Lenny Goes to Nursery School
by Ken Wilson-Max
(Janetta Otter-Barry Books, Frances Lincoln, 2013)
In these third and fourth books of Ken Wilson-Max’s series of well-crafted Lenny stories for pre-schoolers, we follow Lenny playing hide-and-seek with his Daddy in Where’s Lenny? and his progress through his first day in Lenny Goes to Nursery School. The solid, smallish, square format of the books is ideal for young children’s hands; and the pages made of stiff card with rounded corners are a little more grown up than a board book but robust enough to withstand some rough handling.
Accompanying the very simple text, the illustrations are bright without being garish. They combine some exuberant layering of paint with deft flicks of the brush to capture the nuances of Lenny’s (and everyone else’s) facial expressions. In Where’s Lenny? the illustrations add a layer of meaning, allowing young readers/listeners to find Lenny where his Daddy studiously cannot – but also conveying that glorious phase of conceit when playing with the very young: if you are not looking directly at them or they cannot see you, then they cannot be seen! In fact, Daddy finds everyone (Mummy, Wilbur the dog, the goldfish) but not Lenny – until the very end, when the love that shines through the book is affirmed in a beautiful family hug.
In Lenny Goes to Nursery School, Wilson-Max captures the mixture of anxiety and excitement in a child’s first day, when Lenny ‘frowns and waves a little wave’ as he says good-bye to Mummy. He immediately makes friends with a girl called Lucy and they work and play together all day. The story takes young readers through a typical nursery/kindergarden day – Lenny plays, sings, paints, has a snack and listens to a story, interacting all the while with his teacher and/or new friends.
These joyous stories will appeal to young children, who will recognise and empathise with many of the scenarios. Although Lenny’s ethnicity is not highlighted (and indeed there is no reason why it should be), these books are significant because they feature a wide variety of skin colours. Lenny Goes to Nursery School is an important story to share with young children because it reinforces the normality of friendship between children from different ethnic backgrounds, an issue that has been highlighted recently regarding picture books. Where’s Lenny? also plays a part in breaking down stereotypes, as Lenny is seen playing with his father, while Mummy fixes a light.
These are aspects of the books that will appeal to adults looking out for diverse stories to share with their little ones. The children themselves will love the stories for their own sake.