Malorie Blackman was Children’s Laureate for two years and campaigned tirelessly for more diversity in children’s books. She is also an exceptionally gifted and highly lauded author, best known for her work for older readers. Pig Heart Boy is a book I’ve reviewed here on Making Them Readers, and is often used in Key Stage Two primary schools as a group reader. It works particularly well as a reader for Year Six children who teachers may want to talk to about things like bullying and respecting people’s privacy, as well as seeing other people’s point of view. Her Noughts and Crosses series is often taught in high school and is equally powerful.
My Friend’s a Gris-Kwok shows a different side to Blackman, and gives younger readers a chance to be introduced to her talents. Barrington Stoke recommend it for readers aged six and up, and give it an interest range from five to eight years. I would recommend it for younger readers as a great bed time story. It’s funny, silly and perfect for sharing.
Mike goes round to his friend Alex’s house to see if he’s ready to come out to play. Alex can’t come because he’s at home baby sitting his younger sister Polly while his mum is out. Polly is proving a handful in more ways than one, and Mike is roped into keeping Polly in check, only it is a little trickier than he anticipated, due to the fact that Polly and Alex are Gris-Kwoks.
A Gris-Kwok, it transpires, is someone who can change into whatever animal they want until someone else touches them. Alex and Polly can only change three times a day because although their mum is a full Gris-Kwok, their dad is just a human. Three times is more than enough for Mike who is dragged into a harum scarum adventure all over the house.
The illustrations by Andy Rowland are bold, black and white sketches that give a real sense of fun and urgency to the predicaments that Alex and Mike find themselves in. The work is full of energy and humming with life that transmits from the words to the art and back again. I particularly loved the rendition of Polly as an elephant, which perfectly captures her mischievous side. You can’t help smiling at it.
The book is beautifully laid out, as you would expect from Barrington Stoke. Short, pithy chapters which give children manageable goals if they’re reading it themselves; clear font with good spacing and layout making it easy to read, and dyslexia friendly cream pages. There are spot the difference, and joke pages on the inside front and back covers. The front and back flaps of the book make excellent bookmarks which help a child keep their place and don’t fall out and get lost, which is a bigger problem than you might think, particularly with a class of children. The end papers have rather splendid fly illustrations on. I would quite like it as wallpaper.
The book works equally well for girls and boys. Although the two protagonists are boys, Polly is a brilliant character who is full of mischief and really fun to read about.
You can sample the first chapter of the book here.