Anna's anxious when she's picked to befriend the new girl in her class. For a start, Ellie is ill and can't come to school herself. So Anna has to communicate with her through a new kind of robot.
But Anna is also worried that her life's too small and boring to be of interest to her new friend. Compared to the other girls, she doesn't have anything exciting to talk about and so when Ellie asks her a question, a little white lie pops out. Then another and another.
When Ellie finds out the truth, can their friendship survive ...? Inspired by a true story, a groundbreaking robot helps friendship blossom in this poignant and uplifting novella from bestseller Lisa Thompson.
Reviewed by Roy James
The Small Things is Lisa Thompson’s third Barrington Stoke. And just like all of her books, it deals with the intimate emotions of being young with an original slant.
Anna is always on the fringe of her friendship group. Everyone else’s lives are chock full of after school clubs, evening classes, and weekend activities. The only thing Anna can contribute to the activity wall is a photo of a family picnic.
Anna’s asked to buddy up with the new girl, Ellie. However, Ellie doesn’t ‘go’ to school in the conventional sense. She’s too ill to attend in person, so she watches and takes part in lessons via a robot, which sits on the desk next to Anna. In an effort to impress her new friend, a white lie spirals out of control and puts all of her friendships in jeopardy.
What I value about this story, and Thompson’s other books, is how they deal with outsiders. In The Small Things we have two, but for different reasons. Ellie is an outsider in terms of location, but very much fits in with those she meets; Anna is an outsider, but for the opposite reason. I found this interesting, and something worthy of consideration in everyday lives. Just because someone appears different, it doesn’t mean they’re any less part of a community. In this case a school community. And it doesn’t automatically mean they feel like an outsider themselves. This inclusivity is something we should all be aiming for, and this book celebrates that.
Anna’s need to fit in brings her to lie, which causes her a lot of guilt and unease. I had a huge amount of sympathy for Anna. She can’t do the things her friends do because her parents can’t afford it. And even though she learns through a heart-to-heart with her mum that what makes people interesting isn’t the amount of clubs, activities, and money they have, I worry that Anna’s made to feel guilty and her feelings are invalidated. I don’t get the impression Anna wants to do lots of activities, just one would make her feel included.
You can find love in hobbies, which absolutely DO make you an interesting person. But from working in a school where some children have to stay at school while others go on a residential, it’s not easy explaining this when their friends are abseiling and sitting around a campfire.
I don’t disagree with Thompson. There are so many (small) things that are of bigger importance in the world. One of humanity’s faults is that we compare ourselves to other people driving so much unhappiness, and I applaud anyone addressing these issues.
Ideal for UKS2, The Small Things is dyslexia friendly, under one hundred pages with some very positive messages for all ages (adults included).