How Not To Be Weird by Dawn McNiff continues in her vein of ‘magical realism’ stories – where the power of belief is tested against real-world situations – and is a lovely heart-warming and encouraging read. Woody Trindle is starting secondary school and feels far too young and awkward. Woody’s father died when Woody was young, and his mum is of the ultra-embarrassing sort, packing him peculiar vegetable sandwiches and wearing a sheep costume in public (she’s a children’s entertainer).
Out of the blue, Woody’s paternal nan contacts him, wanting to meet up. She takes him shopping, buying him trendy clothes, giving him sugar-filled cupcakes and calling him William (his real name) instead of Woody (his middle name). Woody begins to feel that he might actually be able to pass as ‘normal’ at his new school, assuming a new identity and leaving behind the bullying (by two girls) that he’s experienced at primary.
But changing identity brings its own problems and in desperation Woody asks his nan to lend him his dad’s lucky charm. With the charm, Woody’s luck changes instantly, and suddenly making friends and fitting in is easy. Woody believes the charm has magical powers – how else could he be breezing through his new life? As long as he has the charm with him, everything will be fine.
Dawn really understands the power of belief – I was going to add ‘in a child’ but plenty of adults have beliefs and rituals that help them get through the days. What’s particularly nice about this story is that it’s about a boy – his worries and fears, his life and his dreams. These are themes often explored in stories about girls, but it’s rare to find a purely domestic story for 8-12s with a male protagonist. And yet boys have the same worries as girls: will I fit in, how can I get myself out of uncomfortable situations, how can I hide my sadness? What would people think if they knew the real me? Woody’s anxieties are never overwhelming though, and there’s plenty of humour to lighten the scenes.
It’s also lovely to see a firm friendship between a boy and a girl who haven’t yet reached the awkward pubescent stage of ‘we can’t be friends because we’re different genders’. Woody is very much in touch with his sensitive side, which is refreshing and encouraging for male readers who will be surrounded by messages suggesting that boys should be fearless and strong rather than emotional and sensitive.
How Not To Be Weird is a warm, encouraging read for boys and girls of 8-12 with an appealing hero and a great message. Oh, and a funny dog. Published by Piccadilly Press, out now.