The Problem with Pierre by G K Smouha

Values: Empathy, Respect and Love.

The Problem with Pierre is a fun, contemporary picturebook with strong messages that shine through and is suitable from Early Years right through to Year 6. G K Smouha's clever language is beautifully paired with Suzanna Hubbard's detailed illustrations and both bring the story and characters to life.

In the story, two neighbours - Bertram and Alan - are best friends. They get on very well and enjoy spending time together, but they are also very different. Bertram is neat and organised; Alan is the opposite. However, Bertram begins to feel lonely and so buys himself a cat named Pierre. Pierre, described as, "a fine cat with marble-blue eyes and a haughty air," seems well-suited to Bertram. However, Bertram slowly and sadly learns that appearances may be deceiving as Pierre's likes and personality seems much more suited to Alan... and he spends most of his time there. Although he enjoys spending time with Pierre, Alan does not like to see Bertram upset and offers all kinds of solutions to help Pierre feel more comfortable at Bertram's house. The story concludes with Bertram suggesting that they knock down a wall between their houses so that they may share their homes and Pierre may enjoy living with both of them!

This story has so much depth that it would be amiss to read it, skimming over some of the rich qualities that lie in the words and illustrations in my opinion. Although there are multiple Values you could choose to examine with the book, here, I explore empathy, respect and love.

Firstly, the Value of empathy. As described, Bertram is upset by Pierre's preference for spending time at Alan's house. Alan, although enjoying the cat's company, offers many solutions - including wildly elaborate ones such as giving his friend his furniture. (It isn't a 'realistic' story, but that didn't matter to me when I read it.) Empathy as a Value shone through. Alan really understands how his friend is feeling and goes out of his way to make him feel better. At the end, the tables are turned, and Bertram shows empathy when realising that by him accepting the offer of Alan's sofa, he has taken something away from his friend. He finds the ultimate solution - they share a home; their ability to show empathy has drawn them closer together.

Secondly, the Value of respect. Not only do the men respect that they are different, and accept this, but they respect Pierre's personality. Something we talk about often with children is respect for animals; many children have pets and can relate to this. By allowing Pierre the freedom to roam between the houses, and finding ways of making him comfortable and happy, the men show respect to him.

Lastly, the Value of love. I have chosen this (although perhaps friendship was a more 'obvious Value) as the book highlights a platonic love between friends. The friends show care, compassion and kindness towards each other and have a friendship that blossoms over the course of the book. Their love for each other means that when they feel upset and frustrated, they try to find solutions to this rather than turning to anger. This is an important message to share with children; asking them how they show love towards their friends is a great circle time discussion. Conversations about emotions such as jealously, disappointment and confusion within friendships are important and I feel this book addresses this in a sensitive way.

Cicada kindly sent me this book, although with no obligation to blog. I have read it a few times in the last couple of weeks and have gained more from it each time. Incidentally, I will be using it as an accessible way of seeing effective (and accurately punctuated) dialogue in stories with my Year 6s in a few weeks too as part of my narrative unit too! There are plenty more gorgeous books on Cicada's website, many of which I have my eye on!

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