Only freaks turn things into bones

Review by Susy Carryer, secondary school English teacher and mother, who has worked with children and young people

Steff Green, Illustrated by Bree Roldan (2019). Publisher Obscura, NZ

Being different is something that people struggle with at any age. Only Freaks Turn Things Into Bones uses the sort of macabre humour that appeals particularly to new entrant age children to present some important messages to anyone who feels like they don’t fit.

Starting school, Little Grim, son of the Grim Reaper, is initially welcomed, but every living thing he touches turns to bones. It is not long before he is being excluded and mocked. This speaks directly to the experience of children whose best efforts to fit in, and good intentions, can go so terribly wrong. Things that were just accepted in the home environment exacerbate their sense of being different at school.

Running away to the cemetery, Little Grim meets a girl who is delighted when her pet kitten becomes a skeleton cat. She assures him that his difference is part of the variety of life. This acceptance communicates the central message of the book. Yes, you are different, and isn’t that great! Your difference makes you who you are.

Suzie and Little Grim join a group of others excluded by the majority. As they start having fun together, others want to join in, thus reminding children that when they are truly themselves, others will be drawn to them.

With vivid illustrations, supporting an accessible text, this book is perfect for beginning readers, or as a read aloud for those not yet reading confidently. The message of celebrating the uniqueness of each individual is equally relevant to children who struggle to fit in, and to those who need to learn to welcome and include others who are different.

The Mental Health Foundation’s Information Service brings you reviews this Pink Shirt Day on books with bullying prevention themes.

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