Swop the Satsuma-Sized Secret by Lucy Noguera, illustrated by Laura Ireland

cover illustration by Fabio Gois, published by Brilliant Monsters Books

I absolutely love this gently humorous and endearing adventure written by debut author Lucy Noguera! It features a Key Stage 2 boy Ernie, who is facing some major upheavals in his young life. He is mourning the loss of his father and faces further change with a move from the countryside to London so that his mum can start working again as a doctor and the family can live closer to their gran. Whilst his mum and teenage sister Ivy are excited about the relocation, Ernie is having a much harder time adjusting.

Imagine his surprise and delight when he investigates the scuffling noises emerging from the battered leather suitcase that serves as his memory box, whilst he is unpacking in his new bedroom, and finds a tiny, satsuma-sized dog! Before his father’s death they had been planning to buy a puppy, so Ernie is understandably overjoyed with his pocket-sized companion. However, there are stresses involved too. The landlord has a strict “no pets” policy, and when Swop sneaks into Ernie’s lunchbox and accompanies him to school there are a multitude of embarrassing and awkward situations to be faced!

This book is special for a number of reasons. (At risk of sounding like Mrs Merton)…I was first attracted by its dyslexia-friendly format, clear font, off-white high-quality paper so that text does not confusingly bleed through and illustrations by Laura Ireland which give a young reader reflection time. As well as being accessible to children with dyslexic difficulties, the short chapters and fast paced plot make this an ideal book for newly emerging readers.

The story itself highlights many aspects of the need to ally with those individuals who might otherwise feel excluded, incorporated perfectly into the context of the story so that readers will not feel they are being preached at. Ernie’s teenage sister, Ivy, is deaf and communicates with sign language and lip reading. She is portrayed as a lively, outgoing character, always in the centre of things due to the necessity to clearly see people’s faces as they are speaking to her. This is such a positive example of an individual turning what might be seen as a disability into a positive factor in her life. Just as importantly, there are two characters in Ernie’s new class who demonstrate the kind, empathetic behaviour that all of us would like to encounter in our daily lives. Rafa, who befriends Ernie during his first calamitous lunch break and Clemmie who senses Ernie’s discomfort on his first day and positively intervenes to stop the unthinking sniggers of other classmates. Both are wonderful and age-appropriate examples of kindness for this story’s readership.

In case that all makes the book sound very “worthy” please be assured that it is also a humorous, entertaining and enjoyable story of a boy and his unbelievably cute dog. There are many laugh out loud moments as Swop causes chaos at school, some containing the delights of tiny dog accidents, which are guaranteed to appeal to the sense of humour of many young readers! I think that this story will be very popular for children of 6-9 years of age and I am certainly looking forward to the sequel which will be set at The Natural History Museum!