Now for a Perfect PIcture Book Friday selection that’s particularly poignant in these days of isolation mid COVID-19.
Ah, the playground. Remember that? Children playing together. It already feels like so long ago.
And the thrill of finding a new friend. Look at that body language!
i have a new friend
and her hair is black
and it shines
and it shines
and she always laughs at everything
The lack of punctuation and capitalization reflects the child’s point of view at an age where those things are not yet important. Likewise, the things she chooses to tell us about her friend ARE important to her, shiny hair and laughter. The repetition of the line “and it shines” is so kid-like, where they focus closely on a physical aspect they admire about their friend. But by also choosing to mention the new friend’s laughter, she’s expressing an emotional response to something deeper.
The pair play throughout the day, mimicking each other’s singing, making duck hands, sitting quietly under a tree, plucking leaves until the ribs resemble “skeleton hands,” and so on.
Until we get to a spread where the pair hug, and the narrator says:
she is my best friend
i’ve never had a best friend
so i’m not sure
Ah, the sweetness of naming something for the first time! But the uncertainty is a fleeting thought, because we’re then thrown headlong into the myriad reasons why she thinks they’re best friends:
because they draw pictures of each other and surround them with hearts, because they “laugh into their knees” to keep from making noise while playing hide and seek with other children, and because her friend laughs “for the whole entire day,” something the narrator “really really” likes.
But the true test of a friendship? Navigating differences. When it turns out that her best friend LOVES strawberry ice cream, something the narrator HATES, and they remain friends, well “that is something good.”
The simple language perfectly pegs the voice of a four to five-year old; it’s child-like without being childish.
After a day of play, when it’s time to go their separate ways, the story ends with a perfect spread of the pair leaving the playground, the narrator looking longingly in the direction of her new friend being carried away in the arms of a parent:
I’m not sure about her name
but i will ask her tomorrow
and she will tell me then
because we are
The beauty of this book and this perfect ending is in its depiction of how young children form fast, intense friendships based on what they do and how they interact, without the formality of even knowing each other’s name. Many a child will find themselves in this story. It’s interesting to note that the two children are the only people featured on all but two spreads, the one where they are playing hide and seek with other children and hiding together, and where they leave at the end with their parents. In the emotional world of this friendship, no one else matters.
It’s also interesting to note that the story invites the child reader to be seen as the best friend when the book is first opened, on the page leading to the title page shown above. The narrator, her head filling the page, stares straight at the reader before we turn the page and see that she’s really staring at her new friend.
I always find Julie Fogliano’s stories to be poetic. She conveys so much emotion with an economy of words, and the voice she has selected here comes to us straight from the playground. The artwork by Jillian Tamaki, with its peachy-pink and green two-color palette, suggests that there isn’t room for more than two in this “best friend” world. I particularly love how she also created artwork for the boards (under the book jacket), depicting the “best friend” seeking on the front and the narrator hiding on the back. Beautiful work!
Pair this book with Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, a story about a girl and boy who learn to play together at the playground.
Title: my best friend
Author: Julie Fogliano
Illustrator: Jillian Tamaki
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020
Ages: Pre-K–first grade
Themes: friendship, differences
For more recommendations of perfect picture books, please visit Susanna Hill’s blog.