Ella and Mrs Gooseberry by Vikki Conley and Penelope Pratley

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EK Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781925335255.
(Age: 4+) Themes: Old age, Friendship, Neighbours, Caring, love, Family. With one in four Australians living alone, the impetus to write this book was to remind people about their neighbours and their need for love and companionship. Ella is aware that Mrs Gooseberry next door slams the front door and does not return her ball if it goes into her yard. But when she watches the old woman in her backyard she talks to her chickens and smiles picking the tomatoes from the vines. Ella asks her mother why Mrs Gooseberry can be so different. Mum's reasoning is that she has lost her love. With that Ella asks a variety of people what love is: her ballet teacher, her gran, her teacher and her mother all giving various answers that include warmth, caring and kindness.
Each of these answers will encourage the readers to think about what they think love is, and add answers of their own.
Ella tries to work out a response for herself and when her gran's cat has kittens she has an idea. She puts one of the kittens in a box on Mrs Gooseberry's front verandah.
The reaction of the old lady to the kitten is just what Ella expected as she hears the two talking to each other and sees the woman with the cat on her knees in the back garden.
Over the next few pages we see Mrs Gooseberry doing all the things that Ella's questioning elicited from people: dancing like a bird, singing, sparkling, sharing food, and having sweet dreams both day and night. Mrs Gooseberry is happy and radiates love. A neat resolution.
Through her kindness Ella and her family have brought love back to their next door neighbour and found a new friend.
This earnest book could provide a platform for discussions about love and kindness, neighbours, loneliness and friendship.
Fran Knight