Ashlee Latimer (author) and Shahrzad Maydani (illustrator)
Abrams Books: 2022
Reviewed by Viv Young
Francis loves words! She is looking forward to sharing all the new words she has discovered that start with the letter ‘P’ but when revising the letter ‘F’ some of her classmates call Francis fat in a way that makes her question the meaning of the word.
When Francis’s classmates call her fat, their tone redefines her sense of the word and its associations; it is no longer about rubbing her dog’s belly or being curled up in her mum’s soft arms but something that makes her feel ‘cold’ and ‘small’. Francis does not have to confront these bullies on her own; her teacher calls out the bullies and her dad provides quiet support as she works through her experience and discovers the word ‘possible’.
The idea of possible is fascinating; it takes the reader right away from worries about body image to a much broader interrogation of what really matters in life. Possible becomes a sophisticated concept to think about what makes us feel good and interested in the world; it encourages readers to think what possible might mean for them.
The artwork for Francis Discovers Possible is filled with warm pinks, yellows and oranges reflecting Francis’s feelings about the world, about words and her family. The soft pastel markings are a constant reminder of Francis’s ideas about ‘fat’; that fat is soft and comforting. There is also something of possibility throughout the artworks as thoughts and ideas mingle with reality giving each scene a dream-like quality.
Francis Discovers Possible touches on themes of bullying and body positivity but perhaps most of all it explores the power of language to change how we view ourselves and the world. This is powerful stuff to present to children and talk about with them!
Scott takes his bear, Buttons, to school to help him feel brave. When Buttons goes missing and the school bully strikes again, Scott must find his brave before he can find his bear.
A Boy, his Bear and a Bully is a humorous and encouraging story about bullying which provides a good example of standing up for yourself in a positive way. Put to the test by Duncan’s bullying behaviour (e.g., name-calling, snatching treats, destroying class work), Scott struggles without his bear to help him feel brave. Scott does have allies—his friend Rosie and eventually his teacher — but ultimately it is the stirring of feelings caused by the loss of his bear that helps Scott use powerful words to put an end to the bullying without physical aggression. The key tips for managing a bully (e.g., using ‘I statements’, being aware of bodily feelings and sensations to manage emotions, telling a trusted adult) are all woven seamlessly into the story and provide great prompts for parents wishing to discuss how to manage bullies in real-life situations.
The artwork for A Boy, his Bear and a Bully makes the most of a hint in the text that the key drama all takes place on a dress-up day. The main protagonists are dressed in a dinosaur, karate and unicorn outfit; even the teacher has bunny ears and monster feet. These costumes lighten the mood and bring a lot of laughter to a subject that can be tricky to talk about. The costumes are also used astutely by the artist to enhance our understanding of the characters and the emotions involved with bullying and asserting oneself.
A Boy, his Bear and a Bully is a wonderful addition for any kid’s library that can help parent-kid teams discuss a challenging topic while having a good laugh.
When Lucy is excluded at school, she is joined by Sad, a large blue bear. Lucy tries to make Sad go away, but she has to find ways to comfort him instead.
The second title in the Follow your Feelings series doesn’t disappoint. It follows the same overall approach to emotions as Max and Worry, similarly encouraging readers to accept and understand their feelings, but with insights and subtle advice appropriate to the particular feeling of sadness. For example, when Sad cannot be ignored, Lucy must find ways to ‘fill his bucket’. She does this by considering the things that make her feel better. These are all small everyday activities (sniffing a flower, eating yummy foods, reading) and often linked to interaction with a trusted adult.
The dialogue between Sad and Lucy is a treat and mirrors their growing sense of comradeship. At first Lucy tries to avoid Sad and even when she attempts to comfort him it is a little hit and miss, creating lovely moments of warm humour. Eventually, however, Lucy is a true friend to Sad and her tenderness is heart-warming. The resolution of the story also sends a subtle message that if we look after our own feelings, as Lucy looks after Sad, then we can be generous in our care of others.
The artwork for Sad uses contrasting block colours—Sad is big and blue but the sky is always yellow and there are dashes of pink and green too. This technique may help readers put sadness in perspective but it also acknowledges that sadness may occur in otherwise happy places. In short, the illustrations create lots of opportunities for discussion. Sad the bear initially towers over little Lucy in the illustrations. He is oppressive but never threatening. Indeed, he is huggable, if also a little pathetic both in his morose expressions and amusingly apathetic approach to Lucy’s attempts to cheer him up. This heavy big bear character is perfect for the gloomy emotion of sadness, yet even Sad is allowed to pep up and also grow smaller as the story unfolds.
The empathetic rendering of what are often seen as negative emotions is one of the great strengths of this series. Sad’s existence is understandable and reasonable; the bullying situation that announces his arrival is something to feel sad about and comfort is what we hope children will receive when they feel distressed by such an event. Lucy and Sad is a beautiful story to help kids feel comfortable with challenging emotions and find positive ways to seek comfort.