My family and other animals

A picture book is a good vehicle for gently raising social issues with young children. These two are useful starting points for discussion with children from nursery level to Year 1. In Jessica Strange (Hodder Children's Books pound;9.99, pound;4.99 pbk), Malorie Blackman presents a thoughtful look at differences. Jessica, a large marmalade cat, feels out of place living in a family of mice, and sets off to discover what kind of animal she is. Finally, a duck reassures her that it doesn't matter what she is, as long as she loves her family and they love her.

Alison Bartlett's bold illustrations have great child appeal. The protagonist in Arnie I the Accidental Hero by Joanne Partis (Oxford University Press pound;10.99) is an anxious armadillo (left), whose friends laugh at him for being afraid. When they run off to play, daring him to follow, he has to face all his worst fears - snakes, water, thunder, bats and, finally, a crocodile that is creeping up on his friends. The brightly coloured pictures show how Arnie saves his friends, albeit accidentally, and gains their respect.

Fiona Lafferty is librarian at St Swithun's junior school, Winchester

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