28th of August 2020
Bravery is a common human trope. Whether conveyed through myths and legends, Pixar movies or comic book heroes, the theme of bravery is often at the heart of many a great story.
There are probably very few of us, who wouldn’t benefit from an injection of bravery. We all have our own monsters lurking, and whether we are on the road to conquering said monster, or still quietly cowering in the corner; stories about bravery can help us look at that journey and decide our next move. For children, who deal daily with new challenges, changes in routines and boundaries; books about bravery and courage can be key to their development and understanding of an evolving landscape.
Black Dog by Levi Pinfold
This story is currently in my top ten all time picture books and was recommended to me by a class of year 4 children I was working with. When I told them I wrote picture books, they immediately dug this one out from the book corner. They had been using it in literacy lessons and had clearly fallen in love. It feels very special when children take the time to recommend a book to an adult. This was also the way I was also introduced to Wonky Donkey. I don’t know how I had managed to miss that one!
When a huge black dog appears outside the Hope family home, each member of the household sees it and hides. Only Small, the youngest Hope, has the courage to face the black dog… who might not be as frightening as everyone else thinks.
The artwork in this book is stunning! Each page has a main illustration but the book also includes other images, reminiscent of graphic novels or a storyboard, (and the work of Raymond Briggs). Pinfold uses these to great effect, beefing up the story and demanding attention from the reader. I love the toys dotted around the house, responding to the situation with their hands flung up in despair. You can even follow the cat’s
reaction to the events!
I enjoyed seeing the the dog grow outside and how the inside of the house looks from the dog’s point of view. There is some fun language play too. I like the use of ‘Guffen’ and ‘big Jeffy’ to describe the dog. Being a fan of rhyme, I also enjoyed the humorous song Small uses to entice the dog to chase her. She encourages the creature to follow her into smaller and smaller spaces. Bit by bit the dog is downsized and follows Small into the family home through the cat flap! This book plays with our perceptions of fear and bravery and forces us to think about how our outlook on events, decisions or even other people, can forge them into something much more intimidating and ferocious than they really are. A truly beautiful and thought provoking book that younger children will enjoy, thanks to the dimensions added by the clever illustrations. But this book is also riding the wave of picture books to share with older children, who will understand the deeper and more profound message.
After The Fall ( How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again ) by Dan Santat
I am a big fan of Dan Santat’s work. The Adventures Of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, (about an imaginary friend looking for a REAL friend) is the kind of story you kick yourself for not thinking of! I first fell in love with his illustrative work in Samantha Bergers’s Crankenstein series. After The Fall, with words and pictures by Santat, is the story of what happens to Humpty Dumpty when the king’s men have put him together again. At the start of the story Humpty tells us, there were some parts of him, ‘that couldn’t be healed by bandages and glue.’
Poor Humpty is basically suffering from a form of PTSD. He cannot do what he loved before, climbing the ladder to look at the birds and enjoy the views as they soar over the city. For a while he settles for this change of lifestyle and decides to make paper aeroplanes instead. This way he feels a connection to the birds in the sky. But one day his paper plane flies beyond the wall and Humpty takes the brave decision to climb the ladder. Santat’s skilful use of language at the end of the book creates a bit of a tear jerker spread for me. Humpty climbs, ‘One step at a time…’ and says to the reader at the end, ‘Hopefully you won’t remember me as the egg who fell down. But the egg that got back up and learnt how to fly.’ Santat then shows us via illustration that Humpty hatches into a bird and flies into the skies above the wall. Genius! (Sniff.)
Superheroes Don’t Get Scared by Kate Thompson
This book is hot of the press, released 3rd September 2020, by debut author, Kate Thompson. The book follows Maisie Brown, who dreams of being a fearless superhero, because they never get scared…right? But when mum and dad explain that even the strongest, boldest and bravest hero can sometimes feel afraid, Maisie realises there’s a superhero in all of us.
This fast- paced rhyming story has a collection of inventive and often very funny comic characters; check out the fearsome and frightening Burpnado, brilliantly brought to life by illustrator Clare Elsom. In addition to the reassuring message that it’s normal to feel scared sometimes, the story also empowers children to face their fears and discover their inner superheroes, because, as Maisie learns, there can be no brave without fear! Every child deserves to recognise and celebrate their own inner superheroic bravery. With some giggles along the way, Superheroes Don’t Get Scared is a welcome new addition to my picture book collection.
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt
This is an old favourite of mine and although the whole point of writing this blog is to increase my repertoire and encourage myself to use new books when focusing on different themes, I can’t help slip this one in!
Scaredy Squirrel never leaves his nut tree. It’s way too dangerous out there. He could encounter tarantulas, green Martians or killer bees! But in his tree, every day is the same and if danger comes along, he’s well-prepared. Scaredy Squirrel’s emergency kit includes antibacterial soap, plasters, a parachute and a mask.
Day after day he watches and waits, waits and watches, until one day … his worst nightmare comes true! Scaredy suddenly finds himself out of his tree, where germs, poison ivy and sharks lurk.
But as he leaps into the unknown, scaredy discovers something really uplifting …he’s a flying squirrel!
This is such a sweet tale about breaking out of your comfort zone and finding a whole new world of possibilities. It has also been kept relevant by the current Covid-19 pandemic, as on the first page Scaredy insists, ‘Everyone wash their hands with antibacterial soap before reading this book.’ In his emergency kit he also has a face mask. The book could be a fun way of generating discussion around keeping safe in school.
When I read this book for the first time I didn’t see the pay off coming i.e. that Scaredy was a flying squirrel! I still remember the class I read it with being delighted with this element of the story, and it is such a joy to share that moment of realisation with a group of kids. I have used this book to introduce the concept of timetables too, as well as the obvious theme of anxiety, breaking out of your shell and facing fears and phobias. I love Watt’s illustrations and scaredy’s iconic nervous smile. If you enjoy this book there are more to read. Scaredy Squirrel is now a series – enjoy!
Thanks for joining me on a journey into books about bravery. A couple more deserving of a mention:
The Storm Whale In Winter by Benji Davies.
The Dark by Lemony Snicket.
When You Are Brave by Pat Zietlow Miller and Eliza Wheeler.
Please comment below if you have any favourites you would like to share.