The first day of school

“My, my, it’ll be lonesome here without my baby around the house.” Mrs. Moffat

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The first day of school.

For me, this time of year signals both a beginning and an ending. Full of mixed emotions, hopes and worries.

As I watched my “baby” walk to school (and away from my loving arms) this morning, I wondered if she’d be ok. If she’d have a good day, a good year, a good life.


American author Eleanor Estes captures the spirit of this day in her 1941 story Rufus Moffat’s First Day of School.

rufus moffat school

Rufus Moffat is the youngest son of Mrs. Moffat, a widow and working mother of four children. Today, she begrudgingly sends him off to his first day of school. She lovingly double knots his shoe laces, waves goodbye and gets back to work on her sewing machine.


Rufus is excited to go to school. He is enamored by the books, the chalkboard and his very own desk. But his friend Hughie isn’t so keen.

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Hughie escapes, and being a good friend, Rufus follows him.

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They go on a great adventure.

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With the help of a kindly conductor, the boys are safely returned to school.

And just in time for lunch.

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It’s a simple story. But it’s a good reminder that school isn’t so bad. Generations before us have faced this day, and survived.

Yup. My baby will be fine. And so will I.

Title: Rufus Moffat’s First Day of School (from Best in Children’s Books, published by Nelson Doubleday, 1959, 1967)
Author: Eleanor Estes (1906-1988)
Illustrator: Phyllis Rowand
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc.
Target Audience: Grade 3-5, and perfect for reading to younger children.

Summary: Rufus Moffat’s First Day of School is a story from the 1941 American children’s book The Moffats–the first in a series written by author-librarian Eleanor Estes (the award-winning author of The Hundred Dresses). All are based on her own childhood. The books feature a working class, single-parent family living in America during the First World War. The mother (“mamma”), a widow, takes care of her family of four by working as a dressmaker. Though times are tough, the stories are full of fun and optimism–and show how the the family overcomes challenges with creativity, hard work and love. Not all vintage books are of interest to the modern child. But many in the kids-lit world recommend these as good reads for children today. The Moffats provide an interesting window onto a bygone era, and the messages here are universal. Some of the language used is dated (“Crimininenty!”), but Estes’ writing style is thoroughly modern in its directness and simplicity.



  1. Well, I just came back from Toronto, where both my boys live and helped them move to a nice new apartment. My youngest left home (!) last year, the oldest graduated from university last year…how many times did I look at them and felt pain and proud at the same time??? Lovely book and lovely post and you are a lovely mom…your daughter will indeed be all right!

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