Smartypants (Pete in School), by Maira Kalman

My kids still have over a week before the start of school, but I’m seeing the influx of “first day” pictures on Facebook and I’ve already filled a corner with stacks of school supplies to bring in. I wrote a “Ten Favorites” post a few years ago on back-to-school books here, and I have another to add to the list.

Maira Kalman is a writer whose creativity and quirky gusto leave me rather slack-jawed (I profiled her collaboration with Lemony Snicket here). At the library last week, we found another story of hers about a dog-turned-academic genius. It’s kind of like if Martha Speaks had been re-imagined by a hyper-stylish eccentric with a pomegranatini in one hand and a paint brush in the other. It’s fantastic.

Smartypants (Pete in School) by Maira Kalman- fantastic back to school book! from

The story of Smartypants (Pete in School) by Maira Kalman is basically that a young girl, whose school experiences tend to be alternately thrilling and terrifying as school often is, finds that her dog has followed her to school. A brouhaha ensues and the dog ends up eating the encyclopedia, endowing him with a great deal of knowledge (pretty much everything, really) as he, ahem, digests it. But what is so wonderfully exceptional about Maira Kalman is the wit in her asides, one doesn’t just read her stories because each page has a dozen Easter eggs hidden on it- side dialogue, sly margin illustrations, and the constant appearance of tiny funky accent chairs. And as in all of her books, I wish I could frame some of her illustrations and hope that my room would come off as bright and dreamy as she is. Particularly the first page of this book- “My name is Poppywise.” I would put it above my piano. It is perfection.

My name is Poppywise

Smartypants, Maira Kalman

Smartypants, Maira Kalman

There’s even a surprise pop quiz at the end that both of my kids have taken. They love pop quizzes because a) they’re only 5 and 7 and this is the only one they’ve ever taken because it’s not really a Montessori thing to take pop quizzes and b) there are questions on it like “what’s your name?” and “are you sure?” and “what did you have for breakfast this morning?” and “which words are made up?”.

I am delighted by all things Kalman, but I know she’s not for everyone. My kids love her, my husband not so much. I’m sharing anyhow because hey, it’s my blog not his.

Are you back in school mode yet? Or like us, do you have another delicious week of summer? This is the first year I think that I’m not dreading the start of the school year. It’s possibly because our moving day ETA might coincide with Labor Day weekend…


These aren’t book reviews, per se, but more profiles of the really, really good ones. Recommendations, really, for which I am not compensated. If you’re looking to buy any of them you can click on the the links and cover photos in each post, OR you can click on the little box over there on the right that says “amelie’s bookshop (buy the books)” and it will take you to my Amazon Affiliate store- you’re buying them as you normally would through Amazon, except that I get a teeny tiny commission. Or even better, walk on down to your local independent bookseller and support them.

9 thoughts on “Smartypants (Pete in School), by Maira Kalman

  1. I love your writing and way of describing this book. We have two of Maira’s books, “What Pete ate (from A to Z)” which I love for it’s quirky words and the rhythm that unfolds after you’ve read the book so many times you have memorized. “Pete ate half of my homework. But did Mrs. Hoogenshmidt believe me? Ha! Hardly. Horrible dog.”
    And while “13 words” is also fun because it adds words like Haberdashery and “panache” to my daughters lexicon, I don’t love the bird staying despondent. I mean no one could still be that unhappy after all that cake!


    • Aw, Melanie, thanks!!! I love especially that Kalman writes for kids as though they were, you know, people. I mean dogs aren’t always super adorable and cuddly, sometimes they’re super pains! And it’s not always enough to have a nice dress, it helps to have true panache! And you know what, sometimes I do feel despondent- especially when I realize that I’ve eaten an awful lot of cake…


  2. Pingback: Next Stop Grand Central, by Maira Kalman | Amélie's Bookshelf

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