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Edward is anxious about starting knight school. It’s sure to be terrifying with all those ogres and dragons about! So he puts on his armour, and prepares for battle.
But what if he has more in common with those ogres and dragons than he thought? Perhaps if he takes his armour off, he might even find that knight school can be fun!
Many children would see themselves in Edward. And author Ashling Kwok saw her own son – a young boy who prepared himself for facing schoolyard ‘battles’ daily, anxious for what the day would bring. The very kinds of conversations about what his fears were, his perceived realities of the other children, and hence the need to challenge these views, formed the basis for this inspiring story. The Battle is one that empowers children to take charge as they go forth and slice through their fears that often hold them back.
In Edward’s mind, knight school is a place to be wary of – with its ogres and dragons and giants and what-not. Thus, the reason for sporting his hard-metal cladding; the nothing-can-hurt-me façade. However, despite his admittance to his king (the teacher) of liking to hunt and chase these creatures, in reality, Edward would much rather go unnoticed. But Edward does get noticed, and with his apprehensive wide eyes (albeit not as wide as his ogre-companion, Lucy’s!) he decides to take a chance. What the hey – he’s a knight, after all! Slowly but surely Edward’s eyes are opened further to realise that it was his fear, in fact, restricting his freedom. Maybe letting his guard down doesn’t hurt at all. Maybe things are not as they seem. Maybe he can actually have fun!
Returning to or starting school often comes with anticipated worries and overwhelming new routines and dynamics to master. Ashling Kwok has cleverly integrated her own personal experiences with a universal topic, bringing to this story much emotion with Edward’s internal tug of war of wanting to play but being too afraid. She keeps her tone light, age-appropriate and playful; supporting the ‘suit of armour’ metaphor of tough feelings surrounding an actually friendly scene of happy supporting characters. Cara King’s delightful and colourful watercolour illustrations win us over with their textural qualities, bright and airy tones and expressive character representations. She beautifully keeps this consistent throughout to show us that perhaps Edward’s perception is not as dark and dreary as he believes.
Yes, the message is to exemplify that wearing armour “gets in the way”; that feeling light and free opens up the mind to possibility and opportunity. Yet at the same time, some highly anxious children may find this ‘power of imagination’ (being knights, secret spies, ninjas, whatever you please) the ideal strategy for getting them across the arena, so to speak – even if just while they build up their courage. And that’s what makes this book so valuable.
The Battle lends itself to both the shy children, and the ones that already have the confidence to offer that ‘piece of cake’-helping hand. It is a must-have book that both home and school shelves would benefit from sharing to all kinds of diverse backgrounds and personalities, universally. Delivering themes on childhood fears, bravery, perception, friendship and kindness, it is a gentle tale of learning to have courage and finding the joy in life’s experiences. So, throw down your weapons for The Battle and you will be victorious! Highly recommended for preschool and primary-aged little ‘battlers’.
Review by Romi Sharp
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