Get Ready for School with THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN, by Derrick Barnes

Inside: Get your kiddos ready for the first day of school with THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, a fresh and fabulous take on this major milestone!

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes

One of my favorite things about being a children’s book reviewer and librarian is falling in love with the work of a debut author and watching that author’s career. When I first read Derrick Barnes picture book, CROWN: AN ODE TO THE FRESH CUT, I was positively blown away. The book stood out for its pitch-perfect voice, vivid details, and the way it transported readers right into barbershop culture with brilliant authenticity. And it wasn’t just me who thought so — the book was recognized with numerous awards, including the coveted Newbery Honor (for a picture book, no less!), a Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor, just to name a few.

To say, then, that I was excited for Barnes’ newest book, THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN, is an understatement. I knew this would be a very different book than CROWN, but I had high hopes. And, guess what? THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN totally exceeded my expectations!


THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN, by Barnes and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, is about a young boy about to embark on a big milestone — he is starting kindergarten! When he wakes on the morning of his first day, he dresses himself, eats a huge stack of pancakes, and is excited for his royal yellow carriage to take him to his kindergarten kingdom. The boys’ excitement infuses every page as readers watch him hold his head high, display courage, and make new friends.


Just when you think a first day of school book can’t get any more unique, a new one comes along and blows others out of the water with its fresh spin and charming voice. THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN delights on every page, and the sweet main character’s unbridled enthusiasm to begin kindergarten is so inspiring, not to mention confidence boosting for the children who read it.

From learning new things to making new friends, from sharing to battling fire breathing dragons, THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN book approaches important (and fun!) first day milestones that are helpful to share with children seeking to understand what their first day of school may be like. Brantley'-Newton’s illustrations are lively and joyful, with movement on each page that feels as if the energetic little boy is dancing through his school day.


But perhaps the most enjoyable parts of this story are the fabulous references to the boy being the “king” of kindergarten, a name his mom gives him upon waking up before that first day of school. The text is sprinkled with references to the boy’s kingdom, from the towel bearing a royal crest, to the big yellow carriage that will deliver him to the grand fortress, to the royal seat where he meets his kingdom.

The result? A lighthearted, humorous story that feels both reassuring and empowering, one that will stick with children as they get ready to begin their own first days of school, all the while remembering the tips that THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN shares throughout its wise pages. Two trunks up!

There’s so much more to discover on Happily Ever Elephants!
Sign up for our newsletter!