We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. *contains spoilers*
A fun, silly look into overcoming differences. Penelope Rex is nervous to start school and becomes even more so when she realizes she is one dinosaur in a class of 11 human children! Silliness ensues.
I appreciate a well carried-out metaphor. It allows a story to carry a different message for every reader, and those are the kinds of books that spark the best discussions. For me, this book was about bullying. Although neither Penelope Rex or any of the other children are mean at any point, I saw this as a look into the psychology of bullying. Many children lash out or become “bullies” out of nothing more than lack of knowledge. They don’t understand why other children are different, so they become confused or scared and it can manifest as anger: which they then take out on the source of their confusion. This is what happens to Penelope. Prior to walking into her classroom on her first day of school (that’s already a lot for one dinosaur to handle!), she knew children to be food. So, she does what she knows and eats everyone right away. She spits them all out when she’s told, but the damage is done, and the children are afraid of her. Even when she’s told first by the teacher and then her father that she shouldn’t eat them because they’re the same as her inside, she has a very difficult time fighting her initial instincts, and even slips up. It’s not until she experiences firsthand what it’s like to be someone’s snack that she truly understands and changes.
Ryan Higgins’ illustrations have a realistic style with round edges and caricature-like exaggerations. I love that on pages where he is showing a larger scene, the background is monochromatic while the characters or objects of interest are shown in full color. It allows for a lot of detail to be shown without overwhelming children by having too much to absorb in one page. I love that in the 12 human characters (11 students and the teacher) there was so much representation of other religions, races, and body types. We have already read this book 5 times in 2 days, and I continuously find myself noticing goofy little jokes in the illustrations that I missed on the first read. My favorites are on Penelope’s first day when she is “trying hard” to make friends with the other children after she ate them. This is a beautiful example of letting the words and the illustrations share equal parts of storytelling!
I give this book 5/5
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