debut picture book, a habitually late first grader makes a surprising new friend after he finds himself at school on a teacher workday.
Poor Henry is always late for school. His mother and father oversleep, his sister can never find her polka-dotted socks and his little brother is always in need of a diaper change. Henry dreads being driven to school late—again—because he knows the school secretary, Miss Timberlane, will yell at him. But today is different. When Henry arrives at school, he notices Miss Timberlane is looking and acting very strange: She’s wearing a sweatshirt instead of her usual nice outfit—and she’s smiling at him. “Today is a teacher workday,” she tells Henry. He doesn’t even have to be at school today! Henry’s upset: What is he supposed to do while he waits for his mom to come and pick him up? Miss Timberlane cheers him up by recruiting him to help with tomorrow’s morning announcements and letting him swing around in the principal’s chair. Henry is surprised to learn Miss Timberlane really is a nice person after all. The narrative, while amusing in parts, is disjointed. Readers would be better served, for example, if Henry’s overview of his family’s early morning routine wasn’t spliced with his thoughts on Miss Timberlane and how she’ll react to his being late yet again. In a strange turn, walls of text push this self-described picture book into chapter book territory. Luckily, illustrator Barber livens up the text by bolding and coloring words, especially the word “AGAIN,” emphasizing Henry’s obsession with being late for school. Barber’s bright, exaggerated illustrations encourage readers to keep going, despite the initially confusing narrative. The result is a genuine visual treat. Ultimately, Henry learns not to judge people so quickly and easily. It’s a fine lesson, but it has little to do with being late for school.
The disorderly narrative and fluctuation between genres may make this book difficult for very young readers, but the beautiful illustrations and clear-cut moral will appease those who follow through.