Jeff Michaelson’s book Thistle’s Magical Whistle is a charming and heartfelt story about the importance of friendship and support in everyone’s life.

Geared for ages 7 to 9, this children’s book tells the story of Thistle, a little elf girl living in the Hickory Forest. She and her friend Horace the beaver spend every weekend together playing and having adventures. But when the weekend is over, Thistle dreads going back to school.

She struggles with her schoolwork, has trouble fitting in with the other students and — on top of all that — she can’t whistle. In Thistle’s school, whistling is everything; in fact, they’ll all be whistling in the much-anticipated school play. How can Thistle hope to fit in if she can’t even get whistling right?

Thistle’s story is relatable to any child who has felt left out by his or her peers, but the story also delves deeper into the issues surrounding learning challenges: Thistle has trouble focusing in school, and both letters and numbers get mixed up when she tries to read. It’s important for kids with learning differences to see themselves depicted in books and to realize that they aren’t alone in their struggles. Thistle is one such character:

“On school days they practiced their whistling each day / as each one prepared for their role in the class play. Well, each one but Thistle, because you see / Thistle needed help. She learned differently.”

Always the loyal friend, Horace helps Thistle by being a kind and patient teacher as she tries to get the hang of whistling:

“But Horace knew Thistle was caring and smart / he knew Thistle could do it. She had lots of heart. “C’mon Thistle. Believe in yourself / I know you can whistle and I’m here to help.”

A major theme of the book is building up children’s confidence and self-assurance. Thistle’s Magical Whistle provides a positive example of a learning-challenged protagonist ultimately achieving her goal through practice and a little friendly encouragement. The story also helps educate children about being compassionate and supportive of others, as Horace is with Thistle.

Whimsical illustrations depict the Hickory Forest and its elfin and animal inhabitants. The book is set in a fantasy world populated with magical pixies and talking woodland creatures, but the characters attend a fantasy version of elementary school together, providing a familiar touchstone for young readers. The illustrator, Francesca Da Sacco, uses color and texture to help bring the magical forest to life.

As Thistle begins to come out of her shell, she steps out from under the shadows of the forest and stands in the light. The muted color palette becomes bright as Thistle practices her whistling with Horace’s encouragement. The art goes hand in hand with the story, reminding us that when given the right support, we can achieve some truly great things.

By the end of this endearing tale, you’ll be giving Thistle a standing ovation.

Thistle’s Magical Whistle is available for purchase now.

Thistle’s Magical Whistle is Jeff Michaelson’s first children’s book, inspired by his daughter, Lindsey, a self-proclaimed “quirky kid” who’s struggled with social anxiety and learning challenges most of her life. Jeff’s hope is that this book helps parents and children understand what it’s like to feel different and how friendship and just a little bit of patience can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

Francesca Da Sacco is a children’s book illustrator and comic artist. Along with Thistle’s Magical Whistle, she has illustrated numerous other children’s books including Christmas Heart Bird and Watkins: More Than Your Average Dog. Francesca Da Sacco resides in Padova, Italy, where she co-founded Awe Edizioni, a collaborative association of authors and illustrators.