by Toni Buzzeo
My daughter and I had the great pleasure of meeting author Toni Buzzeo last week at a Young Authors Festival here in Michigan. She shared some very useful tips for young writers, and she shared a lot about her own process as an author. In doing so, we heard the backstory and the evolution of edits that yielded her newest (and wonderful) book One Cool Friend.
Elliot is an unusual boy who speaks very formally and wears a tuxedo everywhere he goes. He doesn’t enjoy the chaos of other children, but when his father suggests they go to Family Fun Day at the aquarium, he is much too polite to tell him he’d rather not. Off they go, and the adventure begins. Elliot asks his father if he can have a penguin, and his father hands him $20 to buy what he presumes is a stuffed animal. Oh no; the only stuffing involved is Elliot fitting the penguin into his backpack. Once the penguin, whom he names Magellan, is settled at home, Elliot accommodates his penguin needs with some creativity and fun. It takes a while for Elliot’s father to discover that the penguin Elliot keeps talking about is real and not imaginary or a toy, and when he does, there is a great surprise ending!
This charming story is full of silly laughs for kids, but there’s plenty of wit to amuse parents, too. This is particularly fun to read aloud with voices we don’t always get to use for little boys and their fathers… and how often does one get to “GROK!” like a penguin? There are clever bits of foreshadowing and references to geography throughout the story, making it interesting to read multiple times. I can honestly testify that it’s still lively and fun the 34th time. It’s also wonderful to see a story featuring a father and son and their time spent together.
Illustrator David Small did a beautiful job with this story. His scenes are a perfect match for the text. They are simple and still very detailed; cool and still very comfortable; and refined but still appropriately animated. There are great little moments everywhere in this book — a penguin wearing a tiny bicycle helmet, the curve of the halls in the aquarium, Magellan gorging himself on seafood from the freezer. It’s not a surprise at all that this book is a Caldecott Honor winner. At the festival, Buzzeo shared that the librarian to whom the book is dedicated is featured in the story, and even though David Small had never seen a picture of her, her character looks exactly like the real woman — short red hair, glasses, the works. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but it’s clear that Small was really feeling the story. The text and the pictures work together beautifully to tell a quirky, interesting, and fun tale.
One Cool Friend is a delight for all youngsters from preschool through elementary school. It would make a lovely gift this holiday season, especially for penguin lovers. Or anyone who enjoys laughing and surprise endings. Or those waddling friends who enjoy anchovies.