Kid's Stuff -- Books About Friends and Friendship
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"Anna Shares"
Written by Barbara Baker
Illustrated by Catherine O'Neill
(Dutton, 2004)
As with the first "Anna" story, I like the artwork, the pacing, the feel of this book. The only trouble with it was that the title is completely misleading... The little girl Anna doesn't learn to share, and indeed is rewarded for being a complete brat. Anna has a friend over to play, but when her mother brings out cookies to share, Anna grabs them all and refuses to give any to the boy. He cries, the mother intervenes and gives him one of the four cookies, then Anna pitches a fit, causing the mom to send her friend home. After that, Anna "shares" the remaining three cookies with her stuffed animals, then gobbles them up, and smiles with self-satisfaction. While this depictation of greedy, selfish behavior rings true emotionally -- kids are like that -- the "resolution" offered by the author is worse than a half-measure, it's a travesty. Reviewers who praise this book for celebrating Anna's inner "strength" are themselves condoning hostile, antisocial behavior, and miss the point that all adults, book authors included, have a responsibility to help small children tell the difference between right and wrong. Being a greedy jerk and a bully is not right. My daughter, who is very young and wrestling with the whole sharing-vs.-asserting yourself dilemma, found this book at the library and brought it over for me to read, and I was horrified by the ending -- it's one hundred percent NOT the message I want her to see. (D-)

"How To Be A Friend: A Guide To Making Friends And Keeping Them"
Written by Laurie Krasy Brown
Illustrated by Marc Brown
(Little Brown & Co., 1998)

A thoughtful and well-produced volume that explains some of the niceties of socializing and forming friendships. Sharing, generousity, helping others and sticking up for your friends, learning how to become included in games, and to include others are all topics that are addressed, as well as the elements of conflict resolution and negotiation. If you've got little person who's struggling with some of these issues (but is also old enough to understand a book written at this level) this is an excellent book to help work through some of these issues. Artist Marc Brown is a good fit for this subject, especially since his own Arthur series deals with many of the same issues. (This book is part of the "Dino Life Guides For Families" series, which also has volumes on preventive health, divorce, death and dying, ecology and sex education...) (A-)

"Bob And Otto"
Written by Robert O. Bruel
Illustrated by Nick Bruel
(Roaring Brook Press, 2007)

The story of two friends, an earthworm and a caterpillar, whose friendship is tested when the caterpillar feels the tug of nature and has to go spin his cocoon. The friends part, apparently with some bad feelings, but reunite after Bob grows his wings and flutters back to find his old pal. The story was written by Nick Bruel's dad, a psychologist, and discovered after the older Bruel passed away, then adapted into a picturebook with a few minot changes... In all honesty, the story reads a bit roughly -- it's a nice concept, but the script could have been smoothed out a bit. It's not entirely clear how much (or why) Otto's feelings were hurt by Bob's decision to climb a tree rather than stick with his pal, down on ground level. The underlying issues of envy and resentment are perhaps too dark to tackle directly in a book aimed at preschoolers, so the compromise version is dramatically unsatisfying. Still, it's a cute story with a nice message about the compromises inherent in strong friendships, and even though I wasn't that into it, my kid did ask to have it re-read a couple of times (B-)

"Nutmeg And Barley: A Budding Friendship"
Written by Janie Bynum
Illustrated by Janie Bynum
(Candlewick, 2006)

Opposites attract in this tale of a shy field mouse named Barley, and his rambunctious, chatty neighbor, Nutmeg the squirrel. Nutmeg is always inviting Barley over to visit, and he is always too shy and self-contained to consent. Finally, when the mouse gets a bad cold, Nutmeg takes over and nurses him back to health, cementing a lifelong friendship and/or romance. I wasn't wild about this book, but my daughter loved it (for about a week...) The artwork was okay, but the story struck me as fairly old-fashioned, with stereotyped gender roles and a clumsy resolution. But in one of those Barney-like moments, it rang a bell in my kid's imagination, so instead of shuffling it out of the way (as planned), I wound up reading it for much longer than I'd have guessed... Might not strike a chord with parents, but some kids will love it. (B-)

"Best Best Friends"
Written by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
(Harcourt, 2006)

