How to find your inner strength
Today I'm Strong by Nadiya Hussain and Ella Bailey, Hodder (Hachette)
What's it about?
A little girl loves school most of the time, but on the days when "school feels sad," it's more challenging. There's a classmate who can be unpleasant and often makes the girl feel uncomfortable and unhappy. Thanks to the help of her friend, a magnificent tiger, the girl is able to summon her inner strength.
What can we learn?
We are all strong, even when it doesn't feel that way, and bullying is never acceptable. It may not be possible to change the behaviour of others, but we can control how we react to it. Although adverse circumstances might not instantly improve, they will get better gradually.
What makes this stand out? This is a wonderful, hopeful and empowering story which will help children find their voice, even when they are feeling intimidated. Although it tackles a serious subject, it is approached gently, in a way that will appeal to children. The story is narrated in the first person, with an authentic voice to which young people will relate, and the illustrations are gorgeous.
About those illustrations...
We love Ella Bailey! Her artwork is incredibly cute and animated, with an attractive colour palette and big, bold characters and shapes. It's so clever how the book flips on its side to show how tall a climbing frame is at the end. This conveys how far the little girl in the story has come too.
The sparse text relies on Ella's images to make the characters and the situations described more vivid. There's so much emotion conveyed by the girl and her tiger through their facial expressions and body language. Despite sometimes depicting distressing scenes for the main character, the illustrations remain bright and uplifting throughout the book.
Why we love it...
It's so impressive how Nadia communicates such a complex and important message in simple language. I have seen some other anti-bullying books, but they aren't as subtle or engaging as this one. The cheerful illustrations help to keep the tone hopeful and child-friendly. My kids love this book and we've found it particularly useful for helping my eldest to settle in at school. We've discussed what she can do to feel strong, and it has really made a difference to her confidence. It's fantastic how this story acknowledges that there are good days and bad days, and lets children know that this is normal and to be expected.
It's unclear at first whether her animal friend is real, exists solely inside the girl's head, or is one of her toys. The other characters don't seem to be aware of him, and at one point, we see the girl cuddling a stuffed tiger. The ambiguity leaves lots of room for the imaginations of readers, and allows them to draw their own conclusions. I love how this reflects how when you're a child, the line between reality and imaginary play is blurred. It also demonstrates the enormous significance of toys and teddies to children, and the positive effect they can have.
Why you need it...
Almost every child will experience some level of bullying at school or in other social settings. This is a fantastic book for showing children that they're not alone and introducing techniques to help them cope when this happens. It's an excellent story for encouraging empathy and teaching children about the impact their behaviour can have on others. It's ideal for opening up conversations and home and in the classroom, and for comforting readers who see themselves in the narrator. As even adults encounter bullies and need to be resilient, this brilliant book equips children with skills that will benefit them their entire lives.
About the author:
Nadiya Hussein won The Great British Bakeoff in 2015, then quickly became a celebrity chef and a bestselling author for adults and children. Having suffered with panic disorder for as long as she can remember, Nadiya wrote her first picture book, My Monster and Me, to help give children and parents the tools they need to talk about anxiety. She loves to write as much as she love to cook, and won a National Poetry competition as a child. Nadiya lives with her husband Abdal and their three gorgeous children.
About the illustrator: Ella Bailey is a freelance illustrator based in Devon in the UK. Ella graduated with first class honours in Illustration from Falmouth University in 2013. Ella has worked with Simon and Schuster UK and Flying Eye Books, as well as Magma for Laurence King. Ella has written her own picture books as well as illustrated the work of many acclaimed children's authors. We love At the Animal Ball which Ella wrote herself and I Don't Know What to Call My Cat by Simon Philip (read a review).