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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Be A Friend, written and illustrated by Salina Yoon. Bloomsbury, Penguin. 2016. $21.00 ages 4 and up

"Some children liked to
CLIMB a tree.

Dennis was happy to
BE a tree.

But even trees get
LONELY sometimes."

We are told that Dennis is an ordinary boy. In fact, that is true: the difference between Dennis and the other children in this story is that he expresses himself in very exceptional ways. Dennis is a student of mime, as shown when his closet doors are opened. Photos of the Eiffel Tower and Marcel Marceau are prominently displayed, along with a number of black and white striped shirts, two top hats, white gloves and black dance slippers.

At school he is called Mime Boy; never bullied by his classmates but isolated just the same. His white face makeup, his lack of speech and his acting 'chops' help him convey feelings, movements, and various creatures and things. He is happy. He is also lonely, often feeling that no one is really seeing him. His real place seems to be on the other side of an invisible wall.

Then one day, everything changes. It begins with an imaginary ball and ends in friendship ... exactly what Dennis has been missing.

Thoughtful scenes are created in black and white on brown craft paper and edged with scalloped frames. Red dotted lines help readers understand what Dennis is miming, as well as make important words more evident. The discovery of a kindred spirit puts an end to the wall, and hoists a mirror in its place. It is an amazing discovery! The joy they find in each other's friendship is noticed by the other children; it makes all the difference.

Being true to yourself is a quality to be admired. Salina Yoon brilliantly depicts a boy who is worthy of that admiration. Bravo!

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