Emmett and Caleb by Karen Hottois

Values: Kindness, Friendship and Respect.

This is another Book Island triumph! Emmett and Caleb is the story of two neighbours and the journey of their friendship over the course of a year. It’s beautiful illustrations by Delphine Renon match perfectly with the words to show the gentle nature of their relationship.

The reader observes how the friends have different personalities and yet are best friends. This is a really important discussion to have with children – friends can be different! I know from teaching LKS2 that there is often pressure (especially with girls) for friends to like and do all the same things. The reader observes all of the special, and mundane, things that friends do together. Everything from eating breakfast to walking in the woods to holding birthday parties to writing poems for each other. It truly is a beautiful display of friendship. It would also open up really insightful discussions around what being a friend means and how to treat friends. It is interesting in the book that Emmett and Caleb experience disagreements and they have to overcome this. Another rich conversation to have!

To an adult or more mature reader, there is potentially the implication that Emmett and Caleb may be more than friends. Subtle hints include the rainbow birthday cake, their walks in the woods together and their emotive poetry. Ian Eagleton from The Reading Realm has written a wonderful interview with Karen Hottois on his website where he asks her if this was her intention. She replies that, to her, Emmett and Caleb are friends, but that it was deliberately written in a way that allows readers to come to their own conclusions. This is what I love most about the book – it is totally open to the reader’s interpretation. I also enjoy the way it is longer and more detailed than a picturebook and so you really feel a sense of getting to know the characters. Incidentally, in the same interview, Karen explains that she writes all of the characters in her books to be free to love who they wish and the importance of this message for children. I totally agree!

I would use the Values of kindness, friendship (as discussed above) and respect. Kindness seeps through every page of this book. There are so many rich examples – I bet the children would find more than you would ever expect! The way Emmett makes Caleb breakfast every morning; they go on picnics together; Caleb picks mushrooms and chestnuts for roasting; they write poems and organise birthday celebrations. It is a great book for discussing kindness by actions and kindness by words. Arguably, Emmett shows little acts of kindness more frequently than Caleb, but it is Caleb who often initiates the big, bold gestures. A great conversation point in itself about how we recognise love and kindness in others. It is also good for recognising when characters show themselves kindness.

This also ties in with respect. Emmett and Caleb have a disagreement and have to fix this respectfully. They have hurt each other’s feelings and they need to think of a way to say sorry and smooth things over. This isn’t always easy to do, and it shows children that friendships are complex and require respect for the other person even when they might not see things the way you do. Lots of life lessons here.

I think you could get some beautiful artwork, PSHE work and class discussions from this story. It might not be one to read all at once as I think it requires careful looking at the pictures and words, which are rich with description and imagery in themselves. It is packed full of inference and I guarantee you will find more and more every time you read it. I also think it is timeless and therefore will be on your Values bookshelf for years to come. Find this book on the Book Island website plus many more of their gorgeous titles, some of which are already featured on this blog. Please do go and read more of the interview with Karen on The Reading Realm too as it gives you such an insight into her thought processes during the writing process, and relates this book to other authors, people and nature who have inspired her.

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