There’s a land far away where imaginary friends come into being and wait to be imagined by a real child. But what if a real child never imagines you? Might you remain stuck, forever in limbo?
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat (@dsantat) follows one imaginary friend as he decided to take action into his own hands venturing bravely forth to seek a real friend to play with (and to name him). The real world is a strange place, with muted colours and tired people failing to see joy or find fun around them. But then our still un-named imaginary friend recognises a flash of colour in the rush-hour crowd – an old imaginary friend from the land of their birth, and follows the creature. Will this lead him to a real friend? And just how do you make friends when you’ve not had a friend before and don’t know where to start?
Santat’s tale about our desire to find friendship, the difficulties we can encounter along the way, and the joy and joint adventuring it can bring is full of charm and hope. It’s gentle, optimistic and beautiful. It also happens to be award-winning, and not just any old award: Almost exactly a year ago, The Adventures of Beekle won the most prestigious picture book award in the US – the Randolph Caldecott Medal.
UK publishers, Andersen Press, are now bringing this gorgeous book to the UK market. Yes, it’s true that those of us with UK/Eire addresses can get hold of just about any US book thanks to online ordering, but many brilliant US-published children’s books never make it main stream here (i.e into schools, into public libraries, into highstreet bookshops) because they aren’t published by “local” publishers and are therefore not straightforward for organisations to order (or even to find out about). I find this especially frustrating with graphic novels and children’s non-fiction, genres in which I think the US is a world leader.
Why do some books make it across the Atlantic when others don’t? To my eye there is a decidedly American flavour to the illustrations in The Adventures of Beekle, something to do with the slightly soft focus, polished animation feel to the imagery. Differences in illustration fashion clearly aren’t necessarily a problem. And yet if we look at which Caldecott winners have made it to the UK, we see that it’s surprisingly few; of the past 20 winners, I think only 5 have been picked up by UK publishing houses.
As it happens, the 2016 Caldecott Medal winner us being announced TODAY (January 11). Will it be a book that makes it across to the UK?
[I do encourage you to follow the announcements of all the ALA Youth Media Awards, of which the Caldecott is just one. If you’re on Twitter, you might use #ALAyma to find out about the winners. You can also watch the announcements as they are streamed live http://ala.unikron.com/2016/]
Either which way, The Adventures of Beekle is a delightful, heart-warming story about friendship, courage and reaching out. I’m really pleased that thanks to its UK publishers it will now find its way into many more homes, schools and libraries on this side of the pond.
Especially taken by the illustration below of a tree full of leaves / stars, we were inspired to set up a piece of guerilla public art in the name of Beekle and everyone who could do with a bit of good cheer:
Using air-drying clay, some cookie cutters and letter stamps we created a whole host of starry leaves to hang in a tree by our favourite playground. We stamped each tree with a friendly, encouraging message, hoping to raise a smile amongst those who come across the starry leaves.
…we threaded them with string…
…visited our favourite playground…
…and hung up our good wishes to all.
We’re hoping visitors to the playground will find the stars and take one they like home, spreading Beekle good wishes around the local community!
Whilst making starry leaves we listened to:
Other activities which might work well alongside reading The Adventures of Beekle include:
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Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.