I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I think the children’s picture book is the most underrated art form. ‘Willy and Hugh‘, is a fantastic story about the possibilities of friendship between radically different people and a neat way in to talking to children about prejudice too. You can ask softly leading questions as you read alongside, ‘What does Hugh like? What is Willy afraid of? Are they the same? How do they help each other?’ The story can be used as an emotional teaching tool to gently guide children toward understanding that the differences between the two characters don’t threaten their friendship, in fact they underpin it – Hugh is gentle but strong and Willy’s bullies back off when Hugh stands, revealing his huge frame. Willy, with nerves of steel, rescues Hugh from a tiny spider terrifying him. There’s a lovely twist on the last page when the two arrive wearing identical tank tops – Hugh’s is fraying, his huge arms strain at the seams of it but Willy wears his with a smart shirt and tie. When faced with their vest-matchy dilemma, Willy and Hugh put their arms out toward each other for a wry but very warm hug – soul mates!
‘Dogger‘, is the classic tale of a small boy, Dave, and his lost toy, Dogger. Like all Shirley Hughes books, this is packed on every page with emotional nuance, infused with Hughes’ humorous and compassionate viewpoint. Small children seem to relate quite strongly to Dave’s longing for his lost toy. Adults can sympathise with the mother, turning the house upside down to find the durned thing. But for me the real heroine of the tale is Bella: a wise and wry little girl of around eight who, in a brilliant flourish of generosity and sacrifice, caring and playground diplomacy, manages to save the day.