Reader’s Response Journal: My Best Friend

My Best Friend coverCitation:

Rodman, Mary Ann. My Best Friend. Illus. E. B. Lewis. New York: Viking-Penguin, 2005. Print.

Plot:

Six year-old Lily longs to be best friends at the swimming pool with Tamika, who is seven and already has a best friend. Lily tries to get Tamika’s attention by getting a new swimming suit, learning how to dive and sharing her pool toys and popsicles, but Tamika and her friend Shanice just tease her. One day when Shanice isn’t there, Lily and Tamika have a great time together, but the fun is only temporary because Tamika goes back to ignoring her the next time they meet. Lily later realizes that maybe she had someone who wanted to be her friend all along and decides to just enjoy playing with Keesha (who is also six) instead.

Setting:

Present-day summertime at the community swimming pool.

Point of View:

1st person (Lily)

Theme:

Friendship, making impressions, appreciating what you have

Literary Quality:

The story is realistic and universal. The voice really seems to reflect the thoughts and speech of a six year-old. Although the story features six and seven year-olds, most children can identify with Lily’s frustration and attempts at friendship, no matter their age. The watercolor pictures are beautifully done and true to life. The round bellies of the little girls and the shapes of the parents do not promote a distorted body image. The text and artwork complement each other nicely, though the most of the storyline flows through the text.

Cultural Authenticity:

All of the main characters in the pictures are black children, with a variety of skin tones, at playgroup with their parents. Some of the names also seem to be authentic to contemporary African-American culture, which could possibly “date” or stereotype the book years down the road. The storyline, however, is not necessarily unique to a black child’s experience because it could happen to any child of any race.

Audience:

The book jacket indicates that it is intended for children ages 4 and up. Since the oldest children are going into second grade, I suspect that third grade is probably the upper limit. However, any elementary-aged child who is struggling with making friends might make a connection with this book. Because of the realization that Lily makes at the end of the story, parents of young children might be able to use this book as a way to start a conversation about friendship and peer relations.

Personal Reaction:

I am in awe of this book because of the extraordinary watercolors. I found myself paging forward and back, examining and reexamining the detail of the images. I loved the beauty of the African-American children in the story—it’s so nice to see more and more examples of quality picture books featuring children of color with storylines that can resonate with any child. I also smiled several times because of Lily’s extreme efforts to make an impression on someone she thought was cool. How interesting that many of us continue to do this, even through adulthood!

The Beloved Children’s Books of My Past

My grandmother was a retired 7th grade English teacher and she LOVED reading to me when I was small. Also, when I was stuck in Colby, WI, for three weeks every summer with no friends to play with (because of a crap joint-custody deal and because I didn’t go to school/live there), my grandma’s friend at the public library let me check out as many books as I wanted without my own card. I think I read the entire children’s section at that library one summer. I used to walk down with my wagon and fill it up in the morning, read all day, and then walk back in the afternoon a half-hour before close and fill it up again. I was a reader from early on (and a library rat–but the good kind)!

I have memories of a few books being read to me over and over: Ferdinand the Bull, Harold and the Purple Crayon and some book about some preschoolers that have a parade with their tricycles (the female protagonist was named Martha… man, I loved that book. If anyone can solve the mystery for me, I would be forever grateful. However, through working at the CCBC and seeing the volumes and volumes of children’s books that come in and out of their, I think the odds are pretty slight, especially since it was probably not an award-winner).

At school, I loved Where the Wild Things Are and Stone Soup (Does anyone remember that Weekly Reader Book Club version that had pigs as the characters?–that one!), but probably because my teachers loved them and did fun activities with us. I also loved Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day. I think it was also read aloud to me, but I don’t know by whom. I still love it, especially now. Today, I adore reading it out loud to my ESL students because it’s so adorable and most of them have never read it before.

As a newly independent reader, I loved the Ramona books (all of them), but my favorite was Ramona and her Father, probably because my 2nd grade teacher read it with us. I also loved a little paperback book called A Kitten for Rosie that that same teacher gave me as a Christmas gift (I actually still have it). I was also a fan of the Garfield books back then too.

I gobbled up the A Wrinkle in Time books and for a long time, I said that Madeleine L’Engle was my favorite author, though I barely remember the storylines of any of them. I also read a ton of Roald Dahl before all the movie craze (and I don’t think I watched the movie version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory until I was an adult). My fave was Matilda. I think I got into both of these authors because we read James and the Giant Peach and excerpts of A Wrinkle in Time in reading class.

The common thread here for me was that adults who were important to me connected me with pretty much every book that was important to me. It’s powerful to think of how much adults matter in cultivating a love of books in our children, no matter the relationship.

As for multicultural elements, I don’t think there was any taste of that in my childhood faves. Maybe Ferdinand. From what I already know about multicultural lit, I don’t think this is surprising at all. Children of color are still very underrepresented in children’s books.

P.S. My current picture book faves are Cookie the Walker, Zander’s Panda Party, Niño Wrestles the World, Building Our House and Listen to My Trumpet (an Elephant and Piggy story that I can’t read without busting out laughing). Read them, you’ll love them! Share them with someone young, they will love them too!