The Unwilling Twin by Freya Blackwood (HarperCollins Publishers) is shortlisted for the CBCA 2021 Picture Book of the Year. Credit to the judges of the picture book category because of their outstanding list (although I can’t imagine how they will select the winner and honour books from these deserving titles), and of course congratulations to the authors and illustrators who are shortlisted.
Fun and suspense begin on the opening endpapers of The Unwilling Twin with colourful beach umbrellas covering bodies whilst revealing a child’s feet and lower legs beside the rear-end of a pig (and a few other children’s ankles keep young readers peering at the page).
The title page is a picture gallery of framed (hand-illustrated) photos that show the formative shared years of a girl and pig. This is a shorthand way of showing their backstory. The story then begins with the outrageous and hilarious claim that “This is the story of Jules … and her identical twin, George.” The illustrations show that Jules is a girl and George is a pig. They do everything together and play all day but when they go to the beach we see that “George isn’t always a willing twin” and, soon after, that “Jules isn’t always a willing twin. Like all twins, Jules and George occasionally disagree.”
Using the book with children:
Twins Twins may be identical or fraternal (born at the same time but not identical). Before reading the book, children could predict who the twins might be. The cover shows a girl and a pig, so the idea of the unwilling twin may be an obvious source of humour.
Humour What other sources of humour are there in the book? Children consider the written text (e.g. “It is quite impossible to tell them apart” when the picture shows they clearly look very different) and the illustrations (e.g. naked with matching birthmarks, George wearing snorkelling gear, George hidden in the sand).
Who is George? The written text is telling a story about a girl, Jules, and her identical twin George (or imaginary friend or someone else) but the illustrations show a different story. The back cover states categorically that this is a story about the “ups and downs of sibling love” (and Freya Blackwood reinforces this when speaking about the book in the link below) but is it possible to be less directive when the book appears to have a few possible interpretations? After reading the tale, children discuss who George is and whether they believe George is a twin, a pig, an imaginary friend or a sibling – and why.
Framed pictures How do the framed pictures that look like photos at the start of the book show the relationship between George and Jules? Why may some of them be cropped?
House Cutaways One of Freya Blackwood’s illustrative signatures is showing the inside of a house so that more than one room can be viewed simultaneously. This enables multiple sequential scenes and actions to be shown; creates a sense of the home and movement through it and gives an inclusive atmosphere. Children find the relevant double-page spread in this book, as well as in other books by the illustrator.
To take this idea further, show children a furnished doll’s house with all or part of the front wall removed. Children make a cutaway diagram (where some of the surface is removed to show inside) to represent the inside of the house in The Unwilling Twin (Stephen Biesty’s cross-sections books are famous examples of this style). Alternatively, children make a 3D model of the room using a shoebox on its side and hiding part of the interior with cardboard to create a cutaway.
Sandcastles Jules makes a magnificent sandcastle and imagines she would live in the turret. Children view the pictures about this and then construct sandcastles in a sandpit or sand tray.
Media Freya Blackwood uses pencil, watercolour and pastel in this book. Children also use this media (or those available e.g. pencils and pastel crayons) to create pictures of either the umbrellas (using the endpapers or real umbrellas as a model) or pictures of Jules and George.
Play Children play in some of the ways that Jules and George do, e.g. seesaw, chalk painting, reading …
Books by Freya Blackwood Read other books by Freya Blackwood for young children, e.g. The Great Rabbit Chase, Banjo and Ruby Red, The Terrible Suitcase, Hattie Helps Out and others.
The Unwilling Twin at HarperCollins (thanks to HarperCollins for the review copy)
Freya Blackwood speaking about The Unwilling Twin
Freya Blackwood’s website
The Feather by Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood