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Best of Friends

Barbara A. Ward
 | Mar 12, 2018

It is hard to imagine where any of us would be without our friends. After all, they have our backs during tough times, cheer us up when we feel blue, and point us in the right direction when we go astray. This week’s reviews focus on characters who are the best of friends.

Ages 4–8

Adelaide’s Secret World. Elise Hurst. 2018. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.

Adelaide's Secret WorldAdelaide, a rabbit, lives a quiet, lonely life in an old shop behind a red curtain. She spends her days observing others like her—"the still ones, the quiet ones, those who danced and sighed and dreamed alone"—and her nights crafting models of them. One stormy day she reaches out to one of these solitary creatures, Fox, and discovers that he too is an observer and an artist portraying the quiet ones. Hurst’s beautiful oil paintings reveal how this chance encounter leads Adelaide to spend time creatively connecting “those who had once been lonely and silent.” This book may remind readers to pay attention to the quiet individuals in their lives, those who often go unnoticed, and, through extending friendship, give them voice.

Big Tree Down! Laurie Lawlor. Ill. David Gordon. 2018. Holiday House.

Big Tree Down!When a storm’s heavy winds bring down Big Tree, a cherished landmark, the neighborhood feels quite different. While community workers remove the tree, nearby residents watch as Big Tree's branches are consumed by a wood chipper and its trunk is chopped into pieces. Eventually, they come together for an impromptu neighborhood picnic, sharing food and memories of Big Tree. Various parts of their old friend are reserved for firewood, mulch, and as place to sit. Later, one family decides to plant a new tree near where Big Tree once stood. Although the residents miss Big Tree, perhaps they will find a new friend in Little Tree.

Timo Goes Camping. Victoria Allenby. Ill. Dean Griffiths. 2018. Pajama Press.

Timo Goes CampingAlthough Suki, a squirrel, is excited about going on a camping trip with her friends (even though none of them are experienced campers), Timo, a timid rabbit, is hesitant. He doesn't like new things, and he worries about what could go wrong. Since Timo usually heads to the library to do research when he’s nervous about anything, that’s just what he does before the camping trip. On the trip, Timo is uncomfortable with how Suki teases everyone, even making fun of him for being such a book nerd. When Suki leads the friends into some trouble, Timo finally stands up for himself and tells her what's bothering him, and she acknowledges her mistakes. As it turns out, Timo has plenty of skills to share on the trip, and his notes on how to use a compass come in handy. Colorful, digital illustrations reveal each animal friend's personality and complement the text of this early chapter book, which describes an experience with which many children will be familiar.

Ages 9–11

The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley. April Stevens. 2018. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.

Frances PauleyEleven-year-old Frances, who prefers the name Figgrotten, is not like her fifth-grade classmates. Frances is a loner and keen observer of the world around her. She draws inspiration from anthropologist Margaret Mead, collects rocks and oddities with which she fills her room, and has even hung up a poster of Lucy, the famous 4 million-year-old skeleton. When her best friend, elderly school bus driver Alvin, dies, Frances is devastated; she thinks no one else can ever understand her like he did. As it turns out, there are others who honor Frances Pauley’s uniqueness while also offering her friendship even as she remains true to herself.

The Hollow Under the Tree. Cary Fagan. 2018. Groundwood/House of Ananzi.

The Hollow Under the TReeWhen a circus train derails, a lion escapes and finds shelter in a park near Toronto, where young Sadie Menken finds him hiding in a tree hollow. She enlists the help of Theodore Kendrick, Jr., the son of wealthy parents who’s often left alone, in caring for the lion until they can find a home for him. They must keep their efforts secret since many in the city would regard the lion as a monster. The lion eventually is returned to his trainer, leaving behind him two young people with fond memories and a fast friendship.

Strongheart: Wonder Dog of the Silver Screen. Candace Fleming. Ill. Eric Rohmann. 2018. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.

StrongheartWhen film director Larry Trimble meets Etzel, a fierce, highly trained, 3-year-old German shepherd police dog, he is certain that he’s found his next big star. He brings Etzel (renamed Strongheart) back to Hollywood, where he stars in his first film, The Last Call, capturing the hearts of American movie goers. The careful steps Trimble takes in gaining Strongheart’s trust and friendship are described in detail. Stunning black-and-white oil paintings capture the essence of Strongheart, showing his intelligence, playful nature, and star power. Back matter includes notes on the true events behind the fictional story, photographs of Strongheart, a bibliography, and source notes on quotations.

Ages 12–14

Sidetracked. Diana Harmon Asher. 2017. Amulet/Abrams.

Side TrackedSeventh grader Joseph Friedman has long been the object of teasing because of his ADD and small size. School bully and football player Charlie Kastner particularly delights in ridiculing him. But things start to change when Charlie agrees to join the school track team at the urging of Mrs. T, the coach and his resource room teacher, and he unexpectedly makes friends with Heather, a new student, who is strong and tough—and a super runner. She doesn’t put up with Charlie’s insults about her body, size, and lack of delicacy. While Heather helps Joseph learn to stand up for himself, she also faces up to her mother about her own needs. Both Charlie and Heather benefit from their friendship in surprising ways.

Sparrow. Sarah Moon. 2017. Arthur A. Levine /Scholastic.

SparrowFourteen-year-old Sparrow Cooke goes into a tailspin when Mrs. Wexler, her school librarian and friend, dies unexpectedly. The quiet girl with severe social anxiety ends up in therapy, where she uncovers truths about herself, acknowledges her fears, and even agrees to attend a music camp during the summer. It is in this most unlikely place that Sparrow finds her voice and finally lets others in, as music (the louder and punkier the better) provides an avenue to friendships.

Ages 15+

Give Me Some Truth. Eric Gansworth. 2018. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic.

Give Me Some TruthSet on the Tuscarora Reservation near the town of Niagara Falls in the 1980s, this story is told from the alternating points of view of senior Carson Mastick, who dreams of rock and roll glory and cobbles together a band that might help him escape the reservation, and 15-year-old Magpie (Maggi) Bokoni, who has recently returned to the reservation with her family. The characters navigate racism, adulthood, and first love in this powerful novel about coming together in a world defined by difference. Friendships described here may not be perfect, but their stories ring true, challenging assumptions and reminding readers how hard it can be to swallow certain truths about ourselves, about those we love and admire, and about the world’s injustices.

Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school, as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's in English education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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