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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay, written by Cari Best with pictures by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $20.50 ages 5 and up

"We come to school in our uniform blues by bus, by car, or by our mommas, like me - our blouses ironed, our hair shampooed. Four best friends who help each other, four best friends who help themselves - Maya, Nancy, Zulay, and Chyng. We link our arms and skip our legs and sing like the stereo till Ms. Perkins, the hall lady, tells us to stop."

Ah, first graders! They have such energy and high spirits. Take four of them, put them together and nothing will stop them. At least in the case of Zulay and her friends who walk confidently into their classroom every single morning. Arms linked, legs skipping and voices proudly singing, they are a force to be reckoned as they are happily welcomed with a hug from their teacher.

Then, it's straight to the work of the day!

"I feel with my knees for where the chair fits and sit in my seat like Ms. Long at the library - like I can't wait for someone to ask me a question. Inside my desk there are crumpled papers, pencils, kisses, and a folded-up cane that I push back for later."

Oh, Zulay is blind. Unless you carefully considered the cover, this is your first indication. It doesn't stop her from being a part of everything that is happening at school - except for gym. Ms. Turner helps Zulay with her cane while the others are in gym class. Zulay knows it won't be easy to learn, and she doesn't much like being singled out as the only student learning to use one. But, she is patient.

When their teacher announces that Field Day is coming up, the children are keen to go home and think about it, and to determine what event is of interest to them. The next day, Zulay makes her choice for participation.

"I would like to run the race in my new pink shoes,"
I say - to a class as silent as stones."

Ms. Turner is as excited as Zulay about the race. They will have to work hard with the cane, and with running. That practice makes for a very successful Field Day.

The vivid colors, expressive faces and movement-filled artwork give young readers an opportunity to see first graders in their element; learning, exploring, supporting and caring for each other. The addition of the braille alphabet on the back cover is an added bonus. 

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