Bell’s debut picture book quietly shows a child working through his anxieties.
Alfie, a peach-colored child with shaggy brown hair and downcast eyes, is no stranger to “that feeling.” He worries about party games, is too afraid about losing races to even run in them, and doesn’t think he is “brave enough to be Captain Starfish” in his school’s Underwater Dress-Up Parade. The morning after an evocative dream in which “he was carrying the ocean, all on his own,” Alfie just can’t muster up the courage to go to school. His understanding mother takes him to the aquarium, where he’s at first chagrined by a showoff-y starfish but then momentarily comforted by a shy, smiling clown fish. Subdued blue and orange illustrations, with lots of white space, match the emotional pitch of the story. Alfie doesn’t make it to the parade that year, but “it doesn’t matter”; he decides that next year he will “dress up as a clown fish.” Alfie’s success, aided by loving and patient parents, provides a model for children struggling with anxiety and assures them of their ultimate worth and capability.
This gentle story ably helps fill a need in children’s literature and will help comfort small audiences with their own big fears. (Picture book. 4-7)