Two friends get in a big fight... and it takes them a while to make up again. Fans of Chodos-Irvine's charming Ella Sarah Gets Dressed may be surprised by the harsher tone of this book, but the message may still ring true... (-)

"Gigi And Lulu's Gigantic Fight"
Written by Pamela Duncan Edwards
Illustrated by Henry Cole
(Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen Books, 2004)

Two best friends -- Gigi the pig and Lulu the mouse -- get into a big fight about nothing and both fume about it for a week, each refusing to make up with the other. When they do finally reconcile, each discovers that the other actually was a little bit different than they thought: they used to dress the same all the time, but it turns out they were dressing up in clothes that neither one really liked that much. This element of their reconciliation is a bit odd, since their fight wasn't about their whole twinsy, peas-in-a-pod relationship, but rather about a game they were playing. Like the ending, the story itself seems a bit forced, and the way in which they resolve their differences isn't really that instructive either: instead of confronting the issue at hand and saying, I'm sorry I knocked down your blocks and, yeah, I'm sorry I yelled at you too, they have a clumsy revelation about aspects of their friendship that weren't clearly problematic to begin with. There are other books that deal with problems within friendships that you might want to check out first, though I suppose this one is okay. (C+)

"I'm A Tiger, Too!"
Written by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
Illustrated by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
(Roaring Brook Press, 2001)

A lonely boy uses his imagination to pretend that a neighborhood cat is a roaring tiger, a dog is a wild wolf, a fish in a pond becomes a playful porpoise, and so on... But things improve when another boy moves in next door, and he finally has someone his own age to play with... Especially since the new kid also has a lively imagination, and they go off roaring together, tigers in the jungle. We weren't wowed by this one, but it was nice enough. (B-)

"Heron & Turtle"
Written by Valeri Gorbachev
Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev
(Penguin/Philomel, 2006)

Three simple stories about friendship and the little compromises and accommodations it can entail. Two neighbors who are very different -- a small, slow turtle and a tall, fast heron -- share a love of nature and each other's company. It's hard taking walks together (because of their different paces) but easy to enjoy passing the time together. Although still slightly didactic, this has a much lighter touch than Gorbachev's other recent work, which can be a little too focussed on anxieties and difficulty... This is more of a feelgood book, and more enjoyable as a result. Worth checking out. (Mildly weird, though, that the gender is given for the (male) turtle, but not for the dress-wearing heron... Maybe they wanted to de-emphasize the romantic nature of their friendship? Oh, well. I'm probably just nitpicking...) (B)

"Riley And Rose In The Picture"
Written by Susanna Gretz
Illustrated by Susanna Gretz
(Candlewick, 2005)

Riley, a dog, and Rose, a cat, are best friends, but their friendship hits a rough patch one rainy day when they do an art project together and discover that they think about things differently. Riley is literal-minded and insists that he is drawing circles and triangles while Rose is more imaginative -- she sees tents and ladybugs and flowers. But when they start talking about what they're making, the discussion briefly turns into a shouting match. But when they go "into" their pictures, they have an adventure that erases their differences and brings the fun back into the equation. This is a nice book -- I'd say it's more about conflict resolution that creativity and art, but really it works both ways. (It's worth mentioning that this is also very similar to Barbara Baker's Digby And Kate series... If you like Riley and Rose, you'll probably enjoy their predecessors, too!) (B-)

"Jamaica And Brianna"
Written by Juanita Havill
Illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien
(Houghton Mifflin, 1993)

Two friends fight for a while when they get jealous over each other's clothes. It starts when Jamaica goes to school feeling bad because she has to wear her brother's old, hand-me-down boots (the message about families that have to scrimp and save to buy things is a welcome change of pace from the world of privilege that defines most children's books...) Her friend Brianna's pretty, fluffy pink boots make Jamaica jealous and she takes out her frustration out by pooh-poohing Brianna's boots when Brianna doesn't like hers... and the two of them stop speaking to each other for a while, until tempers cool and they are able to talk about it. Overall, this one was kind of on the negative side, but it is a good story about working out problems, expressing feelings, and keeping friendships going, despite the rough patches. (B-)

"What Shall We Play?"
Written by Sue Heap
Illustrated by Sue Heap
(Candlewick, 2002)

