Peapod’s Picks is a round up of the books Peapod’s been reading, often at bedtime, each week.
This week is slightly different (although both of these have become the top bedtime book choices too!) as I’m going to take the chance to enthuse on behalf of both of us about two books we’ve been reading from one of my favourite picture book authors.
Normally Peapod chooses his bedtime stories after bath as he goes to bed, but last night insisted on putting these up on the bed ready before he even got in the bath!
Apologies, it’s quite a long one so for a quick TLDR summary:
Out of Nowhere is a heartwarming tale of friendship with the most fantastic illustrations, starring a beetle whose legs I love!
The Suitcase is a moving story about how we treat others and the power of kindness, with a brilliant use of dialogue, quirky and stylish illustrations and the power to get even the youngest readers thinking.
I was really excited when I heard Chris Naylor-Ballesteros had a new book out this year and I’ve had it ordered for ages so I was made up when it arrived this week and Peapod wanted to read it straight away!
Out of Nowhere is the story of a beetle and a caterpillar, best friends who spend every day together. Until one day, caterpillar isn’t there. Beetle sets off to find his friend, because even though it’s scary, friends come first. He can’t find Caterpillar anywhere, then out of nowhere comes….
This is such a lovely story of friendship. With echoes of one of my very favourite books, Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis, this steers away from the funny but macabre to focus instead on the joy, comfort and pleasure a good friend can bring to your life. And how true friendship finds it way through absence, change or difficulty.
Those of you who know me will know I have little time for books that are “too nice” or overly sentimental, and that’s why I love this so much. It takes a topic that usually ends up being a bit schmultzy and ensures it’s heart-warming but has a lightness of touch and an understated, simplicity of phrasing that saves it from being layered on too thick or over-explained.
Indeed, so much of the story (as is the case with all the best picture books) is told through the illustrations and what gorgeous, expressive illustrations they are.
With a strikingly beautiful black, white and red palette, wonderful textures and use of shading and line, I absolutely loved these; I think my favourite thing about the whole book is the artwork.
Peapod loved the book too, and when we’d read it (several times) he was looking at the pictures of other books in the back as he likes to do (these pages at the end of books have me buying so many more books!!) pointing to each asking “got that one?” I said we had The Suitcase and went to get it…
I’ve reviewed The Suitcase before here, but when I did Peapod was only 9 months old. At nearly two and a half now, the thing that struck me most reading it this week is his response to it.
*There are story spoilers below!*
A stranger arrives with a suitcase. The animals he meets are by turn open, curious and a bit suspicious. While he sleeps, they break open his case but then see the error of their ways and, in an attempt to make amends and welcome him, not only fix his case and his cherished teacup with memories of home but build him a new cabin.
Peapod’s favourite part is the ending, and I think my favourite part of reading it with him is when we get to the end and our newcomer responds to the animals’ gift with “There’s just one tiny problem… we’re going to need more…”
Before he can continue with “teacups”, Peapod jumps in with “need more chairs!” which makes me smile and which I think is quite a good observation all of its own!
Peapod is still too little to understand the references this book makes to refugees, but what he is able to understand is the way the animals behaviours affect the newcomer’s feelings, and he’s been exploring this and testing it out (with the repetition that only a toddler can manage) so that a hundred times a day we go through:
Peapod “I broken your suitcase. I broken your teacup.”
Watches for my reaction.
Me (with accompanying facial expressions and body language of course) “Oh, that makes me so sad. They’re so special, I’m upset they’re broken etc etc”
Peapod (looking utterly delighted with himself) “I fix your suitcase. Fix your teacup. Made you new cabin!”
Watches for my reaction.
Me (with accompanying facial expressions and body language of course) “Oh, that’s so kind. Thank you. You’ve made me so happy and welcome. What good friends etc etc”
I can’t tell you how many times a day we go through this. What I can tell you is how amazing it is to see books doing this – helping him work out the world, work out feelings and how our behaviour affects the feelings of others.
This book is often cited as a great book to read to encourage empathy and understanding, and has quite rightly been selected as one of Empathy Lab’s #ReadForEmpathy books too, and it’s a book that’s perfect for reading across all ages with so much opportunity for discussion.
Peapod’s reaction to it only goes to illustrate how effective it is in conveying its message to even the youngest of readers. It’s one I know we’ll continue to read, both every day for the foreseeable future, and for months and years to come. Maybe next time we revisit it, he’ll be ready to dig a bit deeper again…