‘Tilly and Shadow had found a new home by the splash and curl of the sea.’ So begins this lovely and sophisticated picture book. We never know why Mummy and Tilly and Shadow, their dog, have moved to the seaside, but we do understand very well that Tilly and Shadow are very close, and that Tilly is feeling lonely without friends. When she starts her new school, she would like to take Shadow with her, but Mummy explains that dogs must stay outside.
Tilly finds the school difficult in the beginning, particularly when there is no one for her to play with. Her nice teacher, a burly man with a big white beard, is helpful and suggests she tries the Friendship Bench, but when she does so, she finds a sad boy already there. When she reports this to the teacher, he suggests that she try again. This time she sits on the bench with the boy, but they are both shy and don’t know what to say. Finally, Tilly says she thinks the bench may be broken, so the boy suggests they fix it, and they do so with twigs and leaves and all sorts of things. The shared activity, is what is important here. They become friends quickly, and by the time Mummy and Shadow arrive to collect her, Tilly has found out much about Flint and his dog. The text is simple but beautifully written, and the pictures show us a great deal about the story. The sadness comes through, and we feel that possibly Tilly has been sad for some time – hence her dependence on Shadow. Her school mates mostly wear the most wonderful Fair Isle type sweaters and hats with bobbles, even the teacher follows this trend. In fact, the setting may well be on an island as the cliffs and abundant trees, as well as the many, many seagulls in residence would seem to make it so. It will take an older child to appreciate the nuances of both text and illustration, but younger children will enjoy the basic story and the wonderful colouration.