A little girl named Lily May is playing with two friends and keeps suggesting they pretend to be fairies, but has to wait because her pals keep coming up with other games to play. Lily is very good-natured about it, though, and happily play-acts being a cat or a tree or a car until finally her friends are into what she's into. A nice, simple story about playtime and compromising with others... The artwork is a little chaotic (I like Heap's style, but this particular book feels a little rough in terms of the overall composition...) but it's colorful and bright, and ably evokes the energy and excitement of imaginative play. Nice book, worth checking out. (B-)

"Duck And Goose"
Written by Tad Hills
Illustrated by Tad Hills
(Schwartz & Wade, 2006)

A comedy of errors, as two young, hotheaded waterfowl meet in the middle of a gentle, grassy field and spend the day fighting over possession of an "egg" they discover... The object is really a soccer ball, but they are so caught up in their rivalry that they don't even notice... In the meantime, as they spend all day there, each perched on top of the sphere, refusing to move, they get to know one another and become fast friends. By the time they realize their mistake, they have become inseparable best buddies. A nice parable about kids having trouble sharing, and how the flipside of that behavior can sometimes lead to lasting relationships... Nice artwork, too! If you loved the "Gossie And Gertie series, but wish they had more plot, you should check this one out! (B+)

"Duck, Duck Goose"
Written by Tad Hills
Illustrated by Tad Hills
(Schwartz & Wade, 2006)

In this wry sequel, Duck and Goose's friendship is tested again, as Duck brings a new, third-wheel friend into the mix. Her name is Thistle, and she is an entirely self-centered, overly-competive narcissist who keeps bullying Goose and talking about herself. It takes a while, but Duck eventually gets tired of her, too, and they finally figure out a way to ditch her without being too mean about it. Another nice, gentle exploration of the complexities of early friendships, once again with really compelling artwork. Recommended! (B+)

"Leon And Bob"
Written by Simon James
Illustrated by Simon James
(Candlewick, 1997)
A sweet story about a boy named Leon who creates an imaginary friend called Bob, who comforts Leon while his father is away (in the army) and his mother is away at work... Leon is the also newest kid in his neighborhood, at least until another new kid moves in next door... When Leon works up the courage to ask is neighbor out to play, he brings imaginary companion along with him, but Bob disappears before Leon can ring the bell -- he is about to be replaced by a real-life friend... And after Leon takes the simple first step of saying "hi" and asking the new kid to come to the park with him, a new chapter opens up. One nice thing about this book is that it isn't judgmental or problem-oriented: the imaginary friendship is presented in a very matter-of-fact way, and the story isn't about how adults try to curtail an unhealthy fantasy, but rather how that fantasy helps a kid get through a rough emotional time. A simple, soft story that will ring true on many levels. (B)

"My Buddy Slug"
Written by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2006)

. The device of having an eight-foot tall banana slug as a best friend for a (human) boy is a bit gimmicky, but it'll probably do the trick and draw kids in, and that's great, since this is a pretty good book about emotional maturity and the fine line we sometimes walk to maintain our friendships. Alex has two best friends -- Kevin and Slug -- but when Kevin moves away, suddenly it's like Alex and Slug are joined at the hip, morning, noon and night. At first it's cool, but after a while Alex is surprised to find that his buddy is really getting on his nerves... One day, when Slug has invited himself over for dinner, Alex blurts out that he's really sick of having him around, and suddenly finds himself friendless, with Slug nursing his hurt feelings and avoiding him at school and in the neighborhood. Finally Alex works up the courage to talk to his friend and apologize... It's nice to have a book like this, modeling emotional communication, especially for young boys, who aren't always taught that it's okay to express your feelings, or to admit that you've made a mistake. Geared towards older kids, but definitely worth checking out if you want to stir up a conversation about this kind of stuff. Not too preachy, either. (B-)

Written by Kim Lewis
Illustrated by Kim Lewis
(Barefoot Books, 2001)

