Erica S. Perl’s Dotty is just weird and wonderful. I love stories about imaginary friends, but this one manages to tie in first day of school jitters, fitting in with other kids when you’re different, and bonding with teachers, too.

On Ida’s first day of school, she brings her imaginary friend Dotty, a huge pink polka-dotted creature. We don’t realize right away that Dotty is imaginary because all of the other boys and girls at school have brought their strange and wonderful friends to school, too. But as the year goes on, the other creatures start to disappear as the boys and girls forget about them. Ida is teased for still bringing Dotty around with her, but Ida really loves Dotty (and I really love Ida). Dotty finally gets some reassurance from her teacher, Ms. Raymond (possibly my favorite thing about this entire book), that it’s okay if she’s not ready to give Ida up. And then Ms. Raymond reveals something that made this book for me.

I think this is pitch-perfect for September back-to-school reading with the newest students. Ida is funky and does her own thing, and all her anxieties are things young students can relate to. And Ms. Raymond is so understanding of all the creatures in her classroom, and so in tune with what Ida is going through, that it’s a really comforting story to show that teachers have a lot more in common with their students than you might think. Julia Denos gets the energy just right with these illustrations, so right that I was perfectly willing to accept, at first, that this was a story about kids who really do have unusual pets. The drawings had a whimsy and an otherness that fits perfectly with the world children create for their imaginary friends. I thought the whole thing was…kind of magical.