The New Kid

25 Apr

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I love this book!
I love the artwork and how the brush strokes make me want to touch it, to see the original paintings and run my finger over that red red curly hair. I love its vibrancy and its light. And I love the story.

Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick has told the story of a new kid moving into a street, and the resulting storming and forming of the neighbourhood children, with simplicity and a lightness of touch that beautifully portrays the emotional journey of childhood.

The simplicity is deceptive. On the surface this feels like a light and gentle easily-read story but each page tells us so much about childhood and relationships and life. Each sentence and illustration has layer upon layer upon layer. This is what books for children should be all about- writing pared down to it’s childlike bones, with huge hidden depth waiting beneath the surface. Delicious!

Told from the viewpoint of a neighbourhood boy, we see a group of friends meet the new kid and assess her for potential friendship.

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From the first page the story sets the new girl up as ‘other’. The group of friends have been sent by their mums to play with the new girl. They don’t want to be there and their reluctance and apprehension tinged with curiosity is clear through their body language and expression. Only the dog appears keen and excited. (Keep an eye on the dog. It beautifully echoes the mood and character development throughout the book).

The new girl is placed in the shadows, on the opposite page. ‘Her mum says she has to wear her coat. We’re not wearing coats.’ Beautiful! Such a simple and effective way of showing how children perceive and articulate difference.

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Look at the layout of this spread. The children stand their ground opposite each other, with the new girl alone on her page. Look at how the body language of the children is changing as they become more confident and grab a hold of and use her difference against her. And look at the dog. The dog as pointer for what the reader should be seeing and thinking.
‘”What’s your name?” someone asks.’ And it doesn’t matter who that someone is because they are united as a group. They have one voice against the new girl.

But then the new girl does something special and uses her difference to entice and entertain the other children, celebrating her imagination and individuality. And oh how the book comes alive now! I’m not going to show you what happens in the middle. I don’t want to spoil the joy. But I will show you how it ends.

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With all the children together in a happy heap. No longer on separate pages they have come together united in play. And the new girl still has her coat on. She still holds on to her uniqueness and individuality within the group. And look at the dog!

A wonderful celebration of difference, individuality and the power of the imagination. Go and buy The New Kid or ask for it in your local library. And then relish it! It shows children’s fear and sensitivity, their resilience and resourcefulness. This book celebrates childhood and innocence and children’s incredible ability to find the similarities behind the differences and then run with them, coats flying behind them.

If only we could hold on to that skill as adults. If we all put our super coats on and raced round together a bit more, our world would be a much happier place.

Source: kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s Books.

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