Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Outside, Inside, Upside And Downside

As soon as you leave the sanctuary of your home as a child (as an adult), you learn to make connections with other people.  Seeking those who enjoy the same activities, cherish the same values, and help you to be your best self but love you for exactly who you are, they are a rarity.  When you and another share a bond of mutual affection based upon unbreakable trust you are the best of friends.

As you grow up from a young age to adulthood, you begin to realize best friends may come and go, making for painful experiences.  Real Friends (First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, May 2, 2017) written by Shannon Hale with artwork by LeUyen Pham and color by Jane Poole is a true recollection of finding positive people with whom to share your days.  It's full, like life, with heartbreak, healing and hope.

When I was little I didn't worry about friends.  

As Shannon navigates from kindergarten through fifth grade we are given windows into her school and home worlds.  Five sections labeled with names, Adrienne, Jen, Jenny, Zara and Veronica and Wendy, allow us to understand how these girls shaped her definition of friendship.  Some weaken the very nature of the meaning, others strengthen it.  Some are learning the importance of real friends.

As the middle child of five Shannon already feels a little left out at home.  Meeting Adrienne in kindergarten is a dream comes true for her.  They are inseparable until second grade, enjoying games of make-believe.  Then Adrienne moves.  All Shannon wishes for is the return of her best friend.  Wishes sometimes come true.

By third grade another student is rising in the popularity game, Jen.  All the girls want to be in The Group with Jen as leader.  Adrienne already knows Jen so she is automatically invited to be a member.  It is not so easy for Shannon.  From one minute to the next she never knows if she is in or out of the group.  A high point of the summer before fourth grade is spending time with Jen at her cabin.

Fourth grade brings more changes for Shannon...glasses.  One member of the group, Jenny, increases her bullying of Shannon.  She is so desperate to have Jen all to herself; she begins to spread lies about her.  Her cruelty heightens Shannon's anxiety; there are more stomach aches and counting.  At home the abuse from her older sister is worse.  Often Shannon hides in the bushes at school and at home to avoid the wrath of Jenny or her sister Wendy.

Only two of the group, Amy and Nicole, are in Shannon's class in fifth grade; a blend of fifth and sixth grade students.  In a moment of bravery after a particularly horrible moment with Jenny in The Group, Shannon leaves them for good.  Freedom does have costs but it opens new doors.  The generous spirit of two sixth grade students who admire the creativity and sense of humor exhibited by Shannon changes many things for her.  A shift at home broadens the hope now surging in her heart.

After repeated readings of nearly the entire book it's abundantly clear Shannon Hale is a writer of great courage and integrity.  Some of the scenes are painfully true but she tells this story in exquisite detail to let her readers know they are not alone with their experiences.  The line connecting us to friends is a fine line; easy to snap unless it's stood the test of time.  Nothing can break the line between real friends.

The dialogue is true-to-life to the point you feel as though you are watching a film.  The strength Shannon finds in her religion is noteworthy.  She shares her prayers.  In one particular moving scene, a low point for Shannon, in a day dream she feels as though no one would ever miss her if she vanished.  Jesus says He likes her.  Another important aspect is Shannon's imagination; her ability to fashion games and stories.  Pages are devoted to her tales of daring and heroes.  Here is a sample of dialogue.

Who was that?
The Group.
They were your friends?
But now they're not.
They're a bunch of turdmongers, aren't they?
Yeah...clearly a bunch of turdmongers, all of them.
You know, I never realized before, but they are kinda turdmongery.
Do you want to hang out with us today?
On the outside, I was like...
But on the inside
(blasting rainbows, stars and hearts)

When you first look at the front of the book case there is something about the look in young Shannon Hale's eyes and in her body stance, they let you know she is the kind of person you want to have as a friend.  Throughout the entire book the portrayal of Shannon, her family and all the students in her school years "click" in a universal manner with readers.  We can see ourselves and others, regardless of our current age, in these people.

All the people in each of the scenes are fully animated.  The panels alternate in size to supply pacing in keeping with the text.  When Shannon is creating a game or a story the panels vanish to expand our view along with her perspective.  We become emotionally linked as events unfold.

LeUyen Pham has done marvelous work in depicting the years between 1979 and 1984 with authentic clothing, hair styles, exterior and interior designs in architecture.   There are wall phones with cords attached to the hand sets.  The plaid fabric on the living sofa and its color are a flashback to that era.

One of my many favorite illustrations is during the summer before fourth grade.  With their backs to us Shannon and Jen are running through the woods from the lake shore at Jen's family cottage.  They are deep into a game as high school private detectives following clues to a kidnapped girl.  There is pure bliss in their moving arms and legs.  It's one of those moments as a child you never forget.

In this collaboration Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham have brought to readers a wonderfully, realistic depiction.  Real Friends will be read over and over and over.  Copies will have the well-loved look in short order.  I can imagine real friends reading portions out loud to each other.  Perhaps they will act out scenes.  Professional collections must have multiple copies.  I extend my deepest appreciation to Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham for this title.

To learn more about Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  At the publisher's website you can view interior pages.  There is a website dedicated to this title.  Shannon Hale is a guest at BookRiot talking about this title.  Shannon Hale is in a video interview with Rocco Staino for KidLit TV.  In The Book Report by Jarrett J. Krosocska he talks about this title and its importance.  Enjoy the book trailer.

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