Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Atheneum, 2020. Hardcover Picture book, 32 pp.
The first page (before the title page) is the close-up of our narrator, staring at the subject of the story—her new best friend; which for that moment, before you turn the page: is you. You’d think they were best friends for ages, so sure and knowing the narration. But such is that revelation at the end, and such is the nature of our youth: to know and love one another instantly, even if they like a flavor of ice cream that you don’t.
The details of the story make it personal to the narrator, but their antics—in words and pictures—inspire familiarity nonetheless. Swinging, chasing, hide-and-seeking, playing pretend, laughing and laughing some more. Tamaki is the photographer, capturing realism and movement, anticipation and memory; they are echoing the author here who speaks in present-tense and past and future.
Moments in the story find the narrator testing out her beliefs as to whether she and the other girl are best friends. What do certain actions/expressions mean? Can they like different things? The story builds an excitement of getting to know each other more; reminding us that friendships are like that. Does the new best friend like green? And how would she write her name in chalk?
As much as the book considers the new best friend(ship), we learn quite a bit about our narrator; and she’s charming. Tamaki is excellent with the transformations (see They Say Blue) and turns our narrator into the pickle she pretends to be. A pickle. The narrator is distraught when they trample some flowers during a chasing scene. And she’d break out her fanciest handwriting for her sidewalk announcement of their best friendship. She’s thoughtful.
Fogliano and Tamaki carry us through the most energetic and the most quiet parts of a day belonging to two new best friends. It’s delightful and inspiring—and it’s easy. There is an uncomplicated nature to it all—as they spin and chase and rest and hide in nature. There is nothing anxious, not even in the wondering; the wondering engaging the reader/listener in thoughts about what makes a best friend. The creators pose a good question: what makes a best friend your best friend: a particular detail about them (looks, tastes, qualities) or the way they interact with you (mimicking, making you laugh, fixing things) or is it sum of all the parts. What do you have to even know?
Or can you just bask in the moment of just knowing, of declaring them your best friend, with a hope but no guarantee of a tomorrow of plans you are already making in your head. Tamaki’s illustrations certainly compel the reader/viewer to be present. And yet, those last images do invite you to wonder about the future of that friendship: first from the narrator’s looking over her shoulder to watch her new best friend be carried away; second from the next page corner illustration, from the point of view of (you?) or the new best friend watching the narrator go.
My Best Friend is a rich, timeless picture book to add to the collections. No best-friend needed. Girl parts or fem identifiers not required.
Julie Fogliano is the New York Times bestselling author. Recipient of the 2013 the Ezra Jack Keats award, her books have been translated into more than ten languages. Julie lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband and three children. When she is not folding laundry or wondering what to make for dinner, she is staring out the window waiting for a book idea to fly by.
Jillian Tamaki is an illustrator and artist best known for her graphic novels. This One Summer, cocreated with Mariko Tamaki, was awarded a Caldecott Honor, a Printz Honor, and an Eisner Award. She is the author-illustrator of They Say Blue. Jillian lives in Toronto.