Picture Book Review: Herman Needs a Home by Lucy Noguera, illustrated by Emma Latham

Cover illustration by Emma Latham, published by Brilliant Monsters Books, 8th June 2022

I was honoured to be sent an early review copy of this thoughtfully entertaining picture book, written by Lucy Noguera, who came to my attention last year as a debut Middle Grade author. Her new title for a younger audience is published on World Ocean Day and blends humour, immersive storytelling and ecological themes in the heart-warming tale of Herman the hermit crab.

The interplay of text, playful font effects and glorious illustration by Emma Latham, make this book an absolute delight, and I only wish that I lived close enough to share it with the youngest relative immediately. As Herman and his little sister Hiro embark on a quest to find a new, larger shell for Herman, accompanied by an enthusiastic group of hermit crab friends, every page glows with interest. The little crustaceans’ faces are cutely appealing and express a range of emotions which young children will easily comprehend. The beach and rockpool habitats are rendered so beautifully that you can almost feel the warm sand between your toes and smell the salty tang in the air. This is a story that pulses with life and prompts early thinking about the inter-dependence of life on our planet.

I love the way that the quest veers away from the happy swapping of seashells between different sized crabs to the fruitless search for Herman’s new home amongst the discarded piles of waste on the beach. The darkening of the colour palette combined with the increasingly sad and bewildered faces perfectly convey the sense that all is not well, and open the opportunity for conversations with young children about the problems that careless discarding of waste can cause for marine life. A range of manufactured products that contribute to ecological disruption are highlighted in a thoroughly engaging way for children as Herman tries to make his home in all manner of garbage. At the end of the story there is a page of facts about hermit crabs and ideas about ways we can all help to protect the environment.  I also must give a shout out to the end papers which have the most beautiful images of pastel-coloured seashells, so enticing that my fingers twitched to pick one up and hold it to my ear.

I cannot recommend Herman Needs a Home highly enough as a perfect book to share with children of 3 – 6 years of age, it would make an ideal summer gift to share either at home, in nurseries, pre-schools or Early Years classrooms. Like all the best picture books, there is a wealth of information to explore on every page and the charming story will likely encourage youngsters to join in with repeated readings. For anyone lucky enough to be visiting a beach this summer, Herman’s story will hopefully make us all think about the impact we have on our surroundings and encourage us to take care of a habitat that is home to so many natural wonders.

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!