Weirdo by Zadie Smith & Nick Laird is a celebration of the unconventional by two authors who we’re told ‘usually write for grown-ups’ and are ‘both a bit weird.’ The stratospherically successful spouses, having mastered novels, essays and poetry, now join creative forces in this endearing new picture book, their first foray into children’s literature. It tells the story of Maud, a self-effacing young guinea pig, and her struggle to fit into a new home where her dress-sense and demeanour utterly baffle the family pets. Prepare for a lesson in assertiveness from the gentlest of domestic rodents.
We begin with a deliciously freckled schoolgirl named Kit, surely intended to be the image of a young Zadie Smith. It’s Kit’s birthday and she’s about to receive a ‘soft, small, sleepy bundle’ called Maud. Unusually for a guinea pig, Maud is wearing a judo suit, and herein lies the problem. The resident pet dog, cat, and bird have never seen such a thing. Not only is Maud strangely attired, but she can’t fly, doesn’t have the sleek looks of a feline, and is obviously not a dog. Not with ‘those legs,’ says the comically set in his ways pug, clearly the boss of the house ( but don’t tell the cat.)
Maud, it seems, is an absolute weirdo.
Dismayed, she formulates a plan to make herself more like the others. Thoughtfully planned but unfortunately executed, Maud’s actions will lead to an epiphany.
To be read aloud to younger children or tackled solo by confident new readers, Weirdo is a charming tale. Interestingly, given the authors’ credentials, it’s actually the illustrator who shines brightest here, Magenta Fox’s lively and absorbing pictures filling in every detail of Maud’s life-changing experience.
Keep an eye out for a hinted at sequel. Under-represented in literature, it’s time for guinea pigs to have their day.
Weirdo by Zadie Smith & Nick Laird is published by Puffin, 32 pages.