Frockodile

Authored by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
Published by Hodder Children's Books

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Frockodile is definitely one to add to the collection.

Over the years, I have collected several picture books which challenge stereotypes. A favourite of mine is Morris Micklewhite and theTangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino. It is a simple story and one of the first of its kind that I came across. It deals with issues children may well come up against and is put together in a way that makes the reader feel looked after and okay, even though things in life may well feel far from okay.

Frockodile does all these things too. However, it is also a hilarious story. The choices of anthropomorphic characters are very clever: hyenas are the nasty bullies, and the fierce crocodiles aren’t that tough after all. The sense of fun is emphasised with the illustrations by Stephanie Laberis which illuminate the narrative and bring the characters to life.

Jeanne Willis’s text is witty and fast-paced, keeping children interested and skillfully navigating them through the story. There are, however, some very moving lines: “I just feel happier in heels and don’t you LOVE this dress? I want to tell my father, but I don’t think I am ready”.  It is a story about love, and its overriding message is to be brave – your friends will stand by you, and your parents won’t even care what you wear because they love you unconditionally.

I read this story to my class of year one children. It provoked some interesting discussion; some boys were certain their parents wouldn’t like them wearing girls’ clothes. It became evident during the conversation that they had never even considered, for example, a boy wanting to wear a dress, or for that matter, any other challenges to stereotypes. However, as we talked, and I encouraged discussion and openness, children began to make comments. I was impressed by the maturity with which these five and six-year-olds spoke and noted down some of their responses:

“If you want to do something, but you don’t because you’re worried about what people will say then you aren’t good to your own heart.”

“It doesn’t matter if a boy like ***** wanted to wear a dress. He’s still really good at Lego, and that’s why I like him.”

Child A: The hyenas are just not nice.

Me: What if one of them wanted to wear a dress?

Child B: We would see if they are true friends or not.

Child A: I bet they’re not. They would laugh.

Child B: Yes, they wouldn’t be kind and stick up for him, so they aren’t actually real friends.

I’m constantly surprised by and proud of the children I teach. Serious conversations with small children are brilliant and always leave me feeling refreshed and excited for the future. I’m so glad Frockodile has been published. It is an important book and one which libraries, schools and parents should make sure they own. An excellent new picture book from a writer who just knows how to connect with children… buy it!