Norton and the Bear by Gabriel Evans

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Berbay Publishing, 2020. ISBN: 9780648785132.
(Ages: 3-8) Highly recommended. Intricate, delicate illustrations accompany this story about individualist Norton (a poodle living in what has the feel of a French village). He finds a jumper that is very different to what everyone else is wearing and he is really happy about his uniqueness. That is until a bear sees him and decides he needs one too! He adds a scarf to his outfit but soon enough he runs into the bear again. 'That scarf is the perfect accessory for this jumper. I must get one'. And he does. The bear is ecstatic that they are so similar, but Norton is appalled. He runs and hides and tries again and again to feel unique, with a hat and then socks and then a flower in his hat. But no matter what he does the bear is there and is copying him. Finally he cracks; 'Stop copying me!', he shouts. When the roles are reversed and Norton sees the bear sporting a new addition to his outfit Norton realises that wearing the same clothes doesn't really matter as he and Bear are both very different anyway and perhaps the bear just wants to be his friend?
All primary-aged children, most of whom love to copy others but despise being copied themselves, will identify with this story. The humour will grab children as they will see their own overreactions within Norton's despair at Bear and his copying. This is a simple, meaningful and visually stunning book that reminds us all that what we look like on the outside doesn't matter nearly so much as what we are like on the inside. It also provides a fun way to talk about why imitation is so annoying and why people copy others (for children it is generally because they want to be friends or want to be more socially accepted). It's a useful reminder to be more tolerant of others and to let go of the small things that bother us and be more empathetic. Themes: Individuality, Belonging.
Nicole Nelson