"Our perfect companions never have
fewer than four feet."

Friendship: It comes in a myriad of shapes and sizes. No one friendship serves as a template for all the rest, and no one's experience of friendship is exactly like anybody else's. So, what is it that makes a good friend? Common interests? Common philosophies? Or is the foundation of friendship something more difficult to put a finger on? The answer is, of course, Yes, yes, and yes.

George and Martha
by James Marshall
Houghton Mifflin, 1972
ISBN: 0-395-19972-7
$6.95, 47 pp

George and Martha by James Marshall is a thin book of short stories on friendship, each with a lesson to be taught. The first, Split Pea Soup, revolves around pots upon pots of the green broth which Martha loves to make, and George eats out of politeness, until the day Martha discovers he isn't passionate about it. She's not passionate about eating it either, and by story's end George has learned a lesson in honesty. In the second story, The Flying Machine, George learns friends don't need to impress each other to maintain friendship. Just simply being there is all it takes. The lessons are simple, for sure, but helpful.

Accompanied by silly (in a good way) illustrations by the author (Martha and George are hippos), George and Martha is rounded out by The Tub (a lesson in privacy), The Mirror (vanity), and The Tooth, an excellent story on helping a friend in crisis.

I Like You
by Sandol Stoddard Warburg
Houghton Mifflin, 1965
Illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast
ISBN: 0-395-07176-3
48 pp

I Like You, written by Sandol Stoddard Warburg with illustrations by Jacqueline Chwast, might be the best story ever written on friendship without a plot. Throughout, the reader is dropped in fly-on-the-wall style to witness various friendships in action. It's a convention that works well for Warburg, and offers an opportunity for Chwast to flaunt her artistic creativity, which she takes full advantage of.

Some friendships portrayed we're used to seeing; others, not at all. There are alligators embracing each other; a clown befriended by an elephant; a boy and his cat hollering their heads off; and angels hugging demons. I believe I even saw Trotsky and Lenin on one of the pages.

      "I like you because / You know where I'm ticklish / And you don't tickle me there . . . And I like you because / When I am feeling sad / You don't always cheer me up right away / Sometimes it is better to be sad . . ."

By describing qualities of friendship, Warburg defines it. Friendship is everything we see the friends in I Like You doing. It's about the good days of friendship, "I like you because / You know where I'm ticklish / And you don't tickle me there . . ." and the bad, "And I like you because / When I am feeling sad / You don't always cheer me up right away / Sometimes it is better to be sad . . ."

Mostly, though, the impression left by Warburg and Chwast's book is there are more reasons to be friends than there are not to. But liking each other remains chief among them.

Rosie and Michael
by Judith Viorst
Macmillan Publishing, 1974
Illustrated by Lorna Tomei
ISBN: 0-689-71272-3
$3.95, 37 pp

Judith Viorst is a giant in the world of children's books. Her titles (Macmillan Publishing) include: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day ($8.99); Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday ($8.99); If I Were in Charge of the World . . . and other worries ($9.99); I'll Fix Anthony ($8.99); My Mama Says There Aren't Any Zombies, Ghosts, Vampires, Creatures, Demons, Monsters, Fiends, Goblins, or Things ($7.99); Sunday Morning ($7.99); and The Tenth Good Thing About Barney ($7.99). As suggested by their titles, Viorst writes stories relevant to kids, often to help them face their fears. That said, Rosie and Michael is not one of those stories.

Rosie and Michael is about a friendship between a boy and a girl. It examines the dynamics of that friendship without pigeon-holing the characters into preset roles. In Viorst's hands, Rosie is free to be a tom-boy; Michael is allowed to show sensitivity. Like Sandol Stoddard Warburg's book I Like You (Houghton Mifflin), it is a book that defines friendship by putting it on full display. Whereas Warburg's book offers a plethora of friendships, Viorst's explores just one: that between Michael and Rosie.

Rosie and Michael is riddled with the nice things friends do for each other. When Michael sings like crap, Rosie points out he's not the worst singer in class. When Michael's sad, he can talk to Rosie about it. Also, Rosie and Michael covers the borderlining-on-nasty things friends say and do to each other, like calling each other names, or playing tricks on one another. They're the things that kids in friendships do, and Michael and Rosie are, appropriately, none the worse for them. They roll with the punches.

While these are good life lessons to learn, the star of Rosie and Michael are its illustrations. Lorna Tomei's black and white line-drawings jump off the pages. Her combination of simple and quirky draws the reader in where we're rewarded with the unexpected, without distracting from the text. The result is an elegant storybook up to the task of preparing young readers for the real world of friendship. Kudos.

posted 05/17/22