No! Never!

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Libby Hathorn and Lisa Hathorn-Jarman (text) and Mel Pearce (illustrator), No! Never!, Lothian Children’s Books, April 2020, 32pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9780734418906

I know some parents are apprehensive to read books that contain child characters who behave in a way parents would rather their child not replicate. Shel Silverstein’s classic The Giving Tree seems to really divide parents, some just can’t feel good about the way the boy ungraciously takes from the tree. However, I think most books contain examples of behaviour we would not want our children to replicate, whether it be from the protagonist, the antagonist or someone else. In my mind, the whole point of stories is to show how the characters can learn, change and overcome.

This is a very long-winded way of saying if you don’t like the title or first half of No! Never! I recommend you stick with it to the end. The story begins by introducing us to Georgie, a sweet pre-schooler who develops a defiance habit and responds “No! Never!” to all of her parents’ instructions for simple, daily tasks. She will not tidy, have dinner, have a bath, or go to sleep. Parents will also relate to the illustrations where we see Georgie struggle while being buckled into her car seat and refuses to share, go to the toilet and even wave at an old lady. 

I know when I was a new mum I would not have wanted to read this to my children for fear they would learn and copy this behaviour. However, years of mothering have taught me that when presented like this, most children will recognise that Georgie is being unkind, difficult, and unpleasant. They will not look at her as a role model, but as a badly behaved child that they wouldn’t want to play with. 

The second half of the book shows us what it takes for Georgie to learn that “No! Never!” isn’t polite or kind as she gets the “No! Never!” treatment from her parents. I’m not sure what experts would say about this parenting approach, but perhaps it’s inspired as it really works for Georgie’s family. After a few opportunities lost due to her parents’ refusal Georgie gives up on “No! Never!” and we get our lovely happy ending. 

I’m glad this ‘Cautionary Tale’ was written in rhyme as it makes the story more entertaining (less preachy) and will keep young children interested in multiple readings. The illustrations are not to my personal taste, they are slightly scribbly and unrefined, perhaps similar to the style of Tony Ross or Quentin Blake. But they make a great match for the tempestuous, stroppy Georgie and her frazzled parents. I couldn’t imagine this book illustrated in any other way.

No! Never! sits nicely alongside other cautionary tales, such as When the Wind Changed or Noah Dreary. It is most definitely suited to pre-schoolers, and I’m sure even a few early primary schoolers will benefit from the not-so-subtle moral lesson to treat others the way you want to be treated.

No! Never! Has been Notabled in the 2021 CBCA Book of the Year Awards

Reviewed by Cherie Bell

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