Last week in the Library I shared a strange book with the younger children called The Thing, by Simon Puttock and Daniel Egnéus, published by Egmont.
As unspecific as the title suggests, The Thing is about an unspecified object that falls from the sky and the four strangers who gather round it to contemplate what it could be.
These strangers in themselves are difficult to define. One looks rather fox-like, one is like a hippo, one is similar but not quite to a wolf, while the smallest one is grey and has ears and is so tiny that it potentially could be mole but it might not be. They all live in a land that looks snowy but also appears to have tropical plants – again, this is indeterminate.
The story does have a very strong narrative running through it, though – the reactions to something new and different. The animal-like protagonists display human-like responses to the object – curiosity that then turns into an almost voyeuristic fascination with the unknown. A funfair is set up near The Thing, food stalls, cameras beaming pictures into homes around the world. Everyone is looking at The Thing and wondering what it is because it is so very different.
When answers are not forthcoming and The Thing remains where it is – uncommunicative but not threatening, fear and suspicion grow. Everyone wants The Thing to go away because they cannot understand it and, one day – it disappears into the sky.
At this point, the children thought that The Thing was a UFO or spaceship of some kind. Earlier there were other suggestions, including a Mickey Mouse house (The Thing has appendages that look like Mickey Mouse ears!), a snowball type of thing, a mushroom, etc.
I think the point of this book is that sometimes it’s hard to label things – whether it’s The Thing of the title or the hard-to-define characters inside. They just are the way they are and it is up to us whether we accept or reject them. The characters in the book (not the original four, who seem quite curious but welcoming) decide that something so odd must be a threat and become hostile in their attitude towards it.
While this book was published in 2017, this unease regarding people who are different is just as strong if not moreso and, therefore, The Thing is a very relevant book for our time. The fact that it takes these messages into an imaginary world helps to prevent readers from becoming defensive but still raises important questions.
When I read this story to some of our Year 3s today, they really wanted to know what happened next to The Thing! I suggested they go away and think about it – perhaps even come up with their own answer! Their own story, even. I’ll let you know if we have any takers…