‘One more chapter! Just one?’
My son was two-and-a-half when he discovered the pleasure of listening to an adult read a
chapter book to him, and the corresponding pleasure of begging for ‘just one more’ when that
adult came to the end of a section.
But we quickly ran into a problem. He was still too little for anything remotely scary, and
there aren’t that many books that are right in that sweet spot – a long-form, interesting story
that you can pick up every night, but age-appropriate for a young child.
Today we start a series introducing parents and teachers to some of these gentle, early
chapter books, suitable for young children who are just starting to want to listen to longer
First up, we have a series of three marvelous, world-class books that adults will enjoy
reading as much as children.
Joy Cowley is an international treasure in the children’s book world. Over many decades,
she has written so many hundreds of books that no one is quite sure of the exact number.
Over the last ten years, two of her most beloved characters, Snake and Lizard, have
appeared in three collections of stories, Snake and Lizard, Friends, and Helper & Helper, all
illustrated by Gavin Bishop and published by Gecko Press.
They are just wonderful and are ideal first chapter books for young children. They are
gentle, contain very little peril or worry, and cover a range of subjects, from the silly to the
serious, with a light touch that makes them meaningful and memorable for both adults and
Snake and Lizard are friends and roommates who are very different in temperament, and
flawed, like anyone. They bicker and make up, they learn to compromise, and they regularly
have to get to grips with the idea that someone they love can be so hard to understand.
They are also animals, real animals, rather than humans dressed up in animal skins. They
eat bugs and eggs, their senses are unique and they are mystified by the behaviour of the
‘human beans’ they sometimes come across in their desert home.
With kind permission from Gecko Press, here’s the first chapter of Snake and Lizard, for
you to get an idea. You can also hear it in an excellent audiobook format on the Radio New
Zealand website and see an animated chapter here.
One more treat: you can go into the draw to win your own copy of Snake and Lizard or
Helper and Helper by going to our Facebook page.
Snake and Lizard, by Joy Cowley, chapter one, ‘Heads and Tails’
Snake and Lizard came to know each other through an argument, the first of many.
This is how it happened. Snake came out from her hole under the rock, where she had
been sleeping all winter. In need of warmth, she looked for a place to sunbathe. The desert
around her was stony and spiked with cacti, and Snake wanted a flat smooth patch of earth
heated by the sun.
She found the perfect spot and stretched out across it with a comfortable sigh. No sooner
had she relaxed than a voice said, ‘Excuse me, you’re blocking my path.’
Beside her was a lizard who walked and talked in an important way.
‘Your path?’ murmured Snake.
‘Absolutely!’ said the lizard. ‘Your tail is right across it.’
Snake raised her head. The smooth earth did look like some kind of path but she was too
comfortable to move. ‘No it isn’t.’
‘Yes, it is!’ cried Lizard. ‘It goes from one side of the path to the other.’
‘No, it doesn’t,’ said Snake.
‘It does! It does!’ said Lizard, jumping up and down. ‘I tell you, your tail blocks the entire
‘And I tell you it doesn’t,’ said Snake. ‘That’s my body, not my tail. The tail is the bit on
Lizard stopped, his head darting from side to side. ‘What body? You don’t have a body.
Your tail starts at your head.’
‘How come you’re such an expert on tails?’ asked Snake. ‘Yours is so short, one hiss and I
miss it. You’re just envious.’
‘Not! Not! Not!’ screeched Lizard.
‘Yessssssss!’ hissed Snake.
Lizard jumped back and yelled, ‘You can never trust a creature without legs!’
‘You know your trouble?’ Snake shouted back. ‘You’ve got a big mouth.’
The argument could have gone on but now Lizard was getting very upset. He was shaking
and blue with rage. Although she was bigger, Snake had only small courage. She knew that
when an animal got into Lizard’s state, anything might happen. She drew her body round in a
circle so that Lizard could get by.
All the anger went out of him. He sniffed and stood tall. ‘Thank you,’ he said in a crisp
‘Where are you going?’ Snake asked.
‘To find a place to sunbathe.’
‘This is a good spot,’ said Snake.
‘Very good,’ said Snake, who was feeling that she’d been a bit unfair. ‘It’s smooth and
warm. I’d be happy to share it with you.’
‘Really?’ said Lizard.
‘I’d be glad of the company,’ said Snake.
For a while, Lizard stood there—his legs leaning in one direction, his head in another.
Then he lowered his body to the warm dust. Above them, the sun shone out of a bright blue
bowl of sky. Some early spring bugs were out, flapping or crawling. Lizard opened his mouth
and neatly snapped up a green beetle. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘you were an eeny weeny bit
‘About what?’ asked Snake.
Lizard looked up at the sky. ‘Envy,’ he said. ‘You do have a most remarkable tail.’
Snake smiled. ‘And I think your legs are very handsome.’
After that, there was no stopping them. They lay on the path and talked and talked as
though they’d known each other for years.