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three-friends-at-sunset

Friends Forever: In Life and In Picture Books

At this busy time in my life, I’m starting to realize the true importance of friendship even though I have never had less time to devote to it. My closest group of friends are three women who I’ve known since I was six years old. We’re fortunate enough to have weathered many storms together, even though we’ve been physically separated for over 20 years. After we left our beloved Catholic K-8 school, we all attended different high schools and colleges. I moved away from my hometown in New York to permanently settle here in suburban Boston. Another woman in our group moved to Pennsylvania. Yet thanks to modern technology and social media, we’ve kept in touch and are closer than ever as support one another on the journey of motherhood.

My best friends have taught me that I need three things to make friendships last through adulthood: laughter, forgiveness, and support. The mysterious balancing act of balancing work, motherhood, and being a wife and daughter can be overwhelming. Laughing our way through the difficult things with my friends is the only thing that keeps me from running away at times. Whenever we get together or talk on the phone, tears are guaranteed, not because we are crying but because we make each other laugh until we cry. Laughter truly is the best medicine and the world feels right again once I’ve been laughing with my friends.

My second key friendship value is forgiveness. Life is moving very quickly for me these days. In a rush of school drop-off, activities, working, weekend plans, cooking, tidying, and the occasional date night or two, I know I often neglect relationships outside of my family. I need my friends to forgive me for forgetting to call them back or not sending a thank-you note. I don’t make enough effort to drive down to my hometown to see my friends now that my parents aren’t living there anymore. I’m probably going to let you down if you have rigid social expectations, not because I’m rude or don’t care but because I am usually exhausted and often forgetful. Luckily, my best friends are right there with me in the struggle and never judge me if I have to postpone our phone chats because I’m dealing with a sick kid or a homeowner crisis.

Finally, I need my adult friends to be supportive. Our adolescent days of talking uninterrupted on the phone might be over, but I always have time to shoot my friends a quick text or Facebook message. We have a Facebook group that’s our safe space to vent about our husbands and work, worry about our kids (as well as show them off) and share whatever is going on in our lives. That support is my lifeline through everyday ups and downs and it keeps our friendship current and accessible in a busy world.

Reading picture books aloud is one of the great joys of being a children’s librarian. Some of my favorites are those that focus on friendship.  Not the overly saccharine texts that feature perfectly behaved people (or animals) but the real ones that show how mutual regard and affection can sustain two people (or animals) through life’s imperfections. Often, friendships in picture books have an “odd couple” quality that only adds to their charm.

The brilliance of George and Martha by James Marshall has set the standard for portraying friendship in picture books. These two delightful hippopotamuses are best friends who know each other through and through. George isn’t the most clever hippo and Martha often outsmarts him but he’s also joyful and supportive. He does frequently snoop through Martha’s things but she always forgives him. Martha can be a diva but she’s always a good sport. She can be ill-tempered but is quick to get over an argument. Nothing much ever happens in their stories but somehow James Marshall’s understated text and illustrations create their profound friendship. Other delightful George and Martha books include George and Martha: One Fine Day, George and Martha: Rise and Shine, and George and Martha: Back in Town.

Arnold Lobel created the classic Frog and Toad series, stories that show the everyday dramas and misadventures of America’s most famous amphibians. These two friends also have their ups and downs but are only really content when they are together. They often miss each other and wonder what the other is doing when apart. Neither of them are perfect though. Toad can be a little lazy and is self-conscious about how he looks in a bathing suit. Frog loves pulling pranks and loves horror stories even more. But each appreciates the other for who he really is and their stories teach children to value individuality over sameness in a relationship. Frog and Toad’s adventures are featured in Days with Frog and Toad, Frog and Toad Are Friends, Frog and Toad Together and Frog and Toad All Year.

Both George and Martha and Frog and Toad were written in the 1970s. No other picture book duo approached classic friendship status until Mo Willems created Elephant and Piggie. In Today I Will Fly, we are introduced to Gerald, a lovable but slightly neurotic elephant prone to meltdowns, and Piggie, a carefree, laid back pig with a playful side. My best friend, who is also a children’s librarian, declares that there are two types of people in this world: Geralds or Piggies. Willems clearly casts the pair as an odd couple with Gerald as a Type A rule follower and Piggie, who is cheerfully free and easy. It goes without saying that my friend and I are clearly Geralds. Gerald and Piggie solve all sorts of friendship problems like sharing issues, not liking your best friend’s favorite food, and what to do when the weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans. More riveting adventures can be found in all 25 volumes in the series.

These picture books reflect the complexities and wonderful realities of friendship. Our friends sustain us not only as we face the trials and tribulations of life but also through the everyday mundane details of living. The friends in these books hold up the ideal qualities of friendship while being imperfect animals. They accept and love their friends even when they aren’t their best selves. And that is the most enduring and satisfying thing about friendship in childhood and in adult life.

Kate Tigue is the Head of Youth Services at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the October 3, 2019 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

 

 

Kate Tigue

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