Jan Fearnley's 'Just Like You' is the delightful story of Mama Mouse and Little Mouse walking home to bed as the sun is setting. On their way they pass five other families of animals that are settling down for the night. Little Mouse notices in each case that one of the parents is telling the babies what they will do to look after them. Everything sounds so impressive that Little Mouse feels that the babies must be very special. Each time Mama Mouse tells her offspring that they are all indeed very special, 'Just like you'.
First they pass under a tree where a mother bird is telling her chicks in the nest that she will fly as high as the clouds and across the sky to find the best food for them. Then they come to a pond where Daddy Frog is settling the froglets under a lily leaf for the night. He promises to jump sky high and find the juiciest bugs for them. Little Mouse doesn't like the idea of the bugs but is still impressed. Further along the way, a mother rabbit and her kittens are basking in the sun's last rays of the day. The mother claims that she will dig the deepest burrow to keep her babies 'safe as treasure' and warm. Little Mouse thinks this sounds like hard work.
Down by the seashore, Mama Seal is singing a lullaby to her one and only pup. She boasts that she will dive deep to find shells, corals and fish for him. The last family that Mama Mouse and Little Mouse see is the family of foxes. Father Fox says he will run so far and fast that he will be able to protect his babies from any danger.
By the time the mice arrive home, Little Mouse is looking very thoughtful. As he gets ready for bed, he wonders what Mama Mouse will do for him, since she can't fly, jump, dig, dive or run. Maybe he is not special? Mama Mouse, however, assures him that she will tell him stories, play with him, feed him, cuddle him and even be extremely cross when he is naughty. Most of all, she will always love and care for him. Little Mouse goes to bed happy, feeling very special, and whispers that Mama Mouse is also very special, just like him.
Fearnley's story is a particularly sweet one for the very young. It is an ideal bedtime story because we see Little Mouse being tucked in bed right at the end, as well as the other animals settling down for the night earlier in the book. It is also an excellent story for introducing a small but varied group of animals that each have their own special skills that young children can learn about. The adult that has read to the child could ask if they can remember which animal can dive, which can jump, or which can run fast. A child might also learn from this book that a baby rabbit, just like a baby cat, is called a kitten, and that a baby seal is a pup.
I have the Mini Book version in which the font used for the text is rather small, but 'Just Like You' is available in a larger format. Some pages have two or three lines of text, some have only one and a few have five, so there is never a huge amount to read before moving on to the next page. The text is often superimposed on the illustrations but always on a light colour, so there is no difficulty in deciphering it. Although this is essentially a book to read aloud, young independent readers might enjoy it too.
Fearnley's accompanying watercolour illustrations are absolutely charming. We see Little Mouse trying to imitate Daddy Frog laughing and leaping, while Mama Mouse watches, hands on hips. A cross section of a warren depicts a mole banging on his ceiling with a broom as a rabbit in the hole above prances around playing on a pipe. On another page, a baby fox rolls in the grass, another is climbing all over his dad, and a third is offering him a poppy. On several pages there are extra little creatures to spot such as butterflies, ladybirds and a squirrel.
'Just Like You' makes a refreshing change from cartoon characters, dinosaurs and aliens should you or your children be growing tired of those. Unless you find a small font to be a problem, it is definitely worth buying the Mini Book for £1.99. The larger format is £5.99 (slightly discounted on Amazon). I would recommend it as a gentle bedtime story for those with a love of animals and the countryside.
Also posted on Ciao and Helium.