Polka-dot’s first day of kindergarten is off to a shaky start. First she discovers her nametag is wrong. Then she dips the blue brush in the red paint—a major kindergarten faux-pas. And worst of all she has to deal with stripe-loving Liz, who criticizes everything from her artwork to her fashion choices.
Polka-dot doesn’t realize that Liz is having a hard day, too. But when she sees Liz caught in the ultimate kindergarten crisis, Polka-dot saves the day with an unexpected kindness.
Ultimately, the struggle between the girls helps young readers understand the why that can underlie mean behaviors and find the courage and the words to stand up and say STOP.
Catherine Urdahl has prepared a presentation for young elementary students focused on tolerance and bullying prevention. Information about her presentation is available here. (PDF)
Download several ideas for classroom activities from art projects to discussions of comparisons, word form matching, and writing, all centered around Polka-dot’s story.
Have a Polka-dot Party!
Nothing says PARTY like polka-dots. Here are some dotty ideas for throwing your own polka-dot party. Download the guide.
Download character sketches for coloring and puppet theater activities. Students can act out Polka-dot Fixes Kindergarten or create stories of their own. Four characters are included: Polka-dot, Liz, Grandpa, and Mrs. Jackson.
“On Polka-dot’s first day of kindergarten, her handy grandfather gives her a fix-it kit of her own, which includes duct tape, soap, and bandages. At school, Polka-dot gains an adversary: Liz (a fan of stripes) makes fun of her polka-dotted clothes and points out when Polka-dot makes a mess. But as the tension between the girls rises (“Your mouth is mean, mean, mean,” Polka-dot tells Liz), a mishap gives Polka-dot a chance to use her kit to help Liz and forge an unexpected friendship. Kemble’s watercolors telegraph the girls’ fluctuating emotions as they navigate a new experience.” (Publishers Weekly)
“For her whole life Polka-dot’s Grandpa had been there with his fix-it kit of duct tape, runny soap, and dotted bandages to make things better. As she prepares for her first day of kindergarten he gives her a fix-it kit to take to school. The day gets off to a bad start. Her name tag does not say Polka-dot. She makes a mess of the paints, and one of her classmates says mean things to her. When that girl accidentally rips her dress on the fence, Polka-dot comes to her rescue with the duct tape, just as her Grandpa had done for her. By the end of the first day of kindergarten these two scared little girls begin to form a friendship. Urdahl captures a child’s first-day-of-school jitters and the issues of separation anxiety and making friends in a just-the-right-length story. Text and illustrations work together to convey the warm and loving relationship between Polka-dot and her grandfather. The illustrations show the children in the classroom and on the playground. The rosy-cheeked characters are expressive in both their body language and facial expressions. This is a good and reassuring story for children who are about to take that first big step of entering school.” (Sharon Salluzzo, Children’s Literature Comprehensive Database, Back to School Reviews)
“Catherine Urdahl’s Polka-dot Fixes Kindergarten deftly combines first-day dilemmas with themes of friendship, burgeoning independence, and learning to relate to others. Grandpa has always fixed everything, but now that Polka-dot is off to school, it soon becomes painfully apparent to the youngster that she is on her own. Even Grandpa’s portable fix-it kit—containing duct tape, soap, and dotted bandages—doesn’t seem to help when Polka-dot comes up against Liz, a girl who favors all things striped, constantly says mean things, and seems impossible to get along with.” (School Library Journal)
“Despite this less-than-stellar start, a mishap on the playground soon has Polka-dot figuring out what to do, taking action that leads to a satisfying ending and a new friendship. Vibrantly illustrated with Mai S. Kemble’s descriptive artwork, the text realistically describes the interactions between the two girls, portrays a wide spectrum of behaviors and emotions, and conveys the believable and hopeful resolution.” (Joy Fleishhacker, School Library Journal, Curriculum Connections)
“The author of Emma’s Question offers another thoughtful picture book featuring a wise grandparent. Dorothy (aka ‘Polka-Dot’) is anxious about starting kindergarten so Grandpa prepares a fix-it kit—duct tape, runny soap, and dotted bandages—just like the one he uses to handle emergencies. Unfortunately, the kit is worthless in combating Liz’s mean words and Mrs. Jackson’s kindergarten rules. Kemble’s expressive watercolor-and-pencil illustrations convey a host of first-day concerns that surprisingly lead to empathy, problem solving, and friendship. Pair with Kevin Henkes’ Wemberly Worried or Lauren Child’s I Am Too Absolutely Small for School.” (Kay Weisman, Booklist)
“Polka-Dot Fixes Kindergarten is a sociologically appropriate book for modern day kindergarteners. This honest and heartfelt story, written by Catherine Urdahl, reveals a problem that exists in some kindergarten classrooms today-bullying. With the advent of school bullies, children are unfortunately being bullied and teased at younger ages, kindergarteners included. While this story is not harsh or overly focused on the classmate who is a bully, it does address the situation in schools today.” (Alissa Moy, Bella Online)