THE FRIENDLY FOUR by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist (HarperCollins)
If I could choose just one adjective to describe this book, it would be "playful." Here, the spirit of children is celebrated: the ability to find each other, to make friends, to invent worlds. The story of a summer spent together is told in four voices, color-coded for read-aloud, so each emergent reader in a small group can take a part (though it can also be read by a single talented adult). Though these children clearly have big things going on at home (it is suggested that one lives with her grandmother, one is in foster care, and one is in the neighborhood while her mother recovers from an illness), they are upbeat and undeterred from their imaginative lives, filled with tall tales, playground days and adventures in the town of "Goodsummer," an idyllic place invented out of paper and paint. In snapshots, we see their days both languid and lively, such as an afternoon covering eyes at a scary monster movie: "That was a great movie./That monster was mean!/That was the best movie/I have ever not seen." Or perhaps a punishment for going out of bounds: "The grown-ups had told us not to travel/beyond the corner tree./ When they looked, they couldn't find us,/now we're punished to remind us/not to forget to remember/where we're supposed to be."
Though I know this book is classified as "poetry," it really does read more like poetic prose to me, as the rhymes are often internal or incidental. What is consistent is the jouncy, hopeful tone, full of eagerness to make a perfect summer day and friendships that last, well matched by colorful, ebullient illustrations. Though Ms. Greenfield would be hard-pressed to beat her collection of poems HONEY I LOVE (illustrated by the absolutely inimitable Leo and Diane Dillon), this book is a fresh pleasure from a classic talent. (6 and up)
Check out the master of poetry for many voices, Paul Fleischman!:
BIG TALK illustrated by Beppe Giacobbe (Candlewick) (7 and up), Newbery award winning JOYFUL NOISE illustrated by Eric Beddows (Harper) (8 and up), and ZAP: A PLAY (Candlewick)(12 and up).
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