Going back to school can be both exciting and daunting for children of all ages - and even dogs, aliens, and aardvarks. With the help of a few endearing characters starring in these first "class" romps, the coming school days are sure to be filled with learning and a healthy dose of laughter.

Oh My Baby, Little One Ages: 2 - 4 yrs. Author: Kathi Appelt   Illustrator: Jane Dyer   Harcourt Brace & Company, $16.00 (Hard Cover)    With more and more mothers returning to work, and more and more small children entering daycare at a tender age, this lilting rhymed text accompanied by warm-hearted, accomplished watercolor illustrations will comfort both adult readers and youngest listeners. A mother bird is leaving her fledging at nursery school, but she assures him, in verse upon verse, that “…even when I’m far away / this love I have will stay / and wrap itself around you / every minute of the day.”

How I Spent My Summer Vacation How I Spent My Summer Vacation Ages: 3 - 7 yrs. By: Mark Teague   Random House Children's Books/ Yearling, $6.99 (Paperback) This endearing romp with an appealingly old-fashioned young hero quickly dispels any comparisons to that drearily familiar back-to-school exercise we all know so well. Teague's compelling pictures, just a tad surreal in quality, entice us to join small Wallace Bleff on his train trip Westward "to visit Aunt Fern in her house on the plains." That this abode bears a startling resemblance to Aunt Em's pad in The Wizard of Oz just adds to the homey atmosphere of the tale. 

The Awful Aardvarks Go To School Ages: 3 - 8 yrs. Author: Reeve Lindbergh   Illustrator: Tracey Campbell Pearson   Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers/Puffin Books, $5.99 (Paperback) When a pack of awful aardvarks go to school, the results are delightfully disastrous. They anger the anteater and flick fleas at Freddie Frog as they storm their way through the classroom and through the alphabet. The hilarious illustrations are the perfect match for the non-stop humor of the rhymes in this fun-filled alphabet book. Book Description

Baloney (Henry P.) Baloney (Henry P.) Ages: 4 - 8 yrs. Author: Jon Scieszka   Illustrator: Lane Smith   Penguin Putnam Inc./Viking Children's Books, $15.99 (Hard Cover)    Our young green-faced alien, Henry P. Baloney, arrives late at school once too often. His teacher, Miss Bugscuffle, wants to know the reason why. Henry embarks on a creative excuse, and naturally as an alien, he continues to use "alien" words (for translations of them see Decoder at the back of the book). Overcome with admiration of his magnificent tall tale, Miss Bugscuffle asks Henry to write down his story.Once Upon an Ordinary School Day 

Once Upon an Ordinary School Day Ages: 5 - 8 yrs. Author: Colin McNaughton   Illustrator: Satoshi Kitamura   Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.00 (Hard Cover)    The boy's breakfast is ordinary, his walk to school is ordinary, even his thoughts are ordinary. But when he goes to his classroom and sits down at his desk, his day begins to change - a new teacher, Mr. Gee, bursts into the classroom with an extraordinary idea that challenges all the children to use their imagination. Suddenly an ordinary day is turned topsy-turvy, and the boy is inspired in a way that will change him forever. Book Description

Miss Malarkey Won't Be In Today Ages: 5 - 9 yrs. Author: Judy Finchler   Illustrator: Kevin O'Malley   Walker and Company, $15.95 (Hard Cover)    This antic tale about a conscientious elementary school teacher who must call in sick one morning when she awakes with a fever of 103.2. So upset is she about the possible substitutes the principal may call on that she worries herself well and dashes off to school, fever forgotten. This topsy turvy view of “substitutes” from the teacher’s perspective is sure to please young listener/viewers. Smartypants (Pete in School)

Smartypants (Pete in School) Ages: 5 & Up Author: Maira Kalman   Illustrator: Maira Kalman   Penguin Putnam/G.P. Putnam's Sons, $15.99 (Hard Cover)    Having a dog in class is always a clue that it's going to be an interesting day, especially when the dog in question-and the one with all the answers-is the insatiable canine gourmand Pete. As Pete gets his fill of knowledge, he also serves as an impetus for learning rules are made to be broken and there is no end to learning. Book Description

Rotten Ralph Helps Out Ages: 6 - 8 yrs. Author: Jack Gantos   Illustrator: Nicole Rubel   Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $14.00 (Hard Cover)    Sarah is studying ancient Egypt at school. She unwisely involves her infamous cat, Ralph, in her schemes for her project. Ralph, with the best of intentions, always manages to be, well, rotten. Though he loses all the battles, including one with the local librarian, Rotten Ralph wins the war. With its insight into the nature of all well-meaning klutzes, this new beginning reader will entice every reader who can identify with Ralph. (Psst. . . all of us.) 

Thank You, Mr. Falker Ages: 6 - 10 yrs. Author: Patricia Polacco   Penguin Putnam Inc./ Philomel, $16.99 (Hard Cover)    Tricia, who has a yearning to learn to read because of her family's love of learning, discovers that letters in books seem to be all wiggling shapes. As she progresses through school, her classmates scorn her as dumb. She believes them . . . until Fifth Grade when she is blessed with a wonderful teacher, Mr. Falker. 

