Friends are so important–they can help bring comfort, laughter, understanding, and joy. I love finding books about friends that feel celebratory and affirming. A Friend by Anette Bley is all of that.
by Anette Bley
Kane/Miller (March 2009)
ISBN-10: 1935279009, ISBN-13: 978-1935279006
Ages: 9-12 (and up)
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I’m glad I have a friend to play with…on rainy days.
Someone to get in trouble with…when I feel like playing tricks.
Someone to dance and laugh with…when I am happy.
A friend who is quiet with me…when I am sad.
Someone who is there…whenever I need help.
—A Friend by Anette Bley, p. 1-9.
What do you want in a friend? What do you want a friend to do with you? Picture book A Friend answers all these questions and supplies many thoughtful, loving ways to be friends, or things you might need from a friend. This book is an is affirming and encouraging celebration of what a friend can offer.
Bley’s text is a beautiful, almost poetic reminder of what a friend can be and what a friend can offer you. It reminds readers of all the ways a person can be a friend, and the many things you can do with a friend–such as play with a friend on a rainy day or get in trouble with a friend when you’re feeling impish. Bley’s text also talks about things you might want from a friend, depending on how you feel–such as quiet when you feel sad–or on what you need–a hug and comfort when you want it, yet letting you go when you ask them to. Bley also covers qualities you might want in a really good friend, such as help when you need it, but not helping when you want to do things on your own, or the courage to tell you when others are laughing at you. The qualities and actions Bley discusses also seem to fit a really good parent. For introspective readers, it may also remind them of what they can offer a friend, as well as what they can receive. The text is thoughtful, warming, and wise, reminding the reader of the good in people. It feels truly loving and kind-hearted.
The text is specific while being general enough for the reader to identify with (such as “someone who forgives me for my mistakes when I feel small and foolish”–we’ve all been there). This gives the book a universal appeal. I think it will appeal to a broad audience, and to kids and adults alike. At the end of the book, it moves from talking about who a friend is and what they can do, to asking the reader who their friend is.
Bley’s text is not a story, but a wise, kind reminder about what it means to be a friend, and what you can hope to look for in one. Each phrase is split up with an elipses and a new illustration and sometimes a page turn, which gives the reader time to think about it and finish the sentence for themselves.
Bley’s pencil-and-gouache illustrations are sweet and playful, with strong, flowing lines. The characters have a slightly cartoonish feel, and always stand out, through the use of lots of white space, lack of background detail or clutter except for necessary elements, characters usually wearing bright clothing, characters being located centrally, and strong lines.
Bley’s characters are vibrant and expressive, with strong body language, and are beautifully drawn. They show that friends come in all ages and sizes, and sometimes even in animals. The characters change in each illustration, though are sometimes repeated for comparison next to each other as part of the same sentence. This will allow both girl and boy readers to identify with the book. At the same time, there is a great fluidity and a sense of all the characters belonging together, though Bley’s strong individual style, and a similarity in the characters’ faces.
One small thing that may detract from the book for some readers is that there is not enough variation in ethnicity.
Bley changes the layout and size of the illustrations in the spreads throughout book; some illustrations are split in a spread, coming to 3/4 and 1/4 page, which moves to 3 illustrations per spread, then 2 or 3 long narrow illustrations split horizontally, then vertically. This greatly adds to the visual interest.
There is some great bonus material in the front and end papers, where we get more text and drawings about what kind of friend we might want, and what we want the friend to do, with illustrations and text that are not in the book. The illustrations in the front and end papers are in green and white.
This is a wise, feel-good book about friendship. It’s a great book for a child, as well as a good gift to give to a friend. It has comforting, heart-warming text and illustrations. The book encourages friendship and thinking about what you might need from a friend, and also offers good limits that a child–or person–should have.