A gentle, realistic exploration of negative emotions and how friends fight and make up again. A young girl visits a friend who lives on a farm... While she's there, the boy hears on of their chickes lay an egg and the children go into the coop to find the newly-laid egg. At first they are excited about it, but then, after a brief struggle over who gets to keep the egg, it falls and breaks, and the two children feel angry and upset. Fortunately, another hen lays a new egg and they realize they don't have to fight with each other after all. I avoided this one at the library for a couple of years, because I didn't want to get into such an upsetting storyline, but once it seemed age-appropriate, we checked it out and it got a good reception. The story is compelling, the actual fighting part doesn't last long and the peaceful resolution comes quickly, and -- as with all of Lewis' books -- the artwork is quite lovely. If you're ready for it, this is quite a nice book, easily understood and easy to talk about. (A)

Written by Rob Lewis
Illustrated by Rob Lewis
(Henry Holt & Co., 1999)

An I-told-you-so story for kids who are having trouble socializing. A little rabbit lad named Oscar moves to a new neighborhood but has a hard time making friends because he is too grumpy about doing the things the other kids want to do... He wants to swim and only to swim, and none of their pastimes interest him. After a couple of lonely days, though, he realizes that you have to give a little and compromise to make friendships work. The moral and the story are both a little blunt, but the message is pretty useful... The book is fairly artless, but there's a happy ending, and some of the bunnies are kind of cute. Whether your budding little misanthrope will be won over by the semi-preachy tone or not is probably up in the air: it's pretty easy to see through the author's agenda, and a half-smart kid might be a little resistant to the indoctrination. Still, can't hurt to try. (B-)

"I'm Sorry"
Written by Sam McBratney
Illustrated by Jennifer Eachus
(Harper Collins, 2000)

An exploration of negative emotions and fights among friends, written by the author of Guess How Much I Love You. This is very similar to Kim Lewis' Friends, with a little boy and a little girl arguing and getting mad at each other, and then making up. However, this book has a heavier hand, and lingers on the upsetting emotional content much longer. My girl found this book to be very upsetting, in a way that Lewis' book was not. (She sat impassively when I read it the first time, and then, the next day when her mom picked it up, told her not to read it, announcing, "That's a bad book," which I've never heard her say before, about anything...) There are a couple of reasons for this, I think. First, the exploration of negative emotion is quite protracted, and the resolution is framed hypothetically, rather than seen as an actual event (the boy who is narrating says, "If my friend were as sad as I am sad, this is what she would do: She would come and say I'm sorry, and I would say I'm sorry, too.") Similarly, the cause of their fight isn't made clear -- he simply informs us midway that "I SHOUTED at my friend today..." but doesn't explain why. In the Lewis book, the fight is explained as part of the plot (the children are both trying to hold the same object, an egg, and break it by accident) but this same plot point is used to resolve their anger (they find another egg, and learn how to share). McBratney's book, however, just has them getting mad at each other, seemingly for no reason at all. This may be fine for adult readers, who just assume that children will fight from time to time, and that their reasons are inconsequential. For little readers, though, it seems like you'd want to better explain what was happening and why, so that they can make a little more sense out of it, and to have more respect for the causes of their emotions. Anyway, I didn't care for this book much, either, although other families may find it more useful. (C-)

"Block Party Today!"
Written by Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by Stephanie Roth
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2004)

A simple celebration of a summertime block party in a (real life) Brooklyn neighborhood... The cast of characters is admirably multi-ethnic and multigenerational, although few real personalities emerge. The dramatic elements center on a trio of girls who are in the middle of a jump rope-related feud when the story begins. This part reads a bit roughly: we never see the original fight, and it is explained poorly (one girl is sulking at home because her friends wouldn't let her go first in yesterday's game, and they had a big fight about it...) The subplot also introduces a strong negative element in what purports to be a celebratory book -- there are two different narratives being crammed into one story, and the combination isn't handled very skillfully. Ultimately the happy, happy street party part of the book loses out, and the event itself seems ill-deifned: we see pictures of people dancing and playing in the street, but the text is about Lola's problems with her friends, Yasmin and Sue. Of course, they all get together and make up in the end, but I'm far less interested in their game of jump rope than in what the other people in the 'hood are up to. Then the party ends, and girls go home. Kinda clumsy, really. Maybe the book should have just been about the jump rope fight and the girls making up? Or just the block party? Oh, well. Nobody asked me. :-) (C+)

"Goldie And The Three Bears"
Written by Diane Stanley
Illustrated by Diane Stanley
(Harper Collins, 2003)

