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!
A new girl called Winnie is joining the class and sometimes she howls like hyena or kicks like a kangaroo or chomps like a piranha. So, it’s time for everyone to get a bit wild …
Wild for Winnie tells the story of Winnie’s first week at a new school. Winnie experiences sensory processing challenges and her behaviour is affected as a result. Different behaviours that Winnie and her peers may find distressing are explored through analogy with various wild animals. With guided play, however, Winnie and her new classmates are taught ways to channel challenging sensory experiences into activities that benefit the whole class.
The story is told by a classmate (though the reader is not told which one) and this child-centred perspective is brought out thoughtfully in the illustrations. While the text never rebukes Winnie, the illustrations do allow the kids in Winnie’s class to express their surprise, pain, fear and enjoyment making this an excellent book for exploring emotions with young children. Moreover, not all the children experience Winnie’s behaviour in the same way; this is particularly useful for talking to kids with sensory processing challenges about the different responses and experiences of children around them.
The illustrations use muted bright colours which convey all the brightness of an early learning space but remain low-key and not too overwhelming. Winnie’s wild behaviour is conveyed through her body movements and also various animals that shadow her in the artwork. This creates some humour that kids are sure to enjoy! Hints in the text remind readers that Winnie’s ‘wild nature’ is not unique and the final spread draws attention to the different wild tendencies of the classmates on a particular day, making sure no kid is singled out.
Wild for Winnie is a sensitive, empathetic treatment of challenges many children experience with lots of real-world advice woven into the illustrations and text. It is useful for kids managing sensory processing challenges as well as kids who may have friends that behave like Winnie. Make sure you look closely at the end pages for a list of practical tips for parents and caregivers to try for different types of behaviour.
A young girl provides instructions for getting a reluctant mum out of bed and ready for work in the morning.
This humorous story will have both kids and parents laughing out loud as it parodies the many strategies parents use to hurry their kids along in the morning. The role reversal is perfect for discussing routines with school age children as it gives them insight into the stages of getting ready that parents need to think about while keeping the mood light and entertaining. It’s also a great reminder for parents not to sweat the small stuff. The child in this story is parenting in the way we’d all like to on our best days—calmly waiting for her mum to finish on the toilet, turning the tv off when it distracts, allowing mum to wear her dancing shoes with just a little sigh. Parents can learn a lot from the wise child-parent in this story.
With its rich muted browns, oranges and purples, the artwork for Get Ready, Mama! feels like a great big morning hug when the sun isn’t quite up. The warm colours draw attention to the love and caring that lies behind the getting ready routine, even in its tricky moments. The illustrations use body language and facial expressions to capture the different pre-occupations of Mama and child. For example, Mama is smelling a flower while the child is busy shooing the puppy out the back door. These details work seamlessly with the text to create wonderful humour but are also useful to discuss with kids who may not always be aware of what parents are doing in the morning.
Get Ready, Mama! is an entertaining way to think about routines from a different perspective and may help both parents and kids see the morning hustle and bustle in a new light.
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.