Rhinos and Baboons and Bears - Oh My!
This is a fantastic story which acknowledges how issues that might seem small and insignificant to an adult can feel enormous and overwhelming to a child.
It’s the first day of school and a girl speculates about what might await her: a grumpy rhino, a selfish bear and an annoying baboon. As she airs her concerns, her parents dismiss them, telling her she has nothing to worry about. At the same time, her brother confirms her fears and embellishes them with misinformation, making her feel worse.
Only the little girl’s grandmother can help; she sits down with the girl and listens to her properly. Grandmother empathises with and addresses the girl’s fears instead of dismissing them, and even better, comes up with her own theories. So, instead of saying there won’t be a bear at school, the grandmother talks about what it might be like if the bear is kind and gentle.
Another excellent thing about this book is its diversity, especially as only 4% of children’s books published in the UK contain a black or minority ethnic main character. The Irish percentage is likely to be even lower. Although the story is largely about anxieties, it feels optimistic and upbeat throughout. The imaginary scenarios and the accompanying comments by the big brother are hilarious. It’s told in verse which gives it a lively rhythm and the images are bold and vibrant with strong, bright colours.
Ged Adamson’s illustrations are wonderful (and you can see the brilliant 1940s style Coronavirus posters he has created on his website). I love how, when the girl and her grandmother speculate about what school might be like, the illustrations have a cloud-like, dreamy border. This contrasts with the pages where “real life” is depicted as the pictures fill the entire page.
Award-winning author Simon Philip is a former teacher and experienced in school-related nerves from a variety of perspectives. He dedicates the book to everyone starting school – students and teachers – and that seems incredibly apt this year. The first day at a new school can be daunting; it’s likely to be even more so in 2020.
The unlikely creatures the girl was worrying about encountering are there but behave differently to how she anticipated. Her grandmother acknowledging her reservations, and giving them appropriate attention, helps the girl feel brave enough for school. Then, by herself, she discovers that it is not so scary after all.
When you’re a child, it can be frustrating not to be taken seriously, especially when you are upset about, or scared of, something. It’s common for grown-ups to make light of a situation and for older children to invent things to make a younger child more fearful. I Have to Start at School Today addresses all of this with an extremely entertaining and ultimately reassuring story - we loved it!
Title: I Have to Start at School Today
Authors: Simon Philip and Ged Adamson
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 23rd July 2020