“I am enough” by Grace Byers is a series of powerful statements describing and celebrating the purpose and value of each child. It uses similes based on children’s experiences and activities to make connections between these and positive character traits, such as “Like the moon, I’m here to dream, like the student, here to learn”.
The pulsating rhythm of the text leads the reader, or listener, through a series of possible experiences of self, or life. It then guides them towards the idea that “I’m not meant to be like you: you’re not meant to be like me” and culminates with the logical conclusion that therefore, everyone should “say together, I am enough”.
It tackles common childhood challenges such as losing a race and coping with difference. The text is gender neutral however the illustrations are all of young primary school aged girls, suggesting a theme of female empowerment based not in competition but in companionship.
The illustrations, as noted in the book, are acrylic paintings overlaid on simple digital chalk drawings. The simple chalk lines indicate place, such as a park or bedroom, while the acrylic paintings of the characters are beautifully detailed and three dimensional. Many cultural backgrounds are represented in the illustrations, mostly indicated by variations in skin tone and hair, and occasionally by dress. The illustrator has also taken care to vary the height, shape and weight of all the characters and has included one young girl in a wheelchair. As such, it is possible that many female readers will find a point of reference for themselves and/or their friends.
After Milly and her father plant a mulberry tree, her life becomes linked to the love and belonging she finds within and under its branches.
Milly and the Mulberry Tree touches on a variety of themes, such as belonging, family, nature and exploration, that can help parents nurture their child’s developing sense of self. The tender scene showing Milly and her father planting the mulberry tree and her desire to be under the tree at key life moments like her wedding invite readers to think about how nature is involved in our sense of belonging and how it strengthens our sense of connection with other people. While family and love are key themes which lend this story a fairy tale quality, Milly’s personal interests are equally important. Her childhood passion for mulberries and silkworms leads believably to an interest in silk and fashion which in turn lead to travel. This dual focus on family and career feels well rounded and appropriate for this generation of young children.
The illustrations for Milly and the MulberryTree are full of the pinks and purples characteristic of the mulberry. These deep warm colours complement the heart-warming text. They also provide a striking contrast with the bright green leaves of the tree that is so central to the story. The artwork’s stylised flowers, floral end pages and depiction of patterned cloth are visually enticing and enhance the interest in fashion that is developed in the story.
Few picture books follow the course of a child’s life into adulthood; Milly and the Mulberry Tree provides a rare opportunity to encourage children to imagine their own futures and ponder where their own childhood interests might lead them.
Kristen Schroeder (author) and Hilary Jean Tapper (illustrator)
EK Books: 2022
Review by Viv Young
Jonah’s soft toy is a Freddy, not a teddy, so, when Jonah’s teacher announces a teddy bear’s picnic at school Jonah must decide whether or not to take his beloved friend.
Freddy the Not-Teddy is a gentle and fun story that provides many opportunities to talk with young children about difference, belonging and being true to yourself. Jonah ultimately chooses to include Freddy in his school picnic, but he does struggle with Freddy’s difference. As Jonah seeks to make Freddy like a teddy bear, enlists the support of a ‘real’ bear and confronts the confusion of his school friends, readers can explore what the ‘risks’ are in doing something different and also appreciate Jonah’s bravery as he decides what is right for him. The subtle teasing of the children also enables Jonah’s character to model good techniques for dealing with hurtful remarks; a quick-thinking kid, Jonah uses humour to disarm Freddy’s critics. The uncertainty of Freddy’s identity (is he a funky duck, a peculiar platypus or something else?) provides lots of laughs and, through the illustrations, insight into the adventures Freddy and Jonah have had together. The reader feels genuinely worried about whether Jonah will be able to stand by his peculiar and loveable soft toy.
The artwork for Freddy the Not-teddy uses pastel colours with lots of warm yellows and oranges that convey the warmth of Jonah’s relationship with Freddy beautifully. These colours and the watercolour medium give the story a timeless quality that suits the themes of the book, given their perennial relevance. Don’t forget to draw your young reader’s attention to the beautiful endpapers that are filled with lots of different ‘not teddies’ (penguins, platypuses, chickens and ducks). These creatures all have a nursery feel and may be a reminder to many readers, young and old, of those toys that mean so much and are so often not teddies.
Sapling Green feels uncomfortable sharing her unique green thumbs and as a result is unable to connect with other kids at school. When a storm breaks branches off the schoolyard climbing tree, Sapling finally shares her gift in a way that enables her, and also someone quite different to her, to belong in the school environment.
This gentle book about belonging tackles important issues that affect many children, namely feelings of difference and exclusion that are not the result of teasing and bullying. Sapling is a girl who longs for someone to play with but only watches her schoolmates enjoying their boisterous play. The story does not explain or judge her reticence. Rather, it explores Sapling’s unique difference (her literal green thumbs) as she uses it to assist Wynn, one of the boisterous tree climbers at school, who is negatively affected by the potential loss of the schoolyard tree. The intriguing presentation of Sapling and Wynn’s own faltering sense of happiness at school are useful for caregivers seeking to raise issues of belonging and difference. The contrasting personalities and experiences of Sapling and Wynn are a great reminder that we all need to be ourselves to feel like we belong and that being ourselves may look different for different people.
The artwork for The Secret of Sapling Green uses a lot of white space which usefully foregrounds the action, body language and expressions of the human protagonists. This is fantastic for caregivers wishing to explore emotions with their children. The white space also helps highlight Sapling’s green thumbs which complement her pink hair and pink shoes. These unusual character features bring out the liveliness of Sapling which we see in those spreads where she is surrounded by her plants, but which is not so obvious in her initial interactions at school. This savvy characterisation of Sapling hints at the vibrant personality Sapling embodies and will be able to express, if only she is given the chance to be herself. Lastly, the fantastic elements in the story and artwork are sure to fascinate young readers as we follow Sapling into the roots of a tree!
The Secret of Sapling Green is a beautifully illustrated and imaginative story about belonging, appropriate for any child who may feel different at times. It may be particularly useful for neurodiverse children who are finding school a challenge, because it doesn’t medicalise difference or focus on a set of ‘symptoms’ that don’t necessarily, or even often, relate to all kids ‘on the spectrum’. Sapling, whose experience is unlike anyone else’s, is a character we can all connect with.
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.