A hip modern retelling of the classic Goldilocks fable... This time around, Goldie is a young gal who's kind of particular about everything... She wants her sandwiches a certain way, her clothes a certain way... and her friends a certain way, too. She hasn't had much luck finding the right friend, though, and her parents are a little worried that maybe she should get out and see more kids, and maybe loosen her standards a little... Everything changes, though, the day she stumbles into the Three Bears' house. From here, the story follows a fairly standard arc, except that Goldie and Baby Bear really hit it off, and become best friends in the end. I liked the artwork a lot, and thought the freshening up of the story was welcome and well done... A few qualms about reading how picky Goldie was about everything, but I only feel that way because our little angel is so nauseatingly perfect... (Not!) Anyway, this was a fun, clever book. Recommended! (B+)

"Connie Came To Play"
Written by Jill Paton Walsh
Illustrated by Stephen Lambert
(Viking, 1995)

A nice little girl triumphs over the crabbiness of a little boy. When Connie comes over to play at Robert's house, he grabs each of his toys in succession and yells, "That's mine! You can't play with it!" The girl responds calmly by saying, okay, I'll just play with something else. In each case, she pretends that she has something similar, but better: he grabs his blocks from her, she imagines that she builds a whole castle out of giant bricks, etc. In the end, when Robert's stinginess has run its course (and there's nothing left to keep away from his guest), she invites him to share her pretend world, and he decides she's pretty cool, after all. Okay, maybe the "real world" doesn't always work like that, but it's still a really sweet story. My two-year old, who's in the middle of all that "no! mine!" stuff was fascinated by this book, nd asked to have it read again and again. Nice to see such a gentle, hopeful exploration of such negative emotions, although small children may have a hard time understanding the concept of pretending (and an even harder time making it work in the playground, when there's only one real sand shovel to play with...) (B+)

"Make New Friends"
Written by Rosemary Wells
Illustrated by Rosemary Wells
(Hyperion, 2003)

A new girl, Juanita, comes to Yoko's school and Ms. Jenkins asks Yoko to help her fit in... Yoko is an exemplary pal, making sure Juanita knows how to sing the little songs the class sings for snacktime, etc. and that she isn't alone or left out of any activities. She even stays after school while Juanita waits for her mother to pick her up... Nice role modeling of positive social behavior and solicitousness... Another nice entry in the Hilltop School series! (B)

"Leonardo The Terrible Monster"
Written by Mo Willems
Illustrated by Mo Willems
(Hyperion, 2005)

A beautifully designed picture book about a little monster named Leonardo who wants to be scary, but just isn't. He picks on a boy named Sam who, Leonardo has determined, is the most scaredy-cat kid in all the world... But when he succeeds in making Sam cry, Leonardo realizes that he's actually hurt Sam's feelings, and rushes to make amends... The story may seem simple (it is, but in a good way...) but it's really the art and the layout that makes this such a wonderful book. The luxurious use of empty space -- with entire two-page spreads devoted to small, single images -- is reminiscent of Jules Fieffer's groundbreaking work of the 1960s. Likewise, other elements of the book seem to draw consciously on other popular wellsprings -- the fuzzy-maned Leonardo looks like a wee growler straight out of Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Thing Are, while the book's premise has more than a little in common with Monsters, Inc. Mo Willems does a fine job synthesizing these classic influences to present a playful, emotionally evocative, visually arresting story, one that will draw small children in right away... And you'll have a lot of fun trading "BOOS" with your kid after each reading. I enjoyed this one a lot, and it's frequently requested at storytime. (A++)

"Sand Castle"
Written by Brenda Shannon Yee
Illustrated by Thea Kliros
(Greenwillow, 1999)

Five young children (ages 5-8?) meet on the beach and build an enormous sand castle, complete with a moat, a wall, a canal to the water and a big road leading to the gate. Each kid builds their own part, and by cooperating, they are able to make something bigger than any of them could have made alone. Then, when the day was done, and their parents called them to go home, what next? Well, they stomped the castle into oblivion, of course! This is a very nice book about sharing and cooperation, with nice, realistic pictures. The only part I didn't like was how the first girl, Jen, who started the project, greets all the other children by saying this is "my castle," even though they've all been working on it together for a while. Minor point, though, in an otherwise nice book. (A-)

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