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The fine art of friendship

Meesha Makes Friends by Tom Percival

"Meesha LOVED making things. She could make pictures out of numbers... and pictures out of sounds. Sometimes she made pictures out of both. But there was one thing that Meesha found hard to make... friends."

Meesha Makes Friends is a gentle and affirming story with a powerful message about the importance of being yourself. It also delivers a valuable lesson about and being inclusive and accepting of others. Despite its serious subject matter, the tone is light and upbeat throughout. The story is engaging and interesting and never feels didactic. Meesha is a brilliant character who really resonated with me.

It's impressive how Meesha Makes Friends tackles a subject which can be quite fraught for young people in such a delicate and reassuring way. It evokes the confusion and anxiety that childhood experiences can involve, acknowledges these feelings instead of dismissing them, and suggests positive solutions. Children who sometimes have difficultly navigating the noise, chaos and secret codes of certain social situations will relate to Meesha's uncertainty and bewilderment.

Like so many of my favourite picture books, Meesha Makes Friends champions creativity and the solace it provides. Meesha's first companion is the art she makes herself, which then prompts a boy called Josh who admires it to befriend her. The stars that radiate from Meesha when she is crafting, when she and Josh collaborate, and from their creations, convey the comfort and joy derived from art.

Reading this for the first time, I was reminded of a quote I heard from Mama G during one of her recent lockdown story time events: "The thing you love the most is the thing that makes you you!" Doing what she enjoys, and being herself, is what ultimately helps Meesha to connect with others.

Meesha Makes Friends is written and illustrated by Tom Percival, except for all of Meesha’s paintings which were created by real children, Ash and Joey. The illustrations are fabulous, fluid and dynamic. Mostly in black, white and grey, the occasional splashes of red and blue make the images even more striking.

It's great to see diversity in the ethinicites of this book's main characters. In 2018, only 4% of children’s books published in the UK contained a black or minority ethnic main protagonist. The Irish percentage is likely to be even lower. Children in wheelchairs are represented too.

This is part of the Big Bright Feelings series by Tom Percival, which features lots of Black Asian and minority ethnic characters. I like how the challenging emotions are referred to as "big" and "bright" rather than "bad." We also have Ruby’s Worry and I'll share a review soon.

Tom Percival is a writer, artist, video producer and musician who has written many books for children and illustrated several more. There’s a wonderful note from Tom at the beginning offering advice on how to find common ground with a potential new friend. It also suggests that: “if you ever see someone who looks a little bit ‘on-their-own’ try to include them.” The concluding line is fantastic too: “No matter what you’re feeling, remember that it always helps to talk about it. Be open, be honest, be YOU!”

Meesha Makes Friends helps children who are feeling lonely to understand that this

experience is not unique to them, and that it won’t last forever. This is a book that every parent should read to their kids, whether or not they struggle to make friends or fit in. It’s a fantastic story for helping children to see things from the perspective of others and it helps teach kindness and compassion too. For all of these reasons, this would make an excellent classroom resource and it would be terrific if all primary schools had a copy.

This video Tom made for the Scottish Friendly Virtual Children's Book Tour is also essential viewing. Tom discusses why it’s important to understand our emotions, to talk about them and suggests techniques to help improve our moods. Tom’s three tips for changing how we’re feeling are to go outdoors, to get active and to talk to someone. This is invaluable advice for people of all ages.

Tom is an incredibly inspirational author with an enormous insight and a talent for imparting wisdom in an entertaining and accessible way. I’m looking forward to meeting the rest of the cast of the Big Bright Feelings collection, as well as all the other Tom Percival books too.

Title: Meesha Maskes Friends

Author & Illustrator: Tom Percival

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publication Date: July 2020

ISBN: 9781526612953

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