Aife and Stray: Seven Style Secrets for a Perilous Party by Stevie Westgarth and Emily Ford. Troika. £11.99
They’re misfits, the pair of them. Aife is shy, has big round spectacles, a pale face, wears dungarees and uses a bowl for a hair-cut. And Stray is a one-eyed pig. When the ultra fashionable Prunella Bonbon – newly returned from the ski-slopes of France – invites them to a party, Aife has nothing to wear.
But Aife and Stray are not intimidated. They trawl the fashion boutiques. Robeana Rose Ribacus Gorse recommends red and she’s got tomatoes at the ends of her toes.
Lady Helianthus Vajuju Shine-right would have Aife wear total yellow, and she has sun-shiney eyes.
The punk Bento Maximus Blackberry Brine thinks one “looks utterly chic and divine in all black”, and her long cape hides the fact that she’s short.
Kimbo Indigo Bluebell Le Strut wears blue to cover her hairy blue knees.
Ms Canthus Stevina Selomina Pie insists: “Look after the earth and look like a queen. The colour is Nature, the colour is GREEN.” And she has ten tiny green thumbs.
Cardwell Carnation Humperdink Pink knows that “it’s not only girls who look great in pink”. His dog’s all pink and it makes his tail wag.
David Good-Day Lily White believes in white like “Candyfloss clouds and starlight at night”and he wears an over-sized white tie to hide his over-sized white teeth.
When they get to Prunella’s party everyone is wearing the same clothes from the boutiques. “Quite a surprise was grandpa in drag, who’d paired a huge dress with a lovely pink bag.”
Aife realizes that it’s silly wanting to fit in, “I’m just being myself. I’m not being him!” and changes back into the old dungarees behind a bush in the garden.
When they go back in to the party, they are greeted with applause and Prunella Bonbon says their style is second to none.
And the moral of the story is, “It’s silly to judge a book by its cover, the important thing is to love one another.”
Aife and Stray is a lively, witty children’s book for today. It blows away all the cobwebs and declares on every page that we’re all different, we’ve all got oddities we try to hide but we should celebrate out diversity (and eccentricity).
Children should love the clever (and not so clever) rhymes and the wonderfully inventive names and the joyousness of the story and its sheer wackiness.
And they’ll love the drawings, full of fun and bright colours, with a sharp eye for the outrageous in fashion and a similarly surreal sense of humour. The bald grandpa in drag prancing around is great fun and each of the boutique owners and the other characters are given shapes and movements and attitudes to match their names. There’s fun here for child and adult alike.
Stevie Westgarth who wrote the rhymes is proud to come from Aspatria, but he works down in London as a stylist for some of the top fashion photographers. Emily Ford is equally proud to come from Maryport. They’re both proud to be, like their readers, “one of those who feel . . .you don’t fit in. You are wonderful. You Paint the World in Colours.”