How to be a Giraffe by Thea Baker

How to be a Giraffe

Thea Baker
Affirm Press: 2020
ISBN: 9781925972542
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Joffrey the Giraffe has spots not stripes. When the herd questions his physical appearance, Joffrey goes on a journey of self-discovery.

How to be a Giraffe is a fun rhyming story with a great galloping pace. There are loads of laughs as Joffrey attempts to find his ‘tribe’ among a host of animals from bees to crocodiles. There are also opportunities for meaningful conversations woven into the fun. The subtle contrast between physical appearance and behaviour (Joffrey looks a little different but he acts like a giraffe) may help kids discuss how much physical appearance really matters.  The herd’s hurtful remarks when questioning Joffrey about his appearance also worry the young giraffe enough to make him question his place in the herd. While the herd eventually has a change of heart there are, nevertheless, clear cues for discussing how language can cause distress.

The artwork for How to Be a Giraffe matches the light-hearted tone of the overall story. The colours are pale and bright—it feels like the sun shines on the animals in their animal groups and this makes a great contrast with those scenes of Joffrey (almost) alone in the darkness of the night. The use of pattern adds to the texture of the animals’ world and enables young readers to see similarity and difference in the environment and among the other animals.

This is a great first book about difference and about finding your place in the world.

Little Unicorn is Angry by Aurelie Chien Chow Chine


by Aurelie Chien Chow Chine

Edited by Sylvie Michel and Hannah Daffern

Buster Books 2019

Great Britain

ISBN 9780316531788

Ages 4- 8 years

Little Unicorn is Angry by Aurelie Chien Chow Chine describes how the character of Little Unicorn uses a simple breathing technique to soothe himself and blow his anger away.  It is not so much a narrative as a child friendly instruction manual showing how to recognise and deal with anger. It is one in a series of four books dealing with the emotional states of Little Unicorn. It may be useful to parents or carers who wish to introduce their children to the concept of emotional self regulation.

Although it is quite a wordy book for a young age group, it could easily be broken up into sections by the adult reader and opened at relevant sections when needed. The first few pages focus on naming common emotional states. This includes a page which pairs an illustration to an emotional state in order to help a child indicate what they are feeling in the present moment.  This is followed by several pages which provide suggestions for what could be making Little Unicorn Angry. Many of these might be recognisable to parents and their children, such as not wanting to get in the bath, and then, not wanting to get out of the bath. The depiction of Little Unicorn when he is angry also includes the distinction between grumpy and angry.   The next section introduces a breathing technique that Little Unicorn performs in order to “chase away a cloud of anger”.  The final page shows that Little Unicorn is feeling much calmer after the breathing exercise and suggests that the reader might like to use the same breathing technique. 

The format of the book is a small square with glossy pages. The illustrations focus on a cute, rotund, cartoon unicorn whose mane changes colour depending on his emotional state. The illustrations are non gender specific, though the text indicates that the unicorn is male.  The emphasis of the illustrations are on Little Unicorn’s emotional expression, which includes facial expressions as well as physical posture, such as hands on hips or stomping on the floor. There is a combination of full page illustrations and smaller symbolic drawings which add meaning to the text.

Red Red Red by Polly Dunbar

Red Red Red

Polly Dunbar
Walker Books: 2019
ISBN: 9781406376968
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A young child, narrating a quest for the cookie jar, quickly becomes enraged when the jar is hard to reach.

Red Red Red explores pre-schooler frustration and anger with great fun and empathy. The child narrator’s tone escalates quickly from indignation at her mother’s soothing words to outright anger, mirroring the strong and sudden emotions of many young people. The mother is always understanding and her suggestion—counting to ten—is gentle, respectful and, best of all, a sound practical measure that can be tried at home.

The artwork for Red Red Red focuses especially on the child and the physical nature of anger—the screaming, head banging, and stomping are conveyed with extra oomph. There is also the liberal use of red—frenzied crayon-like scribbles radiate from the child character, increasing and decreasing as the anger rises and falls. This creative use of red is fun to notice and provides a vivid illustration of the bigness of anger as well as the relief when it is resolved.

This is an entertaining and cathartic story that can help children register anger and learn some tools to manage it.   

For more books about Anger see our Anger Review List.

Review of Perfectly Polite Penguins by Georgiana Deutsch and Ekaterina Trukhan

Perfectly Polite Penguins

Georgiana Deutsch (author) and Ekaterina Trukhan (illustrator)
Little Tiger Press: 2019
ISBN: 9781788811279
Age: 3+

Reviewed by Viv Young

Penguins are all perfectly polite, but not Polly; she thinks being polite is boring and so she’s going to make everything a little more interesting.  

This cheeky tale about one penguin who won’t follow the rules of politeness makes a clear but subtle connection between politeness and feelings. While it identifies Polly’s impoliteness as misbehaving, it also allows Polly to be the hero; she voluntarily adopts more polite behaviours when she realises her actions are causing harm to a younger penguin friend. By exploring Polly’s resistance to politeness and the reasons why she decides to change her behaviour, Deutsch and Trukhan pose a question for readers about politeness— is politeness all about the rules or about our respect and care for other people? We might all have different answers—or at least different rules— but the question is undoubtedly worth raising with young kids. While the idea is serious the story is always fun from the penguin who loves the clean-up song to the fishy snack attack food fight.

