Finding, keeping friends

Finding, keeping friends

With summer winding down, it's the beginning of fall harvest for pumpkins and squash.

"Sophie's Squash" (2013, Schwartz & Wade Books, written by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf, ages 3-8) tells the story of a girl and a butternut squash.

When Sophie chooses the squash at the farmers' market, her parents had made plans to cook it for supper. Sophie, however, has other ideas. She draws a face on the squash, wraps it in blankets, names it Bernice and rocks it to sleep. "I'm glad we met," Sophie whispers to the squash. "Good friends are hard to find."

Sophie and Bernice do everything together. Then, one day, her mother says, "Sweet pea Bernice is a squash, not a friend. If we don't eat her soon, she'll get mushy and gross. Let's bake her with marshmallows. Won't that taste yummy?"

Sophie covers Bernice's ears. However, after some time passes, Sophie does notice that Bernice is getting rather soft and spotty and "her summersaults lacked their usual style." So, one day at the farmers' market, Sophie asks a farmer, "What keeps a squash healthy?"

He tells her it's simple: "Fresh air. Good, clean dirt. A little love."

"Well," Sophie thinks. "I have all that." She goes home, clears the leaves from Bernice's favorite spot, makes a soft bed of soil and tucks her in.

"Get better soon," she whispers.

That night, snow falls. Sophie's mother reassures her that Bernice is warm under her blanket of snow. Her dad introduces her to Ace, a goldfish in a bowl, and they wait out the long winter. When spring comes, Sophie rushes to the garden and sees a small, green sprout that "looked strangely familiar."

"Wow," Sophie tells the two new squash that grow from the plant, "You look just like your mom." The expressive watercolor illustrations capture the warmth and humor of this beautifully crafted story, as well as the fiercely loyal spirit of a child who's found a friend.

Another book that captures the loyalty of friendship is "A Home for Bird," (2012, Roaring Brook, ages 3-7) written and illustrated by Philip Stead (author of the 2011 Caldecott Medal book, "A Sick Day for Amos McGee").

When Vernon, a foraging frog, finds a lost wooden bird, he invites the bird to join him. Bird says nothing, but Vernon doesn't mind.

"Bird is shy," Vernon tells his friends. "But also a very good listener." Vernon makes Bird a part of his life. He worries, however, about Bird's silence.

"Maybe he misses home," says Porcupine.

So Vernon takes Bird on a journey to find his home. They row down the river in a teacup.

"But no matter how many places they tried, Bird said nothing."

Vernon persists. They tie the teacup to a balloon and fly. Finally they come to an old house, where they stop for the night. On the wall is an old clock. They climb the chain and Vernon puts Bird to bed upstairs in the hutch.

The next morning, the clock strikes six, and "Cuckoo! Cuckoo!" Bird pops out, finally speaking. The rich colors and informal "color outside the line" feel of Stead's mixed media illustrations work well with the warm, childlike text in this feel-good story of friendship.

Alice B. McGinty (http://www.alicebmcginty.com), the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children, directs a summer writing camp, Words on Fire, for teens, and tutors school-aged children in writing.

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