My friend Ernest by Emma Allen
Ill. by Hannah Sommerville. Angus & Robertson, 2017. ISBN
It is the first day of school and Oscar has put his brave on along with the knight's shining helmet from the big dress-up box. But just as he goes to get the shield he is shoved out of the way by a kid who snatches the dragon tail. A knight and a dragon are traditional enemies and so it seems to be the case again. Oscar is intimidated by this scary dragon-child and even though he acts brave he's not really. Seeking shelter in the cubby he finds a princess who is hiding from the crocodiles and then in comes the dragon.
This is a story that was probably reflected in most of the schools around Australia just three or four weeks ago as the newest bunch of big-schoolers began their new adventure. No matter how big and brave and fearless they were on the outside, they were just little five-year-olds in a big new world on the inside. While in those traditional scenarios Oscar would have slain that dragon, in this story he faces his fears. He tells the dragon he is not afraid of him but when they come face to face he is able to articulate that he is a little bit scared and why. Rather than hiding behind his fears and perhaps not having the best start to school because he makes Ernest scarier than he is, Oscar learns that acknowledging them and facing them can lead to something much better. He also learns that just as he is hiding his concerns behind the knight's outfit, others might also be hiding behind a brave face and that taking the time to dig a little deeper can lead to some rewarding and fun times.
From the front cover, Sommerville's illustrations bring this text to life - young children will know immediately that this is going to be about two little boys - one a knight, the other a dragon and thus destined for conflict. But there is also a clue to the outcome in the title - the main character is Oscar but the book is called My Friend Ernest.
Even though the beginning of term is slipping away into the memory, this would be a timely book to read to children and remind them of how they were feeling back then and how far they have already come in conquering their fears and how brave they are and can be. Life is going to be tricky at times - just how tricky depends on how we deal with the twists and turns.