The title of this book is great to say out loud, before you even open the front cover and start reading (which I highly recommend that you do, by the way). It had C and H rolling in the aisles and the three of us spent quite a while experimenting with all the different ways we could make the word sound.
H’s favourite: tearing around the room, dragging the word out for as long as possible to maximise the jolting effect of his running on the sound.
C’s favourite: shouting the word at the top of his voice, pointing through the window at the spot in our garden where he’s seen the most slugs (we’ve had an invasion of them this year – if only this book had arrived in our lives a few months earlier!).
My favourite: pronouncing the word in as many different ways as possible, preferably with an accompaniment of weird facial expressions thrown in as well.
Moving on to the story itself, this is a simple but powerful tale about looking beyond appearances and appreciating others for more than just their supposed beauty (or lack thereof). Slug is used to people thinking that he’s ugly, but on this day in particular is feeling especially low. He meets Spider, who has faced similar problems but has chosen to respond in a different way. When the Slug asks Spider why she doesn’t get upset by others’ reactions, she replies that it’s OK because she knows that she is, “extraordinarily beautiful”.
This line tugged at my heartstrings. When Slug first meets Spider, he screams at her (because he is scared of her), so her simple confidence in her own beauty is even more inspiring. Having seen many a playground incident where even young children hurl unkind words at each other, I am keen to help C and H develop their self-esteem in order to be able to withstand the inevitable knock-backs we all receive from time to time. I’d also like for them to realise that insulting someone on the basis of how they look is especially unkind (not that insults of any sort are kind, of course) because none of us have much choice in the matter!
After learning how greatly Spider’s outlook differs from his own, Slug sets out to discover what ‘beautiful’ really is. The great thing about this book is that it covers an important topic whilst still retaining humour and without ever relying on easy sentimentality. The quote of the book, as far as C and H are concerned, is when a fly tells Slug that, “Poo is pretty.” Anything that mentions poo results in uproarious laughter in our house and this helps the book retain a lightness of touch.
Slug asks many people what they think is beautiful, but ends up being really confused because everyone gives him a different answer. There is a great double page spread (my favourite one in the book) where various people and animals tell Slug about their own beautiful features, but I think you’ll enjoy it more if you haven’t seen it beforehand. The dramatic peak of the story occurs when a hedgehog casually mentions that he finds the Slug beautiful, after which things take a dangerous turn. I won’t spoil the ending, but needless to say Spider comes rushing to Slug’s defence and there is a suitably satisfying result.
I was reading something recently (apologies, but I can’t remember where) which talked about how important the ending is for a story. Even if you’ve loved every other aspect of the book, if the ending doesn’t work you walk away feeling slightly deflated. It doesn’t necessarily have to be clever, profound, or even that exciting – it just has to ‘fit’. That’s exactly what Claudia Boldt has achieved here, meaning that we walk away from this book having taken something meaningful from it. C now tells anyone who’ll listen how much he loves slugs (he tells every slug he sees the same thing as well – truly a boy who wears his heart on his sleeve) and often displays overly enthusiastic affection towards spiders as well. I feel safe in using the word ‘overly’ having observed the spiders’ reactions to his shouts of joy and attempts to cuddle them. Let’s just say they were not on board with his plans for a long-lasting friendship.
This book is well worth seeking out for sharing with children who might be going through periods of low self-esteem and I know it’s one that we’ll be reading again many times.
Disclaimer: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. I was not asked to write this post, nor was I given any money for doing so, and the review represents my own honest opinion.