John Jensen Feels Different, by Henrik Hovland

Every so often a picture book comes across my path that tickles my fancy so much that I have to share it. And if it can kind of count as fantasy or sci fi, so much the better.

John Jensen Feels Different, by Henrik Hovland (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers; December 16, 2011, translated from the Norwegian) is such a book.

John Jensen, as the title suggests, feel different. He feels different when he's alone, doing mundane things like flossing, and he feels different when he's out in public, or at work. He feels the other passengers on the bus are looking at him.

They aren't, actually. Despite the fact that he is the only crocodile* on a bus full of ordinary people, no one is paying attention to him.

Perhaps, he thinks, it is because he is the only bow tie wearer around. So he stops wearing bow ties. But still he feels different. (Very sad picture of John Jensen walking home in the rain, sans bow tie--not even the little child he passes is glancing at him, but still he feels different).

Then there's a bit that really tickled me--he looks at a picture of his very large family, all crocodiles--"Maybe I was adopted, John Jensen thinks. He doesn't seem to look like anyone else in his family."

So then he tries something drastic--he's noticed he's the only one around with a tail, so he ties it up so as to hide it under his clothes. Not a safe thing to do, and John Jensen ends up in the hospital (after a poignant picture showing him crying in the taxi)--where his doctor turns out to know just what to say to make him feel better about himself.

His doctor just happens to be an elephant (in a hospital of regular people).

Note that the title is not "John Jensen IS Different," though it's clear to the reader that he is. John Jensen never says "Ah! I am different because I am a crocodile." The elephant doctor never says anything about it either. Being an animal seems to be just a normal part of the diversity of this world--and this makes John Jensen's feelings of different-ness just beautifully relevant, and rather powerfully conveys the "people aren't actually busy thinking about you as much as you think they might be" message that some of us have to keep telling ourselves.

And John Jensen ends up wearing bow ties again.

Now, I personally found this a powerful and moving book, and appreciated the dry wit. However, my test subject (handy nine year old boy) said he hated books with crocodiles, didn't like the illustrations, and was not impressed by the story. I'd be real curious to see what littler kids make of it!

Here's the review that made me read the book, at Waking Brain Cells

*definitely a crocodile-you can see his teeth when his mouth is closed.


  1. I first read about this book on the 7 Impossible site, I think, or maybe it was Tash's site - either way, I remember wondering if it was covertly about depression or mental illness. Or just being hyper-self conscious. I like the idea that vague feelings are addressed in a book for the wee - it's not like we didn't feel like that sometimes when we were small.

    And thank you for reminding us how to tell a crocodile from an alligator. ☺

    1. No, I think it's just about that natural sense of difference that just sometimes get exaggerated and takes up more importance than it needs too! John Jensen reminded me of a standard self-conscious seventh grader, desperatly wanting to be like everyone else..,


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