WILL YOU BE MY FRIEND
Back in 1994, Irish writer Sam McBratney, and British illustrator Anita Jeram, published the picture book, Guess How Much I Love You. It has been in print ever since and gained a loving and loyal following when it came out in the United States the following year. If you don’t immediately remember the book, one look at the cover of McBratney and Jeram’s sequel, Will You Be My Friend, should do it.
The memory of Big and Little Nutbrown Hare tells you this is going to be a very special picture book.
Briefly, Big Nutbrown Hare is busy working hard when Little Nutbrown Hare asks if he can go off and play. Big Nutbrown Hare says yes, but because Little Nutbrown wants to go off on his own, he is told not to go “too far.”
Little Nutbrown Hare hops off to have an adventure. He sees his reflection in a puddle and is unhappy that it is “only another me.” Next, he sees his shadow, and no matter how fast he goes, it follows him. Little Nutbrown Hare realizes the shadow is also “only another me.” Then he reaches Cloudy Mountain and suddenly sees another hare. The Cloudy Mountain Hare tells him her name is Tipps. She asks Little Nutbrown if he wants to play and be her friend. Anita Jeram’s illustrations say it all: they hop, they chase each other, dig a hole, make a pile of leaves. Then they play hide and seek. Each is so good at hiding that by the time Little Nutbrown Hare must go home, he hasn’t found Tipps.
Big Nutbrown Hare is happy to see Little Nutbrown and to know he had fun. Then they hear a nearby noise, and out comes Tipps. Big Nutbrown wonders, “where on earth did she come from?” Little Nutbrown explains that she is from Cloudy Mountain, and her name is Tipps, and most importantly, she is his friend!
As much as McBratney’s story appears to be a simple one, if we read the book to ourselves several times before reading to a youngster, we find its simplicity an illusion. Did Little Nutbrown Hare know he wanted a friend? How do we know Big Nutbrown Hare loves Little Nutbrown? (“Don’t go too far.”) Why do we want to have friends? What can we do with a friend that we can’t do by ourselves? If the sun is out, and it is safe to go outside, can we see our own shadow? (Not all picture books have to be read at bedtime.) Does a friend have to look exactly like us? Does the child being read to know how to play hide and seek?
Will You Be My Friend is not only for very young children. Even a child who is learning to read will love to follow along with you and point out when you miss a word. (Fake it if you have to; I’ve learned that there isn’t a young reader alive who doesn’t love pointing out a nana’s mistakes.) I can’t wait to give this book to a dear friend who is expecting her fourth grandchild.
Sam McBratney died in September of this year. But as long as the stories of Big and Little Nutbrown Hare are read and reread (they have been translated into fifty-seven languages), we do not have to guess how much we love the man who brought them to life. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Sam McBratney: Guess How Much I Love You; You’re All My Favorites; The Adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare; Just You and Me; I Love You When You Smile; There, There; Guess How Much I Love You In the Winter; Yes We Can; The Chieftain’s Daughter; Let’s Play; Guess How Much I Love You in the Spring; Just One!; Look What I Can Do; Mindy and the Good No One Else Could See; Noblett, the Lough Neagh Monster; Guess How Much I Love You in the Autumn; There, There and Everywhere; Jimmy Zest; A Surprise for the Nutbrown Hares; The Ghastly Gerty Swindle; Let’s Play in the Snow; In the Light of the Moon; The Most Loved Bear; You Just Don’t Listen; Jimmy Zest is Best.
Also available by Anita Jeram: Illustrations: All Pigs Are Beautiful; My Hen is Dancing; I Love Guinea Pigs; Guess How Much I Love You; Puppy Love; Animal Friends; Kiss Goodnight, Sam; Don’t You Feel Well, Sam; You Can Do It, Sam; You’re All My Favorites; The Little Nutbrown Stories; Little Chick. Books written by Jeram: I Love My Little Storybook; All Together Now; Birthday Happy Contrary Mary; Daisy Dare; Contrary Mary; The Most Obedient Dog in the World; It was Jake; Bill’s Belly Button.
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