I AM IVAN CROCODILE!
by Rene Gouichous, illustrated by Julia Neuhaus – Berbay Publishing, 2012
ages 6 years to grownup / picture books + emotional resilience
Everyone knows what it is to feel different or misunderstood. It's part of modern life—we meet many people in many circumstances and we don’t always ‘click’.
And that’s fine, mostly we just do what needs to be done and move on until we come to a place we really do fit. But, for some people, being different or misunderstood is a constant. Ivan is such a child and he tells us that he is, in fact, a crocodile:
“I look like a boy but, inside, I am a crocodile. It’s not something you can see, of course, because it’s inside.”
His actions and words are misunderstood and, in Ivan’s mind, that’s largely because the other children simply don't know who he really is.
Ivan is the subject of some quite severe schoolyard bullying. The other children sneak up behind him and pull down his pants, they taunt him behind the teacher’s back, they call him crazy.
Still, Ivan has people who love him—his teacher and his parents. They understand him, and he feels safe with them.
There’s a hint too that there might be other ‘crocodiles’ with whom he could have a real friendship, but that doesn't happen in the story.
Ivan’s story will tug at hearts of adults who love someone 'different'. There’s a strong implication that Ivan is on the Autism Spectrum—but the same feelings attend anyone who is struggling to fit and who is badly treated as a result. It’s a confronting and difficult story to read—as it should be.
There is no resolution to Ivan’s troubles—nor is there the promise of easier times to come—and Ivan’s emotions are raw and fractious throughout. All of which is to say that this is a realistic look at what it is to be excluded.
The Power In This Book:
Ivan’s feelings are clear. There's no pretending that he's joking or that the other kids are being kind. Feelings of discontent, fear, frustration and unease are often hinted at in picture books but rarely given their full range. Here, they are.
It's a powerful conversation starter. Because the actions of the other children are clearly abhorrent, this is a good book to prompt a discussion about inclusion, understanding and kindness—as well as their counterparts.
For every child who is bullied for being different there is a bully too—that means there’s a reasonable chance that the child you’re reading this to may have been the bully at some stage. Placing the bullied child (Ivan) at the centre of the story can be tremendously helpful in encouraging children to notice others, and feel for them.
The pictures go a long way to helping us understand Ivan; ergo other children. They have a chaotic unsettled feel, perfectly reflecting Ivan’s world.
The importance of safe places is pivotal and a strong reminder that feeling safe is a fundamental human right—one that can be in peril in a school yard as well as in a war zone—and Ivan is safe with his parents and with his teacher. There’s great relief for the reader when he is cared for by his teacher and understood by his parents.
A Small Reading Hint:
This is a book to read one-on-one with a child who needs a framework to talk about their own inner world or their experience with another child. I’d be cautious about reading it to a larger group because there are lots of trigger moments in the story. That’s a good thing one-on-one, but in a group setting it could be easy to miss the child who is feeling especially vulnerable.
This book is a great choice for parents or teachers who are looking for material for acceptance, anxiety, bullying, discrimination or empathy.