The artwork for Perfectly Polite Penguins is as clever and funny as the text. The block colour backgrounds encourage readers to focus on the penguins’ responses and minimal but repetitive clothing helps readers keep track of individual penguins and their different behaviours. The penguins themselves are hilarious; drawn slightly askew they almost appear to be waddling around the page!

This is a great book to share with kids in order to help them reflect on the very human reasons for politeness—respect and kindness.

This review has been added to our list of books about politeness.

I’m the Best by Lucy Cousins

I’M THE BEST by Lucy Cousins

Illustrated by Lucy Cousins

Publisher: Walker Books Ltd London

First Published 2011

ISBN 0763663484

Age range 2-5 years

I’M THE BEST by Lucy Cousins tackles the uncomfortable topic of competition between friends with cheeky humour. It follows the emotional development of “Dog” as he declares his supremacy over his friends, notices their reactions and is confronted by their respective efforts to highlight their own talents which surpass his.   Dog learns that everyone is “the best” in their own way and that friendship matters more that being better than others.  The final page is a cheeky return to his original declaration, suggesting that Dog has a little way to go until he truly understands that friendship is not a competition. This book allows the reader to experience the tension between the friends from different points of view and may be a useful resource for adults to discuss their child’s own behaviour and attitudes about hierarchy and winning.  The language is simple and repeats the central phrase “I won, I’m the best”, which functions as chant that children can predict in each scene, allowing them access to the humour and irony of the fact that Dog is not actually the best, no matter how many times he declares it.   The book is in a large square format with font that emulates a young child’s handwriting with a crayon like texture. The illustrations similarly reference a young child’s drawing with “messy” black outlines and bright pops of colour that don’t quite fill the shapes in the illustrations. Splashes of watercolour add to the vibrancy of the illustrations and help make them even more playful.  The text and illustrations combine to create a tone of warmth and playfulness that might counter resistance to discussing a potentially embarrassing topic for a child.

This is a link to a young child reading “I’m the best” from the Fun2Learn youtube video channel and adding his own commentary, which includes facts about the animals. This is interesting to see a child’s comments and understanding of the book.

Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton

Don’t Worry Little Crab

Chris Haughton
Walker Books: 2019
ISBN: 9781406385519
Age: 3+
Reviewed by Viv Young

Little Crab and Very Big Crab live in a tiny rock pool. They are off to the sea, but when they get close to the water’s edge, the waves are so big that Little Crab wants to go home.

Don’t Worry Little Crab provides a sensitive exploration of anxiety about new experiences. Very Big Crab patiently encourages Little Crab—not allowing Little Crab to miss out, but equally not pushing Little Crab too hard. Patience and kindness pay off. Little Crab eventually dives under the waves holding onto Very Big Crab and discovers a world of warm colours and vibrant new friends. Indeed, the warm oranges, reds and pinks that lie beneath the surface are reminiscent of their tiny rock pool home only on a larger scale, providing a wonderfully subtle message about the potential comfort and joy we might find if only we could push past our fears. The contrast between the big blue and white foaming waves and the warmth of the rock pool and underwater world also gives due weight to fears — you feel Little Crab’s fear as he faces those towering waves!

The emphasis on exploration in this story and the exciting stylised representations of the natural world make Don’t Worry Little Crab an entertaining and thought-provoking experience for any child.

This review has been added to our list of titles about Anxiety.

Armond goes to a party – a book about Asperger’s and friendship

By Nancy Carlson and her friend Armond Isaak

Armond goes to a party – a book about Asperger’s and friendship

By Nancy Carlson and her friend Armond Isaak

Illustrations by Nancy Carlson

Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing, Minneapolis.  2014

Reading age 5-9 years

The title of the story book “Armond goes to a party – a book about Asperger’s and friendship”  by Nancy Carlson and her friend Armond Isaak is self-explanatory.  The storyline is simple and linear.  The main character of Armond appears to be based on the “friend” in this authoring duo.  The reader is allowed into Armond’s private thoughts and experiences as he prepares for, and attends, a friend’s party.   The story allows the reader to experience the party from Armond’s point of view and describes Armond’s sensory experiences with wit and humour, such as when the baby brother’s smelly nappy makes him feel sick, or when the crowd of children becomes overwhelming and Armond tugs his friend’s Mothers’ skirt saying “I need a break”.  At this point it is easy to empathize with Armond’s experience and enjoy joining him in a quiet room where he can relax and play lego.   The book ends with Armond’s honest and positive assessment of the party and his part in it, which in turn allows connection between himself and his friend. 

The full-page colour illustrations are bright and busy, allowing the reader to see the chaos of the party from Armond’s point of view. They feature boys and girls from a racially diverse group, rendered in a cartoon style.  Attention is paid to the expressions on Armond’s face.

The book contains an end note to “grown ups” about Asperger’s Syndrome and friendship. This contains quotes from the real-life Armond about his experience of Aspergers, interspersed with explanations and tips for adults to assist children with Aspergers in social situations.

NB: it is the reviewer’s understanding that in 2021 Aspergers is currently considered be part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder, and not a separate diagnosis. Therefore  it might be necessary or desirable  for the reader to adjust some of the terminology whilst reading or discussing this story.

This is a link to a youtube video of “Armond goes to a party- a book about Asperger’s and friendship” being read aloud.