Friendship is a Two-Way Street
When we go to the library, the children each get to choose two books.
When I choose a book at the library, I pull a likely-looking title off the shelf, I flip to the blurb on the inside of the jacket, I open at random and read a paragraph here and there, to determine if I like the style and tone. Then I might put into my bag, or, more often, back onto the shelf and move on to the next likely candidate.
Now, toddlers can’t do much of that. Toddlers can’t read. They can, however, look at pictures. Not that they do. When a toddler ‘chooses’ a book from the library, they wander to the nearest shelf and yoink one off without, far as I’ve noticed, even looking at it. They certainly don’t open it first. Toddlers could ‘choose’ their library books blind-folded.
When it’s a lingering visit rather than a git ‘er done visit, I do a little training in discrimination. “Look at the front cover. Look at the back. Open it and peek inside. What do you see? What do you think is happening? Does that look fun and interesting?”
But really, toddlers are far more of the “ALL books are fun!!! I want them ALL!!!!” school of discernment. Which is why, when I go to the library with the tots, I feel more than free to discreetly look over their Giant Heap o’Books and cull. I remove the ones with far too much text. I eliminate the ones that we’ve read a gazillion times before, and I Just.Can’t.Face again. I slip to one side the ones that would drive me screaming round the insanity bend.
Because, you know? THEY love them ALL. I am more
persnickity easily bored picky discriminating. And I’m the one who has to read them. All. Over and over.
We don’t tend to read our books at the library. Even for the older children, the library is too distracting, with all those books on the shelves, the other children, the toys and activities. Rosie, who is not much of a cuddler, and more of a grabber and scruncher of books, tends to get bored after a book or so. (“If I can’t crumple the pages, WHAT IS THE POINT?!??”) If we’re at home, I can let her toodle off without worry. At the library, I can’t let her wander out of sight. Reading at the library is too damned stressful!
So we’re at home before I tackle the giant pile o’books. Eventually we get to A Splendid Friend Indeed, by Suzanne Bloom. I love the size of the book, I love the clean, simple layout of the pages, I love the look of the characters, a big, fuzzy polar bear and a small white goose.
I will tell you now that the people over at Goodreads looooove this book. Lively! Charming! Funny! A good look at Friendship and how friendships are formed!
Hm. I think all the people who gave it five stars are extroverts. They’re all the Goose. Me, I’m the Bear.
Now, in terms of pictures and layout: five stars for sure. Language appropriate to the age of the readers (the read-to’s)? Five stars. Whimsical, playful feel? Five stars. This is a very appealing book.
But the actual content?
The story goes like this: You have a big old bear, see, who is reading a book. Along comes goose. A lively, cheerful goose. “What are you doing? Are you reading? I like to read!” As I read, it seemed that goose just had to have a rather LOUD voice. And you know? I’ve met goose before, many times. He didn’t just say those things once. He said them repeatedly. Rapid-fire. Incessantly.
“What are you doing? Huh? What’re you doing? Are you reading? Areyoureading? Areyoureading? Hey! I like to read! You know that? I like to read, too!”
And after two pages, goose has not only inserted himself between bear and his book, but has commandeered the book. (How are you feeling abut goose at this point? Are you thinking, “Oh, what a lively little character!” Or are you thinking, “Lordy, what an annoying little doofus!”) A mildly disgruntled bear decides he will write instead. The next pages are predictable.
“What are you doing now?”
“Are you writing?”
“I like to write.”
“Do you want to see me write?”
And then goose has bear’s journal and pencil. So now bear is sitting there, without his book, without his journal and pencil, looking rather pissed. (I LOVE the illustrations in this book. They are SO expressive!) Bear has nothing left to snitch. Does goose stop yet?
NO. Because goose doesn’t want the things so much as he wants, needs, DEMANDS THE ATTENTION! ALL OF THE ATTENTION! Do not dare attend to anything but meeeeee!
(Are you gathering that Mary is not a fan of goose?)
“What are you doing NOW?”
“Are you thinking?”
“Thinking makes me hungry. Are you hungry? I think I’ll go make a snack.”
I wryly note how goose does not, in this instance, follow the previous pattern. “I like to think!” HA. As if. That would involve sitting still, being quiet, and not being the focus of attention. Goose is an annoying little twerp.
Bear relaxes back into his journal with visible relief. When the little twerp returns with a snack, he cringes. Because bear is an introvert. He wants to enjoy his book, his writing, his thoughts. Not only is goose a raging extrovert, but he’s also an attention-hog. He doesn’t just have to be talking and acting all the time, but the talk and action has to be focussed on HIM.
I am not liking goose, but I am enjoying the true-to-life dynamic. There are children out there like goose. There are children out there like bear. Bear is being remarkably patient, mind you. Many bear-type children would have either run away or decked goose by now. But there are quiet, introverted kids who just become overwhelmed by this type of insistent, pushy extrovert. I can see this happening.
So goose returns. Bear cringes. Goose has a snack and a note. Goose reads the note:
“I like you. Indeed I do. You are my splendid friend.”
Yup. Extrovert all over. They’ve interacted, therefore they are FRIENDS!!!
However, it is at this point that the book loses all credibility to me. When presented with this declaration of splendid friendship, does bear give him an incredulous look and say, “You stole my book, you commandeered my journal, you interrupted my thinking. How could we POSSIBLY be friends???” No, he does not. In fact, he is so touched that he must wipe a tear from his eye.
What has goose done to earn bear’s friendship? Was there any sharing? Any accommodation of bear’s style? Anything at all that would make bear want to be his friend?
And what could possibly be in the ‘friendship’ from Bear’s perspective? Why would he want to be friends with this intrusive, pushy, demanding little dude?
But NONE OF THAT MATTERS! Because to be friends, see, all you have to do is make an enthusiastic declaration of friendship. No need to find out about the other guy. No need to let them take a turn. No need to be respectful of their needs. Nope! Just be REALLY REALLY ENTHUSIASTIC!!! and then, even if you’ve been SUPREMELYY ANNOYING (and rather selfish to boot), then boom! You’re friends!
I sound much more angry than I in fact am. We all know kids like this. You may find them charming. They are charming, in their way … but are they good friends? Not really. Do they need to be taught to tone it down, to pause, to listen once in a while? Yes. Until then, they’ll just be the annoying kid who is generally ignored by the others. And rightfully so.
I would have found this book much more satisfying had there been some recognition that friendship is a two-way street, and that Goose has done nothing whatsoever to make Bear want to be friends with him. Had Bear shown some annoyance, and Goose had to make some accommodation, the two of them meet in the middle somehow.
Then it would have been a good book about friendship.