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With the arrival of our second child only a few months away, I have recently taken over bed-time duties for our four year old daughter. I am slowly getting into the swing of things, and my daughter helpfully reminds me of her established routine if "silly Daddy" forgets something. Part of the nightly ritual is choosing and reading a story together.
With my hectic day at the office, this presents a chance for both of us to unwind and enjoy some quality time. Usually, I let her choose, but after reading "The Enormous Crocodile" and "Hungry Caterpillar" for the umpteenth time, one night, I decided a change was in order and took an executive decision.
Attracted by the colourful and nicely illustrated cover, and a tag line that read "A Story About Being Different", I picked up "Little Zebra", and after getting my daughter's buy-in (not easily - kids are sticklers for routine and she was somewhat sceptical at first), we settled down for her bed-time read.
The book is slightly different from your average kid's book - it's faith based, with a subtle and simple Christian message running through it. Given the simplicity of the text, the underlying message and the vibrant watercolour illustrations, this book would suit children up to the age of five.
Published by Barnabas in 2007 - an imprint of the Bible Reading Fellowship - this 8" x 8" book runs to a modest thirty, beautifully illustrated, pages. It has an RRP of £5.99 and comes in hard back, but it can currently be ordered from the excellent Wesley Owen web-site (www.wesleyowen.com) for £4.99 (including free delivery).
Assuming there are no precocious, computer savvy toddlers on DooYoo capable of reading this review, and that adults will want to know the subject matter before reading it to a child, I think it's safe to assume I can reveal most of the story.
Little Zebra is born without stripes. As she grows up and interacts with the world around her, she realises she is not the same as other zebra's she plays with and begins to question why she is different. Her father introduces her to other different zebras - an old-timer who has white stripes instead of black ones (this made me chuckle) and a visiting herd from far away with pale legs and unusual stripes.
Each time, when she asks why they are different, the response is simple and elegant. "We don't know. God made us, and he loves us just the way we are." Her father points out that even similar looking zebras are different - their ears, manes, and even stripes are unique - but that despite this, they are all zebra and need each other. Little Zebra is given special responsibility for acting as a lookout for a herd and does her job well. The book concludes with her gaining confidence in herself and being proud that she is different.
I find books with a central message to be extremely useful, as they serve a good basis for discussion with your child and to test their learning and understanding. The simple message here is that it's not bad to be different. There is nothing wrong with it - in fact, God made each and every one of us to be special and unique. Despite the fact that we are different on the outside, on the inside we are all really the same. This is an excellent message that is worth teaching from both the faith-based and secular view.
My daughter liked this book, and although she doesn't demand return reads like she does with stalwarts such as "Bear Hunt" and "Cat in the Hat", after the first few reads, she has independently chosen it on occasion.
Olwyn Whelan's illustrations really bring the story to life - and children will delight in spotting the veritable menagerie of animals that feature (lion, giraffe, water buffalo, antelope and elephants to name a few) but if I am being frank, the pictures are the strongest part of the book.
Catherine House's narrative is not bad, but it's somewhat stilted in places, and the second half of the story - when Little Zebra acts as a look-out and warns the herd of danger - seems a little out of place and doesn't really tie in with the central message. Not a bad little book, but it could have been better.
© Hishyeness 2009