Book: Be A Friend
Author: Salina Yoon
Age Range: 3-7
Be A Friend is a new picture book from the prolific Salina Yoon. It's about being true to yourself, as well as the sense of validation that comes when you find that friend who understands you, just as you are. I think that it's lovely, and would make a great companion book to The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton or Leo: A Ghost Story, by Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson.
Dennis is "an ordinary boy", except that he dresses himself up every day as a mime, and doesn't speak. His closet shows a picture of Marcel Marceau. He only acts, performing scenes to express himself to others. The other kids seem to leave him be, but he does find that he's sometimes lonely. Until, that is, he meets a girl appropriately named Joy, who is prepared to act things out right along with him.
Dennis (AKA Mime Boy) is shown throughout with white-painted face and striped shift. Yoon highlights the scenes that Dennis is acting out by using a dashed red line to provide clues for the reader. So we see Dennis standing with legs bent, sweat beading his forehead, sitting atop the red dashed outline of a bicycle. The text never explains these miniature acts - it doesn't need to. I think that preschoolers will love identifying the action in each vignette.
The minimal text in Be A Friend would make it work either as a read-aloud for preschoolers or as an independent read for new readers. There are a few more difficult words, like "extraordinary", but most of the text is quite direct. Like this (over two page spreads):
"They saw the world the SAME way.
Dennis and Joy didn't speak a WORD,
because FRIENDS don't have to."
Be A Friend is heartwarming and reassuring without being particularly sad. While it might be implausible that a kid like Dennis wouldn't be picked on in school, I read this as more of a parable than a literal tale. But the particular device of Dennis acting out scenes (and the reader being able to guess what they are) makes this book extra-fun for preschoolers. And the messages, like Dennis' acts, are mainly hinted at, left to the reader to infer. Be A Friend is going on our keep shelf, a new favorite for me.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's (@BWKids)
Publication Date: January 5, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
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