Middle Grade Reviews

The Trouble With Perfect by Helena Duggan



Violet felt a pang of something, deep in her stomach. Why had Boy lied to her? He said he had to go home. And whose bike had he handed to Conner? A thought formed in her head, but she shook it off. It couldn’t be Lucy’s. It just couldn’t be.

She decided to follow them. Maybe there was a good reason for this whole thing?

Maybe Conner knew something about the eye plants? Maybe he was helping Boy, and Boy couldn’t tell her because … well, she didn’t know why Boy couldn’t tell her anything. They’d never kept secrets before – at least none that she knew about.

(The Trouble With Perfect by Helena Duggan. P61.)



It’s no longer Perfect. Now it’s just Town.

Perfectionists and No-man’s landers have been living alongside each other in a unified town. There are no longer any rules to follow – people can be themselves and live without fear of being taken from their families.

Then strange things start to happen in Town.

First objects go missing, then children. Violet’s friend Boy is blamed, and old questions arise about whether anyone who is not absolutely perfect is fit to live alongside others. Violet confronts Boy, but he insists he has nothing to do with the disappearances. Why is Boy lying?

To find out what is going on, Violet must confront a terrible monster and figures from Town’s past.



Compelling and original, The Trouble With Perfect is a fantasy story which reminds me of Diana Wynne Jones. It follows on from A Place Called Perfect. Thanks to a handy catch-up guide at the front, it is possible to read the story if you haven’t read book one, but only if you are happy for spoilers.

The main theme of the book is acceptance. People who do not conform to one idea of normal, to one standard, have previously been expelled from the town and forced to live in a place where they are invisible. There could be no better metaphor for the attitude some people take towards mental illness. Towards neurodivergence. The book satirises conservative attitudes, including the idea of labelling and cutting up society into subgroups and shutting others away from their families and friends. It also shows how people with strong communication skills can turn others against their neighbours. Without using labels, it opens a conversation about empathy, tolerance and respecting everyone in society.

The monster storyline was very Frankenstein, although it has been reimagined to fit into this setting. This was an apposite reference – Frankenstein’s monster wanted human dignity.

I loved the setting – Town is almost a contemporary setting, except for the eye-plants which act as security devices and the creepy passages in the graveyard. It’s apparent normality – the committees and rules and day-to-day events – make the stranger aspects stand out.

A wonderful read which encourages readers to challenge the world around them and to respect everybody, not just the people laying down the rules. These themes are brought to live through a gripping adventure. I am looking forward to book three.


Thanks to Usborne Publishing for my copy of The Trouble With Perfect. Opinions my own.





Lists · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

9 Picturebooks about individuality and self-expression


Nine Picturebooks about individuality and self-expression.


Mr Tiger Goes Wild – Peter Brown

Mr Tiger lives in a grey place where everybody looks and acts the same way. One day, Mr Tiger has an idea. He changes the way he walks, then the way he dresses. Then Mr Tiger goes WILD.

This book looks at freedom of expression and it also looks at boundaries. The world becomes a brighter place when everyone is free to express themselves. Mr Tiger learns about boundaries. Dressing and walking differently is one thing. Leaping across the rooftops is another.

Key Messages –

  • Individuality makes the world a brighter place
  • Pushing the boundaries of individuality can result in behaviour outside the social norm. There are limits to what other people will accept.



Elmer – David McKee

All of the elephants are grey. All except Elmer. It never matters that Elmer is a patchwork elephant because his jokes keep the other elephants happy. One day, Elmer hears someone say patchwork elephants are silly, so he finds a way to hide his colours until he realises the other elephants miss their friend.

This is one of the best-known picture books of the past 30 years. It is a story about celebrating individuality and looking beyond appearance.

Key messages –

  • Appearance doesn’t define us.
  • The things that are unique about us are a cause for celebration.



Up and Down – Oliver Jeffers

There are two friends who always do things together until Penguin decides there is something important he wants to do all by himself. Fly. At first, it seems impossible. Then Penguin signs up as a living cannonball.

The most important point of this story is that Boy doesn’t judge Penguin. He is there when Penguin wants to fly and he supports Penguin when flying turns out not to be the right thing. The best people in our lives are the ones who stand by us and support us whatever stage we are at. 

Key Message:

  • Although nobody can tell us who we are, the people we trust can guide and support us on our journey of self-discovery.


Tacky The Penguin – Helen Lester And Lyn Munsinger

Whatever the other penguins do, Tacky does it differently. Tacky is an odd bird. One day the hunters come. The other penguins run away but Tacky confront them straight on.

Tacky may seem like an oddball, but he has qualities and abilities which the other penguins admire. It takes time for them to look past the strange shirt and loud behaviour, but when they do they realise Tacky is a good penguin to have around. 

Key Message:

  • Don’t judge others on superficial grounds.



Spork – Kyo Mclear 

Forks are forks and spoons and spoons, but where does Spork fit in? One day he decides it is time to choose what he is – a spoon or a fork.

Key Message:

  • Everybody finds their place regardless of labels. This would also be lovely for discussion what we inherit from our parents. Children can feel pressured to live up to one parent or another and need to learn that we will be defined by our own actions and achievements.



Giraffes Can’t Dance – Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

Every year, the jungle dance is held, but Gerald feels because he can’t dance like the other animals. The other animals make fun of him when he hits the dance-floor. Away from the other animals, a kindly cricket plays music for Gerald to sway to.

Key Message:

  • The other animals have a narrow definition of dancing, but with a little encouragement, Gerald finds his own rhythm. When we make fun of other people it is often our own prejudice and preconceptions at fault.



Perfectly Norman – Tom Percival 

Norman has always been perfectly normal until one day he grows a pair of new wings. Should he embrace his wings and fly free or hide them away? Hiding the wings makes all his favourite things difficult and everybody notices that Norman is not himself.

Key Message:

  • Hiding our individuality can draw more attention to ourselves than embracing our differences.


The Lion Inside – Rachel Bright And Jim Field

Nobody ever notices Mouse. He is so impossibly small. Meanwhile, Lion has made himself head of the pack with his loud roar. Mouse decides he needs a loud voice. The only animal who can teach him to roar might eat him up. Is Mouse brave enough to approach Lion?

Key Messages:

  • Bravery and confidence aren’t about having the loudest voice. We can speak up for ourselves without changing who we are.



Petra  – Marianne Coppo

Petra is a rock and this is how she rolls. Everybody tells her she is just a rock but there are so many things she could be. Every time she receives a knock – being thrown across the garden, or taken into a bird-nest – Petra reinvents herself. However many times she transforms herself, Petra remains her happy self.

I love this story. No matter how many times Petra is told she can’t be anything other than a rock she reinvents herself. This is a story about resilience. It is also about not letting other people define you.

Key message:

  • You can decide who you want to be. Don’t let other people’s opinions define you.