The Picture Book Buzz

Old Friends - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I am really excited to share this lively and fun picture book this Friday! I loved spending time with my grandparents and enjoyed the interactions I saw when Campfire and Girl Scout groups did projects at local senior centers. It will be wonderful once Covid dissipates enough to allow for these interactions again. I hope you enjoy this spectacular story about the "ageless" joy of friendship.

Old Friends


Author: Margaret Aitken


Illustrator: Lenny Wen


Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (2022)


Ages: 4-8


Fiction


Themes:

Friendship, creativity, cunning, intergenerational friends, and individuality.


Synopsis:

Paired with colorful and vibrant art by Lenny Wen, Old Friends by Margaret Aitken is an inventive and heartfelt debut picture book that celebrates found family, caregiving, and the value of intergenerational friendships.


Marjorie wants a friend who loves the same things she does: baking shows, knitting, and gardening. Someone like Granny. So with a sprinkle of flour in her hair and a spritz of lavender perfume, Marjorie goes undercover to the local Senior Citizens Group. It all goes well until the Cha-Cha-Cha starts and her cardigan camouflage goes sideways. By being true to herself, Marjorie learns that friends can be of any age if you look in the right places.


Opening Lines:

Majorie loved growing seeds into gardens, knitting cozy

creations, and curling up in front of her favorite baking show.

If only she could find someone who loved these things, too.

Someone like Granny.


What I LOVED about this book:

Marjorie is an "old soul." Even her name feels a little "old fashioned.' I love how Lenny Wen's beautifully bright, digital image introducing Marjorie does a fantastic job of portraying this "difference" from other neighborhood kids. Note the old phonograph, vinyl record, basket of yarn, and the ballet music box.

Text © Margaret Aitken. 2022. Image © Lenny Wen, 2022.


The kids in the neighborhood were great.

But none of the kids got excited about

yarn and yard work the way Marjorie did.


Interestingly, although Margaret Aitken's tenderly subtle touch - "Marjorie missed Granny so much" - was meant to gently indicate that Granny has died. Until I interviewed Margaret & Lenny, I had read it as more a case of a large spatial distance. Maybe that was slightly influenced by current experiences due to Covid and many families living far from each other. But I honestly think that this book works well for either scenario, extending its reach to many kids.


When Marjorie sees a sign at the community center, "Senior Citizen Friends Group/Every Saturday 10 am/Gardening/Crafting/Baking...New Members Welcome," she is so excited. Be sure to look hard for a small hint of the ending in the illustration. Unfortunately, the receptionist diverts her toward the "Kids Club." Her misery is palpable as she heads home, until she remembers all the things that didn't hold Granny back. Head high, Marjorie marches off to create a "cardigan camouflage." I think the word choice of "didn't" (versus "hadn't" ) - "Granny didn't give up easily" - allows readers to see Granny as living far away and not necessarily dead. Yet it also allows for her loss with a soft touch that would help a child whose lost a loved one.


I love the description and the illustration of Marjorie's transformation into - "Undercover Granny":

Text © Margaret Aitken. 2022. Image © Lenny Wen, 2022.


Marjorie sprinkled some flour,

perched some glasses,

and with a few floral scarves knotted,

some lavender perfume spritzed,

and her Mom's woolly cardigan buttoned,


It is a nice touch to have Granny's photo, with the same glasses & cardigan, in two of the spreads when Marjorie successfully sneaks past the receptionist and meets the seniors. I really love the expressions of the cat at the community center. It looks so skeptical of Marjorie at the beginning and it's picture actual "points" to Granny's picture. Since the seniors do not react (confused or concerned) to a "mini-Granny" showing up, it didn't feel like they'd lost a friend. Lenny did a wonderful job creating a cast of lively, welcoming seniors, diverse in age, ability, nationality, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality.

Text © Margaret Aitken. 2022. Image © Lenny Wen, 2022.


Things go great for Marjorie; she connects with a knitter, a gardener, and a cook. Until it's time to cha-cha-cha. Check out Monday's interview (here) to see the amazing image of Marjorie trying to escape as music wraps around the dancers and the text ("tango tangle") dances off the tongue. When her dancing dislodges her disguise (the cat's face is hysterical), Marjorie sniffs and heads for the door. And ... yep you guessed it...you are going to have to check out the book to see the tenderness and humor which Margaret and Lenny employ to show that we are all more alike than different. And their fun twist at the end.


This is a wonderful book, encouraging all of us to not let preconceived notions (of age, gender, nationality....) determine who our friends are. Although, perhaps not specifically written for Covid-times, the number of families who have lost elderly members means that many kids have lost a connection, knowledge, and friendship from their grandparents or other older relatives. Maybe once Covid recedes, this book will encourage families and kids to reach out to community centers, members of their neighborhood, or retirement centers and form many new friendships. It's a funny, joyous, heartfelt book on friendship and self-honesty.


Resources:

- give finger knitting or toilet roll knitting a try.

- what's your favorite music? Make up your own dance move with a friend, family member, or pet.

- plant a flower or make a little garden in a pot or recycled item (can, soda bottle, or milk or juice container...)

- make a list, or draw a picture, of activities, crafts, or hobbies that you enjoy or would like to try. Where could you find friends who like these activities (community center, club, school group...)?

- pair this book with Khalil and Mr. Hagerty and the Backyard Treasures by Tricia Springstubb, illustrated by Elaheh Taherian (intergenerational friendship), What Grew in Larry's Garden by Laura Alary illustrated by Kass Reich (gardening & intergenerational friendship), and The All-Together Quilt by Lizzy Rockwell (young and old quilt together at community center).


If you missed the interview of Margaret Aitken and Lenny Wen on Monday, find it (here).


This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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