How to Spot a Best Friend by Bea Birdsong and Lucy Fleming

How to Spot a Best Friend

Bea Birdsong and Lucy Fleming

Penguin: 2021

ISBN: 9780593179277

Age: 4+

Reviewed by Viv Young

A young girl announces to her Mum on the first day of school that she will find a best friend. Her Mum expresses doubt but this little girl knows exactly how to spot one.

How to Spot a Best Friend is a light-hearted yet wise guide to friendship. Told in the first person, the girl protagonist explains to her mum the difference between a friend and a best friend. For example, a friend lends you a crayon, but a best friend lends you their ‘brand-new, extra-sharp green crayon’ even when you have a lot of leaves to colour in. By contrasting good and excellent examples of friendship, Bea Birdsong keeps the text positive and inspiring while dealing with a topic that can often be fraught for young people. Indeed, the text touches on bullying, competition and jealousy which may be useful for parents who wish to guide their children about what true friendship looks like. Moreover, while the title indicates a best friend the illustrations show the girl protagonist being helped by many best friends of various genders, cultural backgrounds and abilities, which may help parents discuss issues surrounding cliquish behaviour too.

Besides adding this inclusive idea of multiple best friends to the text, the artwork for How to Spot a Best Friend draws out the gentle humour of the text, playing up fun references to, for example, zombie games. The bold and colourful spreads match the upbeat tone of the book while taking every opportunity to reinforce its subtle messages. For example, astute use of body language in the bullying scene imbue the otherwise cheery colours with the necessary gravity to match the subject matter.     

The simple premise of this excellent picture book belies its complex and thought-provoking approach to childhood friendship. It is a fantastic resource for all parents and children looking to contemplate friendship and what it should involve.

Wash Your Hands, Mr Panda by Steve Antony

Wash your Hands, Mr Panda

By Steve Antony

Hodder and Stoughton

Great Britain 2021

ISBN: 9781444948264

Age range 2 to 4years.

“Wash Your Hands, Mr Panda”, written and illustrated by Steve Antony, is an explanation of why handwashing is important, couched in a simple situational story. Mr Panda has brought a box full of donuts for his animal friends, and he and his side kick penguin require their friends to wash their hands before eating them. This takes the form of a call and response structure, with Mr Panda asking each animal in turn, “Have your washed your hands?” Each animal responds with a “NO, Mr Panda, but…”  What follows is a list of the other parts of their body that they have washed. Particularly amusing is the hippo’s response, “No, Mr Panda, but my bottom is squeaky clean”. After this roll call Mr Panda goes on to explain about the existence of germs and why washing with soap and water is important. It’s a light-hearted approach to hygiene, in which the character of Mr Panda is a parental figure and the animals could represent children. Readers of all ages might therefore be able to relate to at least one of the characters in the book. In the final page of the book the animals are all freshly clean and enjoying the donuts.

The full page illustrations are simple form and line caricatures of cuddly and cute animals such as a lemur, a mouse, a rabbit and the aforementioned animals.  The mostly black and white animal illustrations really pop on a background of teal. The colourful donuts look especially fun and appealing in this mix.