I kicked off the blog with a book that my daughter probably won’t read for several years, so it seems only fair that I shift over to a book she’s actually read – in fact, one of the first books we ever read to her. I don’t entirely remember how we got a copy of Taro Gomi’s My Friends, but the person who gave it to us deserves an annual thank you note. It’s that good.
Japanese author-illustrator Taro Gomi is probably best known as the mad genius behind the ultimate potty book, Everybody Poops – which, strangely enough, we’ve never read – and he also makes the coolest coloring books you’ve ever seen. (Seriously. If your kid is into coloring, Gomi’s Scribbles and Doodle books can’t be beat.) Gomi has additionally created some truly wonderful picture books for younger readers, and My Friends is one of our favorites.
It’s an ideal bedtime book. Truth be told, I literally read My Friends to my daughter at bedtime every single night I put her to bed from when she was five months old until she was about 15-months-old. Which I realize makes me sound fairly obsessive-compulsive, but so be it. Maybe my daughter’s incentive to learn to talk was her burning desire to ask me to change-up the bed-time reading. (“Daddy, STOP.”) But I don’t really think so. We still read My Friends from time to time even now, although now it functions as more of an “I Can Read” book than a cuddly bedtime book. (Pause as I mourn the passage of time to the tune of “Cat’s in the Cradle.”)
What’s so great about My Friends? It has a lot to offer in a very elegant package. The story is simple – we follow a young girl as, on each double-page spread, she tell us what she’s learned from the world around her. The majority of the lessons she’s learned come from animals. “I learned to walk with my friend the cat… I learned to jump from my friend the dog… I learned to climb from my friend the monkey…” As the book goes on, we see what the girl has learned from a variety of animal pals, from books, from teachers, from classmates, and it all ends with the “awww”-worthy declaration that “I learned to love from a friend like you.”
Gomi’s illustrations are bright, charming, and have this underlying sense of fun and wonder that my daughter really responded to. Even when she was only a few months old, this is a book that made her light up. I mean, yes, I think My Friends is really well done, but the real reason I love it is because of the response it elicited from my kid. She’d smile and sit calmly while I read through the thick cardboard pages of the board book, occasionally trying to flip the pages herself. As she got older, we’d add animal sounds to the pages with animal illustrations, and the book evolved into a call-and-response story where, after I’d finish reading the page, she’d give me the correct corresponding animal noise (her gorilla was the best) or some finger movements we worked out to mirror the actions on the page. (Few things are funnier than watching a seven-month-old try to make her fingers run, jump, and/or karate kick.)
Plus, as a first-time father who is now aggressively aware of gender disparity in relation to his sweet little girl (irony noted), I really loved reading her a book with a strong female character who is out there in the world, learning from nature, kicking, jumping, exploring, excelling at school, and being affectionate, all at the same time.
There are board book and normal paperback versions of My Friends out there, but I personally prefer the board book because it allowed my daughter to be really active and hands-on with the book at a very young age without having to worry about page tearing. Also, there is apparently a very cool multi-lingual version of the book called My Friends/Mis Amigos, where the text is presented in both English and Spanish on facing page spreads, which sounds awesome.
Essentially, My Friends is just a really simple, lovely book that proves a framework to give your child a really great, engaging reading experience. It’s a fantastic introduction to the world of reading and, with all due respect to Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, it is now my preferred book to bring as a gift to baby showers.
THE DETAILS ON MY FRIENDS :
AGE RANGE: I’ve seen the reading level listed as 4-8, but I disagree. I think this is a perfect book to read to pre-readers from six months to pre-K. And, like I said, once your kid starts reading, My Friends transitions into a nice early reader book.
PAGE COUNT: 40 pages
AUTHOR WEB SITE: Gomi has a very cool Japanese website, but, you know, it’s in Japanese. (Haven’t been able to find a translate feature yet.) He also has a landing page at the website of his American publisher, Chronicle Books.
BUY IT, BORROW IT, OR FORGET IT?: Buy it. It’s great for bedtime and you’ll want your kid to manhandle and drool on your own copy.
IF YOU LIKED MY FRIENDS, YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
- The Carrot Seed (1945) by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Crockett Johnson – Another essential board book. Like My Friends, The Carrot Seed beautifully executes a simple premise. A young boy plants a carrot seed and, despite everyone in his life telling him that it won’t grow, he waits and waits and waits… until he’s rewarded for his patience and faith. Plus Johnson’s illustrations really show off how effective a page turn can be – when the carrot finally appeared, my daughter (when she was six months old) gasped in surprise and excitement.
- Charley Harper’s ABCs (2008) by Charley Harper – Artist Charley Harper brings his minimal realist animal illustrations to this really breathtaking alphabet book that kids will love and hipster parents will want to hang on the walls.
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (1967), by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle – Brown Bear is another core title in our home library (it was the first of my daughter’s books that I ever memorized), so expect its own blog post soon, and it also has some nice parallels to My Friends. As a series of animals describe the other animals they can see, Martin and Carle give readers the opportunity to learn colors, animal sounds, patterns. It’s a fun book to read with a spare yet ridiculously effective visual style. Good stuff. (You can also find Spanish-language versions of Brown Bear fairly easily for those fans of My Friends/Mis Amigos.)