Tuesday, 22 June 2021

'The Small Things' by Lisa Thompson, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart


Small Things is a small book in which the big events are emotional friendship dramas rather than physical ones. But don’t underestimate it. These are exactly the kinds of upset and preoccupation that come into the lives of most children, to which they’ll respond strongly, and from which they can usefully learn. As a child of about eight to ten I would have really loved this book, empathising with all of the girls in it, each of them being nice characters but with different relatable problems. 


Anna tells this story, and she is the character who gets things wrong and has to put them right. Anna has nice friends in class, but she has a chip on her shoulder about being boring in comparison with those friends who go to pony riding and language learning and dance classes after school. Anna’s nice family can’t afford such things. 


Then new girl Ellie joins the class, but in an interestingly different way from the usual. Ellie has been very ill, her immune system compromised, so can’t come to class in person. Instead, there’s Ellie-bot, a robot through which she can see and hear and communicate. Amazingly, as the author explains at the end, this is based on real life small robots used in schools in just this way. 


Anna, talking to Ellie via Ellie-bot, tries to make herself sound ‘less boring’ (in her own vision of herself) than she really is, talking herself into lies that grow … but which will inevitably have their come-uppance. 


I won’t tell what happens, or how this is resolved, except to say that it is resolved kindly. Ellie becomes a real friend to Anna and the others, and she teaches Anna of the delight to be found (for free!) in ‘the small things’ such as the smell of cooking, or the way light falls on a surface. Being incapacitated by illness has taught her that.


So, a thoughtful book, a kind book, a very relatable book, and, coming as it does from Barrington Stoke, an accessible book for any child, including reluctant or dyslexic readers. One for school libraries for children to discover and delight in.  

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