Be a Friend
by Salina Yoon
Published by Bloomsbury (January 5, 2016)
My Rating: 5 Stars
The cover of Be a Friend wears its heart on its sleeve, so to speak. The heart of the story is clearly about a friendship between a regular-looking girl and boy who is a little bit different. The intriguing part is that the boy is so outwardly offbeat. I couldn’t help but wonder how a mime would get along in the world of chatty children and rough-and-tumble play.
Dennis doesn’t speak. To express himself, he acts out scenes. While the other children show-and-tell, Dennis puts on his wordless show. When the other children climb a tree, Dennis stands tall and lets a bird rest on his branches. Because Dennis is silent and a bit different, the other children barely see him and he is lonely. One day, when Dennis kicks an imaginary ball, it is caught by a girl named Joy. Even though Joy talks to the other kids and likes to play in the tree like the other kids, she also understands Dennis and becomes his friend by miming with him. Eventually, Joy’s friendship and understanding opens the eyes of the other children – they see and play with Dennis, too.
Every time I read this book, I fall in love with the illustrations a little bit more. I love how Joy is quietly noticing Dennis all along. I love how the red heart Dennis wears on his black-and-white striped shirt suddenly appears pinned on Joy’s dress after a few spreads of them miming together. And, I love how the expressions on Dennis’ face are spot on.
There will always be children who are a bit different from their peers. They may not fit in as well because they’re quiet or they look different or they come from a different culture or economic background. While sometimes it’s not easy to understand others who are different, it is a great kindness to simply try – to look at another person and see their humanity inside.
Dennis isn’t a monster, he’s a regular boy with a different way of expressing himself. Because another child looked and accepted him for who he is, he was spared from loneliness and the rest of the world got to see and appreciate his uniqueness.
Be a Friend is a hopeful book. And, I hope it makes its way into the hands of many children.
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