Something Else is a book I bought many years ago, that is still one of my favourites and one that I often recommend to families and schools. It is not a ‘therapy’ book, but it is most certainly a helping book. It speaks to the importance of creating belonging and having friends. It is a useful addition to any set of resources for starting conversations about respecting diversity and being kind.
In therapeutic parenting sessions, many adoptive parents and carers over the years have told me about how difficult it is for their child to make or keep friends. Their children are the ‘social butterflies’ in the school playground, or the ones who attract trouble and are at the centre of playground dramas. Or the ones who are ignored or teased and left feeling upset. They speak of their sadness for their child never being invited for play dates or to birthday parties. Their children were hurt when they were little, before they came to them, and often did not have a loving adult in their lives to help them make sense of themselves and the world around them. Now the child is struggling to catch up and just doesn’t know yet how to feel comfortable in their own skin, or how to connect positively with other children.
I often work with schools as part of the therapy plan, to help them think about how to support friendships for their looked after and adopted children. This regularly involves a lot of structuring of playtimes and lunchtimes and building up the circle of friends for the child slowly, sometimes starting from one key adult working with the child to practice playing and the easy to-and-fro of chatting and taking turns. These skills can so easily be taken for granted but are often so hard for children who have been traumatised. Putting in the work to help these children develop even one caring friendship can be life changing for them.
Something Else, written by Kathryn Cave and illustrated by Chris Riddell (1994) is a truly beautiful, quirky picture book. It was awarded the first international UNESCO prize for Children’s and Young People’s Literature in the Service of Tolerance and it is easy to see why.
It follows Something Else, as he tries so hard to fit in and yet always gets left out. He wants to join in, but the other creatures won’t let him because he is different to them, ‘you’re not like us, you’re something else’.
One day, a creature called Something, who is unique in his own way, turns up & knocks on the door. At first, Something Else is phased by this and rejects Something in the same cruel way that he had been rejected in the past. In response, Something is determined to make him understand that their differences don’t matter, “I’m just like you! You’re something else and I’m one too!”
Eventually, Something Else remembers how sad he felt when he was all alone. He follows the creature and exclaims “You’re not like me. BUT I DON’T MIND. You can stay with me if you’d like to.” And so, Something Else accepts the hand of friendship and finally finds a play mate.
The story is simply and humorously written, yet so poignantly captures the innate longing that all children have for connection, understanding and acceptance. It also cleverly captures how a child can be both a victim and perpetrator of bullying but can learn from experience and resolve their mistakes. It is a hopeful and heart-warming tale of how being different does not make you bad and does not have to be a barrier to friendship. Everyone is unique and special in their own way.
The simple language & lovely illustrations make this a very accessible book, for primary school age children upwards.