Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman brings Jessica the farmyard cat to life in this simple story about self-identity. Amid her much-loved family—a clutter of white mice—Jessica is confused as to what she is. She goes outside to poll the other animals with the question, “What do you think I am?” Their answers leave her in a bigger muddle than before, until finally Jessica herself is polled: “What do you think you are?” Her answer is uncertain, but it’s enough to let her live again. Reading this aloud to my sons, I found myself choking back my emotions—Blackman’s beautiful story reminded this reader to drop the external forces that try to cram us into one category or another, to stop the outside noise long enough to heed the wisdom that is in us, even as children.
Giraffes Can't Dance
Gerald the Giraffe is ‘such a clot’. Even if your child doesn’t know what a clot is, she can certainly interpret Gerald’s facial expressions as he tries to join the other animals on the dance floor and his legs and arms go everywhere and he ends up on his backside. Gerald is plunged into disappointment, the kind every child feels at times. Isolation increases when Gerald sees the light-hearted smiles of those on the dance floor, those luckies who have already found their groove. In life, the word ‘different’ is too often hurled about with insult, but Andreae’s lively rhyming book instills pride in the word when a cricket tells Gerald, “You just need a different song”. This encouraging tale speaks to all readers young and old, and shows that everyone—even a ‘clot’—finds their moves, their beat.
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The Lonely Beast
Life for the Beast starts and ends in a garden, but not before bringing our hero all around the world in search of beasts like him. In this tale of bravery and resilience, Judge addresses our need to connect, to find our own kind. Beast is a kindly fellow—his habits of drinking tea and walking in the snow make him gorgeously loveable—but his spiky fur and two seeking yellow eyes hints at restlessness many children feel: occasional loneliness and a need to find acceptance for who they are. But Beast is smart. He knows he can’t stay in his cave forever. To find people, he must leave. Whether your child sees Beast’s journey across snowy mountains and dangerous waters as fun or fearsome, this story surprises and excites as Beast works hard to find others like him, stumbling down the side of a mountain, facing long swims across an ocean or two (and when he can’t swim any more, he walks along the seafloor). His quiet determination inspires hope amid fatigue, and when he finally reaches a city… Huzzah! He’s found people… they’re kind, they’re friendly… but somehow they’re not quite his sort. When contentedness turns to loneliness once more, Beast finds that backtracking to his very own garden brings a very wonderful surprise.
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The Koala Who Could
Kevin the Koala’s lovable cuteness is matched only by his fear of change. In this gorgeous rhyming book, Bright shows that from a distance, the world can look too fast, too changey. But high up in your tree, you can cling! You can keep things the same! Caution keeps Kevin unhappy while his friends play. They call for him, but he tells them: “I’ve clinging to do, but thanks for the thought.” Large colourful illustrations bring this little guy up-close—his simple frown mirrors the angst of a child, unable to express what is gripping him, unable to let go of the thing he believes to be true, and desperately unsure what he can do to help himself. All he knows for sure is he needs to stay safe, until out of the blue comes a woodpecker intent on carving through the tree trunk home that Kevin loves so. His friends try to reassure: if he leaps, “we’ll catch you”. They mean it, but they are no match for Kevin’s deep belief that he simply “caaaaannt”. What follows is a quartet of action pictures where Field expertly illustrates Kevin’s dread, his struggle, and finally his fall. But our koala survives to find friendship, love, and a delicious freedom from the paralysis of fear, because “life can be great when you try something new.”
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Fred is imaginary but his dream is as human as yours or mine—he wants a friend for keeps. This kind sensitive scrap of imagination loves music, drama, and all things French, and despite being a super-duper friend to his ‘real’ child, things inevitably go wrong for Fred when his child finds someone else. Someone real. When he meets Sam, he hopes for the best but fears the worst: Fred has been here before, so readers hold their breath as they watch his little heart once again get dangerously close to breaking point. We hope that Sam is different. Imaginary Fred is a story that could have been predictable in the hands of a lesser writer, but Colfer takes us down a clever road, adding perspective and depth. Jeffers’ illustrations are simple and symbolic, drawing quick and tight with subtle colours that convey so much meaning to young eyes. The predictability of Fred’s fate will wrench at readers, but this hero takes matters into his own hands. His determination to protect himself leads to a brave pre-emptive strike where he tells Sam, “The best thing you can do is let me go without making a scene.” But Sam proves that he’s not like the other children, and does something that changes Fred’s imaginary life forever.
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