Shy children often find a refuge in imaginative worlds, and time spent in those faraway places may help them when they come back home.
So it is with Sophy. School is a place of isolation and anxiety, but in her city flat she has made a wolf den. Beneath a blanket, by lamplight, Sophy wears her wolf suit and imagines that she is fierce and fast and strong.
One morning, Sophy wears her suit for school. Surely everyone will like it and want to be her friend? But Sophy still can’t find the courage to talk to anyone, and the other children laugh at her. Back home, she hides in her den and cries – and as she does so, something extraordinary happens. Her den becomes the “silent, snowy woods she knew from her books,” and a wolf and her pup are waiting to play with her. Together they run and prance and howl until a blizzard strikes, when they seek shelter in a deep, dark cave. But the cave is also sheltering a bear, and it’s this encounter that helps Sophy speak up. When she returns from her adventure, the warm, brave feelings inside her are still there, and finally Sophy is able to find her voice.
Sophy’s story is told in a way that helps young audiences connect, and children who find ambiguity challenging will be pleased by the way Jo Loring-Fisher handles the dream element. Others may find this aspect disappointing, and feel that the text doesn’t quite match the lyrical charm of her artwork. And it’s Loring-Fisher’s artwork that elevates this story and transforms it. Landscape and mood are evoked with such skill and sensitivity that we can feel the chill of this northern forest and the warmth of Sophy’s interactions with the animals. Grey city playgrounds, caves filled with leaf-litter and luminous snowscapes are brought to life in spreads that sweep us away and fill us with magic.
Loring-Fisher’s story may not surprise readers, but it has important things to say, and it says them kindly, in a way that will resonate with children who are dealing with shyness and need to work out how to live with it. As with Sophy, change may be necessary, but this doesn’t mean we have to lose who we are. Imagination allows us to explore new versions of ourselves, and books like this support and illuminate such journeys.
It’s worth adding that the endpapers continue the visual story of Sophy’s friendship with the “owlish little boy”, and there’s a special bonus in the hardback: remove the dust jacket to reveal a gorgeous snowscape glowing in the sunshine – just like the pattern on Sophy’s (magic?) lampshade…