Get Ready for School! A chat with Janet Nolan

As soon as I saw Janet Nolan’s new book, Get Ready For School (Albert Whitman), I knew it would be the perfect book to feature in a late-July post.

This is an ideal book to share with kiddos on the cusp of that all-important (and more than a little intimidating) first day of school, especially for kindergarteners. Why?


Janet Nolan shows kiddos that there are lots of folks working behind the scenes to make sure everything’s ready for their arrival. We meet the custodian, principal, office secretary, then move on to the teachers preparing their classrooms, the cafeteria workers, the bus drivers, and more, more, more! Simple, declarative sentences leave plenty of room for an illustrator to play. And Maria Neradova does exactly that. Her bright, busy, Scarry-esque spreads will have listeners discovering delightful new details with every rereading.

Here’s a spread showing my favorite place in any school:

The “Specials” teachers aren’t forgotten:

I invited Janet to chat with us about her book.

Jill: Hi, Janet, and welcome! I almost always start with the same question, because it fascinates me: Do you remember what sparked this idea?

Janet: The original idea began at a baseball game. Not exactly related to getting ready for school, but one thing often leads to another. 

I was at a Sox game in Chicago, watching what was taking place on the field, but my mind was elsewhere. I was wondering what happened before the game began. What did the players, coaches, grounds crew, and equipment managers do before the first pitch was thrown?

That was the spark, wondering what happens before something begins. Get Ready for School, which gives readers a behind-the-scenes peek at the preparations that take place before the students arrive, was a way to answer that question as a story. 

Jill: Interesting how our minds make those leaps. (And now you have me wondering about what takes place before a baseball game!)

Janet: The custodian turns on the lights and sweeps the hallways. Is it time for school? Not yet! The cafeteria workers wash tables and stack lunch trays. Is it time for school? Not yet! Teachers unpack supplies and organize their classrooms. Is it time for school? Almost! The students are on their way, on foot, on bicycles, and in cars and buses. Each page brings the reader one-step closer to the principal opening the door. Welcome, everyone!

Jill: That presentation is a wonderful trick to keep readers turning page. I used to work as a teacher’s aide sub, but even I was surprised by the number of people it takes to get a school prepped for that momentous first day. How did you determine the order in which you introduced each new worker?

Janet: It takes a team, right! In addition to describing what takes place before the school bell rings, I wanted to create a sense of tension and excitement. 

Is it time for school?

Not yet.

There’s more to do.

I spoke with several elementary school personnel who helped me to understand the progression of events. The custodian, principal, and cafeteria workers start the day. While the bus drivers are out, picking up students, the teachers are busy getting their classrooms ready. 

Pencils. Paper. Tablets.

Classroom teachers make sure their rooms are ready for listening, learning, and fun.

Jill: Tell us about your research process.

Janet: My first stop when writing nonfiction is the children’s department in my local library. Since I write for children, I want to learn as a child learns. Once I have a basic grasp of the information, I will move onto adult resources. 

Researching Get Ready for School was a different process from the other nonfiction picture books I’ve written. I didn’t know a lot about ship building before writing Seven and a Half Tons of Steel: A Post-9/11 Story of Hope and Transformation. Nor did I know the specifics of planting, harvesting, manufacturing, or transporting peanut butter, jelly, and bread to grocery stores before writing PB&J Hooray! Your Sandwich’s Amazing Journey from Farm to Table. 

While I had a basic idea of what took place before the school bell rang, I needed to know more. Thankfully, some very kind teachers allowed me to interview them about the preparations that take place before the school day begins. 

Jill: The Richard Scarry-like illustrations are going to make this a repeat read, for sure, as kids discover new things each time through. Is this how you envisioned the finished book?

Janet: Well, the first surprise was the characters. They’re not humans. It took a second, but not more than a second, to get over that shock. Once I saw her adorable giraffe, lovable tiger, and oh so cute pigs I was all in. 

My favorites are the elephant principal and the hippopotamus teacher. I agree, Maria Neradova’s illustrations do have a Richard Scarry feel, there is so much to look at on each page, but with a modern touch.

Jill: They’re awfully cute. Janet, you seem to enjoy writing a wide variety of book types. What’s next for you?

Janet: I have two Albert Whitman titles coming out in Fall 2024. A follow up to Get Ready for School and a nonfiction book about bats. 

Stay tuned!

Jill: We will! Thanks for telling us about your book, Janet. And congratulations on those in the pipeline!

Readers, find out loads more about Janet Nolan and her books at her website, here.

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum has been picture book crazy since her 3 kids were little, and especially so after her first was published in 2004 (Stink Soup). Recent titles: Bird Girl - Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature With the World, Parrotfish Has a Superpower, Stinkbird Has a Superpower, Sea Turtle Swims, Kangaroo Hops, Jack Knight's Brave Flight, We Love Babies!, Where'd My Jo Go?, Frog Boots, How to Grow a Dinosaur, Frankenbunny, If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!, Teeny Tiny Toady, I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!, and more. Coming in 2025: Polecat Has a Superpower!, It's Corn-Picking Time!, Giraffe Runs. She's also the author of many nonfiction books for young readers, as well as an early graphic reader series, Thunder & Cluck. Learn more at


  1. What a delightful book! Thank you, Jill and Janet, for a lovely interview. This will also help kids be appreciative of all the people who work without much acknowledgment. Now I’m wondering if you will write a companion book getting ready for baseball season.

  2. Brilliant idea and super cute book. This gives students something to think about. Also, this book would be a good basis for a group discussion about what all of the kiddos did to prepare for the first day of school.

  3. Angie Quantrell

    LOVE it! My mind immediately went to all of those Richard Scary books I read so many years ago. This new book is so wonderful! For those of us who loved Scary, nostalgia! But a modern, getting ready for school tale! So much to see and read! Well done. Congratulations!

  4. Clever idea! What child wouldn’t be excited to go to school when they see those lively and colorful illustrations? Congratulations!

  5. I love the concept of this book and the village it takes to get ready for school! This will be a great addition to the plethora of books about those 1st days we all remember. To me, the illustrations seem calming and friendly – just what kiddos, parents, AND teacher need at the beginning!

  6. Love this fresh take on the back-to-school topic. And I loved learning the genesis of the idea. I look forward to reading it!

  7. What a lovely book! Such fun and perfect for teachers!

  8. Debra Kempf Shumaker

    Oooh, I loved Seven and a Half Tons of Steel! I’ll definitely check this one out!

  9. As a former teacher, I love any book that takes place in school. And the illustrations are so sweet and detailed. Congratulations, Janet!

  10. This book looks awesome to a former teacher! I’ll definitely be reading it! Thanks for sharing.

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