Gooney Bird Greene Gooney Bird Greene Ages: 6 & Up Author: Lois Lowry   Illustrator: Middy Thomas   Houghton Mifflin Co., $15.00 (Hard Cover)    Wearing colorful, creative costumes daily, Gooney Bird soon becomes the brightest, in every sense of the word, star of second grade. Declaring, "I tell only absolutely true stories," Gooney Bird enters the annals of funny young protagonists. The format of the book is excellent for transitional readers. Wearing colorful, creative costumes daily, Gooney Bird soon becomes the brightest, in every sense of the word, star of second grade. Declaring, "I tell only absolutely true stories," Gooney Bird enters the annals of funny young protagonists. The format of the book is excellent for transitional readers. 

Danitra Brown, Class Clown Ages: 7 - 9 yrs. Author: Nikki Grimes   Illustrator: E. B. Lewis   HarperCollins Children's Books / Amistad, $16.99 (Hard Cover)    Danitra Brown and Zuri are starting a new school year. They may be best friends, but they view the world through very different lenses. Zuri is apprehensive, particularly because of her fear of math; Danitra is lively and optimistic. When Zuri passes a foolish note which is intercepted by a class bully, Danitra plays the role of clown to save her friend. 

The Report Card The Report Card Ages: 8 - 12 yrs. Author: Andrew Clements   Simon & Schuster/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (Hard Cover)    Nora discovers that she is a genius, but she is only a baby. She hates attention, however, so she spends all her time, right up through fifth-grade, pretending to be average of course she's a genius at it. Her best friend Steven has a harder time at school, and Nora decides to make him feel better by getting a lousy report card, which she precedes to do. Steven is shocked, her parents are dismayed, and unintended consequences begin to ricochet. 

The School Story Ages: 8 - 12 yrs. Author: Andrew Clements   Illustrator: Brian Selznick   Simon & Schuster/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $16.00 (Hard Cover)    Natalie and Zoe have been best friends since kindergarten; now they are in the sixth grade at a private school in New York City. Natalie, whose mother is a children's book editor, is the observer and writer; Zoe, whose father is a big-city lawyer, is the talker and the planner of this spunky duo. When Natalie writes an exceptional story, Zoe moves into action. She uses a pen name so she can submit the manuscript to Natalie's mother. The author makes this funny, implausible venture into the world of publishing plausible. 

Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger Ages: 8 - 12 yrs. Author: Louis Sachar   HarperCollins Childrens Books, $15.95 (Hard Cover)    Surely, Wayside School was already strange enough. The builders built a thirty-story school sideways with the rooms piled one on top of another - except for the nineteenth floor where Miss Zarves teaches class. There is no nineteenth floor, and there is no Miss Zarves. Nevertheless, there is a thirteenth floor where nice Mrs. Jewls presides over her eccentric pupils. Mrs. Jewls, however, takes a maternity leave. Before she returns with her little stranger, Wayside School gets a little stranger. While reading this ridiculously funny book, children will not only be laughing, they will be learning. 

Ninjas, Pirhanas & Galileo Ages: 9 - 11 yrs. Author: Greg Leitich Smith   Little, Brown & Co., $15.95 (Hard Cover)    "The Gloriana Biddulph Memorial Science Fair Gold Medal is considered one of the Peshtigo School's prestige awards, and it's very weird that so many people take it seriously," says Elias, a Peshtigo seventh grader. He himself doesn't do science fairs; that is until his own father is asked to be the chief judge. And so begins the story of three friends who had long ago united themselves against the powers that be. Elias who, recalling one of the prime commandments of modern science: "thou shall obtain experimental confirmations," knew he had his science fair project. He would re-do one previously recorded (and highly lauded) experiment from the school archives to see if it was right. 

Leon and the Spitting Image Leon and the Spitting Image Ages: 9 - 11 yrs. Author: Allen Kurzweil   Illustrator: Bret Bertholf   HarperCollins Children's Books / Amistad, $15.99 (Hard Cover)    Leon doesn't quite yet know that he will survive the fourth grade. His classmates, he himself, and we the readers are even less certain about his surviving the new teacher, Miss Hagemeyer. She's a supernaturally strict teacher with ears that resemble giant rotting mushrooms. And then there is Leon's archenemy, Lumpkin the Pumpkin, a human tank with a deadly dodgeball throw known to all as the sidewinder. Leon is a good read. Reluctantly Alice

Reluctantly Alice Ages: 9 - 12 yrs. Author: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor   Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing/Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $16.00 (Hard Cover)    $4.99 (Paperback) Alice has reluctantly entered junior high school where she finds herself demoted (along with all the other seventh graders) to the bottom of the junior high pecking order. She is determined to like school and be liked by her peers, so she is chagrined to find herself the favorite target of an older student, Denise "Mack-Truck" Whitlock. With crystal-clear recall of the horrors of junior high and with generous humor, Phyllis Naylor continues the career of the intelligent thoroughly likable Alice. Wayside School Is Falling Down

 Wayside School Is Falling Down Ages: 9 - 12 yrs. Author: Louis Sachar   Illustrator: Adam McCauley   Harper Collins , $11.19 (Hard Cover)    Wacky Wayside School is unique. Built sideways, with thirty rooms piled atop each other, it lacks a nineteenth story because the builder forgot it. It provides a perfect setting for a long litany of nutty disasters. In the first book, Sharri falls asleep and rolls out the window; Joe counts all wrong and gets the right answers; Calvin is sent to deliver a note to the missing nineteenth floor. Kids will get hooked on the broad humor and twisted logic of these loosely connected stories. Who could resist the teacher in the second book who throws the computer out the window to demonstrate gravity? And who will be surprised that Wayside School's fire drill is announced by a cowbell? When it sounds, the school promptly fills with cows.