Review: The Only Way Is Badger by Stella J Jones and Carmen Saldaña.
One day, signs appear all over the wood with slogans like Badgers Are Best and The Only Way Is Badger. The woodland animals listen to Badger himself, who is so convincing that everyone thinks he must be right. He begins a series of lessons, teaching the animals how to be more badger, and slowly evicts those animals who don’t make the grade.
Soon only skunk and raccoon are left, and they’re not so certain they want to stay in Badger’s domain. As badger paints the forest into a miserable black and white, everyone else enjoys the colour and diversity on the other side.
Badger is left to apologise. Who wants everyone to be the same when they could have friends?
Nobody can miss the significance of this text to current political issues. With politicians hashing out different ideas about who belongs in which country, with far-right groups certain that shutting the doors will open up a wealth of opportunities for everyone else, it is more important than ever that we discuss the language and mechanics of hate.
How much of what Badger says is fair? Why did the other animals follow along for so long? What were they expecting at the end? Why did Badger claim to be helping the other animals even as he was preparing to shut them out? This story opens up a wealth of questions which enable conversations about hate and prejudice to happen in the safe sphere of a fictional forest.
The story offers a stark choice – a beautiful world, a world or a world dictated by narrow ideas.
This could also be used to discuss echo-chambers and online communication. What is the line between fair expression and hate? Has social media made us less open to other opinions? It would be great fun to write Badger-style messages, stick them on the wall, and then walk around offering responses to other people. How should we then engage with those responses? Badger’s messages all over the trees, in his perfect forest, would make a brilliant prompt for conversation.
The illustrations perfectly capture the contrast between a diverse world, bright with colour, or one in which the majority of animals are shouted down by a dictator. The humour in the early part of the book, with the animals trying desperately to do things they aren’t made to do, isn’t so funny at all when the message comes through. The pictures perfectly get the balance between allowing small readers a smile and showing the difficulty caused to the other animals.
Although this story ends happily ever after, it leaves us with any number of things to think about. This text is so much of our time and should be known far and wide as a book which promotes diversity and tolerance.
Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of The Only Way Is Badger. Opinions my own.