Nosy Crow, 2016
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Baxter adores books. Books about scary wolves, brave lions, cuddly bears, cute little rabbits… He loves stories so much his greatest wish is to be in a one too. As he comes out of the bookstore laden with new purchases he spots a sign for an audition to be in a storybook. This is his dream come true! He is SO excited but when he joins the very long line of characters waiting to show their talents, he realises all have been in storybooks before – except him. But he is convinced of his talents – he can sing, dance, act and do gymnastics – so goes forth undaunted onto the stage as the first performer. Imagine his disappointment when the judges dismiss him because they just don’t know what he is. He’s not a scary wolf, a brave lion, a cuddly bear, a cute rabbit or even a hungry crocodile and when he tries to be like them, he fails. Why is being himself not enough?
This debut picture book from Icelandic author Hrefna Bragadottir is quite charming with its lovable main character (who is a totally original concept) who is prepared to follow his dream but finds himself not accepted because he’s different and doesn’t fit the stereotype of a storybook character. As a story in itself, with soft pastel pictures that take the edge off his rejection, it is a stand-alone but there is greater depth here than just a single read because it raises all sorts of questions about stereotypes – are wolves always scary and rabbits always cute? – as well as being true to oneself, tolerating difference and all those other relationship issues young children encounter when they step into the bigger world of preschool or big school for the first time. Venturing into the unknown always raises some questions of self-doubt and when things don’t go as anticipated there can be all sorts of ramifications. The heart-warming ending to the story will bring reassurance and recognition and Baxter will never be an oddity again!
Young readers will delight in identifying the characters they know like the three little pigs, but there’s also scope to investigate other stories that feature the creatures – perhaps make lists and displays to inspire wider reading – and compare and contrast each character with the stereotype. Character analysis in preschool!!! For those a little older it could lead to discussions about preconceptions and misconceptions we have about people and start to break down some of the barriers that are already in place even at this age.
Baxter’s Book is a perfect example of children learning about life through literature and why we need to keep sharing such wonderful stories.