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WILD FOR WINNIE (Laura Marx Fitzgerald, Jenny Løvlie)
Winnie is no ordinary child. She sees, hears and views the world differently, which makes starting a new school challenging. It’s also a bit difficult for the other children in the class. But when the teacher suggests they try things from Winnie’s point of view, they realise that what Winnie needs is to feel included in their world, on her terms—not theirs.
Wild for Winnie (Dial Books, 2022) is a story filled with useful ideas and interventions that prevent Winnie from being excluded from school with her peers, including time to monkey around outside and calm spaces.
At the end of the book there are some carefully considered suggestions that can make a classroom environment more inclusive for neurodiverse children, including swinging, deep-touch pressure, thrill-seeking activities and some calm ones.
Jenny’s colour palette is cosy and perfectly chosen, as I’ve come to expect from Jenny’s work. The metaphors and similes for Winnie’s behaviours – howling like a hyena, being antsy, chomping like a piranha, monkeying around – are visual and accessible to young children. This would be a great class read, helping children and staff make their classrooms accessible for all, whilst also being a book to help neurodiverse children settle into a new setting.
THE FRIENDSHIP BENCH (Wendy Meddour, Daniel Egneus)
The Friendship Bench (Oxford University Press, 2022) is the story of Tilly who moves to a new house and starts a new school. But Tilly doesn’t find school easy, especially when she can’t take her best friend, Shadow the Dog, or Mum into school with her. Tilly loves doing cartwheels in the sand and playing catch with Shadow… but inside is full of strangers. Tilly’s teacher suggests she try the Friendship Bench but somebody is already on it.
The story centres around a friendship bench that Tilly isn’t sure is working. A boy has been sat on it for ages. When Tilly finally approaches the bench, the pair decide it must be broken and so fix the bench with sticks and leaves and magical sand.
This picture book has gorgeous light-filled illustrations and a perfectly judged text that combine to gently introduce the idea that sometimes you can make new friends without even trying, without even realising. Friendship benches or similar are popular in school playgrounds, but this picture book would be relevant to a range of settings, reassuring readers that friendship can blossom in unexpected places.
ME AND MY FEAR (Francesca Sanna)
The main character in Me and My Fear (Flying Eye, 2018) has a secret – a tiny friend called Fear who keeps the girl safe and helps her explore new things. But when the girl moves to a new country, starts a new school and doesn’t speak the language, settling in is difficult and the girl’s personified Fear stops her doing things like playing and joining in. Fear even stops her from sleeping. The main character feels increasingly sad and lonely.
When a new boy reaches out, Fear shrinks and things improve. When the girl realises he has a secret fear too, their bond is strengthened. Things are still tricky at the new school – it takes time to adjust to big changes – but now the girl knows everyone has a little fear.
This book shows children that fear is important for keeping us away from danger, but also empowers them to manage their worries and mental health. We are all afraid at sometimes.
THE NEW GIRL (Nicola Davies, Cathy Fisher)
The New Girl (Graffeg, 2021) features a new girl and the ways in which she is treated when she arrives at a new school, not all of them kind. She doesn’t speak the same language, she eats smelly food, and she looks different. The story is told from the secondary character’s point of view, but the illustrations keep us firmly focused on the girl. When beautiful flowers begin to appear all over the classroom, the children try to make their own flower but it isn’t easy… until the new girl shows them how and it’s the start of a new friendship.
This beautiful picture book is full of acceptance and understanding. It feels like it is pitched for slightly older children. There is lots to enjoy and unpack. The illustrations are soft and gentle, in keeping with its themes of kindness towards strangers, which remind us that even if you make mistakes when you first meet someone, it’s never too late to make things right.
LITTLE HOME BIRD (Jo Empson)
It’s time to fly south for winter but Little Bird is feeling sad about missing his home… until he has a good idea – he will take all his favourite things with him! Except, it’s hard to keep up with the other birds when he has heavy things to carry.
In Little Home Bird (Child’s Play, 2016) Little Bird’s belongings all find lovely new homes. For example, a dog is delighted with the stick and the berries suit the porcupine’s spines perfectly. When the birds eventually reach their summer home, Little Bird has none of his special things with him, but that’s ok… because there are lots of beautiful new things to discover and it will soon feel like home.
Delightful textures and colours from author-illustrator, Jo Empson, who does foliage and birds beautifully. Little Bird is an adorable main character who shows readers children that change, be that moving home, starting school or something else, can end up being a positive and exciting experience.
OWL BABIES (Martin Wadell, Patrick Benson)
Owl Babies (Walker, 1994) is a classic, gentle and much-loved ‘Book That Helps’ featuring three owlets waiting for their Mummy to return. Not strictly about school, this book could still be used to open discussion about such, especially by teachers who can reassure new school starters that their grownups will return soon. Sarah, Percy and Bill feel lost without their mother who disappears one night and so the focus of this story is the uncertainty they feel as they wait for her. But all is well when she comes home.
The story has repetition and humour dotted throughout, great for early language development. The illustrations are beautiful and will capture young readers’ attention. This book is also available as a board book for those younger children who could be attending childcare settings.
EVERYBODY HAS WORRIES (Jon Burgerman)
Big and small, we all have worries and that’s ok, because the friendly and exuberant characters in Jon Burgerman’s Everybody has Worries (Oxford University Press, 2021) give us reassuring and practical advice about how to deal with worries as they arise. The helpful tips, endorsed by clinical psychologists, are combined with fun rhyming couplets and colourful pictures to help children open up about their feelings and get anxiety under control. Indeed, in Jon’s typically vibrant and fantastic style, this story shows readers there are many ways to support each other and that we are not alone in the struggles we face.
The book begins with one character starting school. This is in the illustrations and not specifically mentioned in the text, but the story would still be relevant for families hoping to soothe new school /starting school worries.