the life-changing value of speaking up—for yourself or for someone else

by Aura Parker – Scholastic Press, 2016
ages 2 to 8 years / picture books + emotional resilience, heartwarmers

When I read this book to four-year-old Ivy (before last week when she moved to Tasmania), she sat in silence, then, at the last page, said, “Let’s read that again.”

Twig is that sort of book—beautiful to look at, with a story that's relatable and full of interesting ideas to process.

It's about Heidi, a stick insect, who is off to school, where she finds that nobody notices her. 

The other bugs at her school aren't mean—they’re just getting on with life.

Miss Orb, the teacher, is attentive but she's also busy. And Heidi does look a little like a hatstand. (Which is why Miss Orb hangs her weaving on her.)

Poor little Heidi is despondent and sighs:

"One, two, three.
One, two, three.
I’m not a hatstand can’t you see?"

and ...

Heidi’s quest to be seen feels familiar—every child surely has moments when nobody sees them ‘here … there … or anywhere.’

Finally though, as is mostly true for everyone, Heidi is noticed. And she discovers that the other bugs weren’t being unkind—it was simply a matter of her camouflage ‘working too well.’

Miss Orb comes up with a wonderful solution* and Heidi finds her place in the playground. It’s a satisfying and promising end ‘and everyone could see how happy she was.’

The power in this book:

1)  Twig is a story about being seen; it’s about the power that flows from being noticed. Heidi becomes an important part of the bugs' play but, before she was 'seen', the whole community missed out on enjoying her wonderfulness.

2)  It’s a sweet and gentle reminder to notice the people around us—to find the child in the playground who doesn’t have a friend, to look for the unseen people who affect our lives, to seek out people living lives different to our own. And it’s full of promise that, as we do that, their lives will be richer and so will ours.

3)  It's also, every bit as much, about speaking up. Children navigate a complex world—one where they are encouraged to be both deferential and precocious. Twig does a wonderful job of showing the importance of speaking for oneself. Heidi is quiet and worried but doesn’t introduce herself, or make a noise so she could be more easily seen—until at last she yelps in surprise: 

“I’m NOT a twig! I’m me! I’m Heidi!’

It’s a brilliant little affirmation and a great one to copy. Understanding that ‘I’m me!’ can be the beginning of growing to be comfortable and happy—and, by extension, being able to notice and help others.

4)  It reminds us that it’s easy to misunderstand motives. When Heidi isn’t being 'seen', she thinks that no one wants to be her friend. She’s sad and worried, and innocent actions from the other bugs seem to reinforce her misconceptions. When she is finally noticed, things change. The other bugs love playing with Heidi, and now that Heidi knows them, she loves playing too.

It was the best weaving they had ever done. … and everyone could see how happy she was.
— from Twig

5)  Most of all, Twig is about helping people stand out. It’s about bringing people out from their camouflage—whether self imposed or thrust upon them. When Miss Orb and the class *make a beautiful and colourful scarf for Heidi to wear, they make her visible. She becomes more than background—she becomes a feature. And when she is a feature, Heidi contributes to the joy of all the other bugs too. It’s a wonderful example of the importance of valuing and affirming diversity. Importantly, when Heidi wants to be less visible (like when the bugs are playing hide and seek) she can simply remove the scarf and hide herself again.

That’s the essence of a healthy community don’t you think? For each member to have their talents and contributions made visible, always with the assurance that they can choose to hide away if that’s what is best for them?

A small reading hint:

This is a stunningly lovely book; there’s such delight in the bugs and their school days. It’s great for little ones to search for Heidi— and quite tricky sometimes! I’d follow Ivy’s lead and read the book through several times in a row so that there’s space to absorb the story + time to enjoy the art. Don't miss the end pages! Heidi is hiding there too.

This is a great read-it-before-you-need-it book. It’s ideal for reading before children head off to a new community—be it school, day-care, church, or even visiting family they haven’t seen in a while. That way, you and your child will have a nice, non-confrontational framework for talking about friends and being part of a community.

Book Depository  -  Booktopia

Names in this book – Heidi, Scarlett, Midge