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.
Addressed to your own wildling, this laugh-out-loud picture book takes you through a wild first day of school from waking up to home time. It contains loads of hilarious dos and don’ts with some very sage advice as well.
The Wild Guide to Starting School has a grown-up, modern feel; it treats kids like the growing-up people they are becoming and will soon need to be. The jokes are age appropriate and quite sophisticated; they make kids work for the laughs by investigating the illustrations. Great practice for school! There is some plain, good advice like smile and ask questions when trying to make friends. Most page spreads also provide great conversation starters for discussing how kids might handle aspects of their own first days at school. For example, the drop-off spread shows a cast of Australian animals giving their characteristic goodbyes. Dingoes do the ‘smell you later’, Bilbies do the ‘Bil-Bye’. While this is obviously intended to provoke laughter, there’s a real conversation to be had here about how families should approach those anxious moments before the bell rings and this book is excellent at facilitating those conversations.
The artwork for The Wild Guide to Starting School is, as indicated above, a key component of the humour that is on every page. The wildlings are a group of colourful Australian animals that you follow throughout the course of the book as they navigate different aspects of the first day differently. The animal characters are set against a fairly beige background—often brown, sometimes lined. This feels appropriate; schools are institutions and while they can be colourful, students often bring that colour.
The Wild Guide to Starting School is designed for kids; it’s focused on the belly laughs with the occasional piece of advice you really do need. It should tick all the caregiver boxes because every page is a conversation starter that can help you figure out what your little wildling needs to know or needs to plan with you.
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.
Lu Fraser (author) and Sarah Massini (Illustrator)
Reviewed by Viv Young
The lonely little Witchling needs one last ingredient to magic up a friend. She finds that ingredient in Lily’s bedroom but soon discovers that she may not need a friendship spell after all.
The Witchling’s Wish is a magical tale that stresses the role of kindness and empathy in forging friendships. The message about friendship is straightforward and doesn’t attempt to teach in specific ways but rather by example, leaving plenty of room to discuss what empathic friendship might look like in different scenarios.
While The Witchling’s Wish is an inspiring book about friendship it is also a great tale for kids excited by magic. The witchling’s misty mountain home, her wobbly broom and interesting concoctions create a wondrous world and the hypnotic rhyming text match the magical aura of the illustrations perfectly.
The artwork sets the whole story on a moonlit night but the dark and lonely mountain home of the Witchling is always offset by bright lime green and rosy red highlights, underscoring the Witchling’s good-natured demeanour. The warm colours of Lily’s room do set up a contrast with the home of the Witchling, yet the colours of their different worlds interweave quite literally as their paths cross, conveying a wonderful sense of connection.
The Witchling’s Wish is a heart-warming tale about making friends that brings out the magic of empathy and kindness.
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.
Two boys—Jack and Alex—are playing in the sandpit at a local playground while their mums chat on a bench and a baby sleeps in a stroller. It soon becomes apparent that while ‘Jack likes trucks. Alex likes dolls’.
This hilarious story about good friends negotiating difference is full of wisdom and kindness. It presents conflict and its resolution and with lots of cues for discussion. The dialogue is realistic (‘I like…,’ ‘You can’t…’) and easy to follow. But for this reader the most refreshing part of the story is the way in which the creators avoid stereotypes; Jack is a noisy boisterous kid but he’s also capable of thinking through problems, Alex is quieter, even a little dreamy, but just as assertive as his friend when the situation calls for it.
Bob Graham’s award-winning artworks make this wonderful story sparkle from the very start as he sets the scene before the text of the story begins. His knack for capturing gestures and expressions is on display in every spread and perfects the characterisation of every character, even the mums absorbed in their own conversation! The light bright colours of the world Bob Graham creates convey all the hope and happiness that childhood should be about.
This is a fantastic first book for talking positively with kids about difference and friendship.