As our world becomes smaller and smaller, we are all faced with new people and cultures. These may seem strange and unfamiliar to us, particularly to young children. Picturebooks can open our eyes to others, introduce us to their ideas and gifts and create a pathway to understanding. Let’s take a look at a new picturebook that in its’ quiet gentle pages do exactly that.
THE NEW GIRL
author: Nicola Davies
illustrator: Cathy Fisher
Graffeg Ltd (29 September 2020)
When a new girl starts school in a strange new town; a strange new country, the children in her class are not friendly or welcoming…not at all. She has odd-looking clothes and strange food packed in her lunches. The new girl doesn’t even understand their language. The other children enter a spiral of meanness and bullying. They think the new girl doesn’t belong and they isolate her from the rest of them. But when beautiful paper flowers start to appear in the classroom, things start to change. The children are enchanted by them and soon realise that the new girl is the creator of these wondrous blossoms. Despite the unkindness the children have shown her, she is willing to help them learn to make their own flowers, teaching them the names in her language. Day by day, her ‘strangeness’ disappears and friendship and understanding bloom.
In this gentle story, issues of diversity, bullying, acceptance and growing friendship are explored as the narrator (one of the ‘bullies’) explains what happens when a new girl from another part of the world joins their class. Faced with the unknown, she and her classmates react with misunderstanding and cruelty. They isolate the new girl, taunting her difference, making her sit apart from them; not wanting to have anything to do with this strange new person. The text is written simply, but eloquently and with beautiful language use that reveals not just the words, but the battery of feeling behind them. It becomes easy to see how they fall quickly into this pattern. And easy to feel how things change when their eyes are opened via a simple, wondrous gift of beauty. Though the paper flowers may still be strange to them, and frustrating when they try to make their own, the quiet guidance of the new girl creates a bond of acceptance and friendship.
Apart from being stunning, the illustrations, with a colour palette that evokes the changing emotions and mood of the story, are used in a most clever way. While the words of the story are given to us from the point of view of the bully, the illustrations show us the tale from the perspective of the new girl. The new girl doesn’t speak English and we do not hear her words throughout the entire book. But these glorious, evocative illustrations give us her voice with pinpoint accuracy. We know how she feels; we know what she is thinking; we understand her cleverness. And we feel her quiet triumph as she brings the gift of paper flowers, and herself into the classroom. This moment of acceptance and friendship is echoed in the words of the narrator and bring the story to a heart-warming resolution. In every way, this is an insightful, loving, extraordinary book.
Nicola Davies in award-winning children’s author. Underlying all Nicola’s writing is the belief that a relationship with nature is essential to every human being, and that now, more than ever, we need to renew that relationship.
Cathy Fisher has been a teacher and practising artist all her life, living and working in the Seychelles and Australia for many years. Art is Cathy’s first language. As a child she scribbled on the walls of her bedroom and ever since has felt a sense of urgency to paint and draw stories and feelings which she believes need to be heard and expressed.
I want to thank Graffeg Publishing for sending this outstanding, important new picture to me. It is an absolute pleasure to read and review…and to share. https://www.graffeg.com/product/the-new-girl/