Friends Make Everything Better (A Pick for Valentine’s Day)

February 10, 2014 § 2 Comments

My family spent this past weekend holed up in the snowy hills of West Virginia with three other families. Once we adults began to block out the chatter and squeals of nine (mostly) happy children running circles around us, we were able to entertain some blissful grown-up time. And as I watched my children mature and transform across three full days of kid-on-kid time, I found myself feeling immensely grateful for friendships of both the tall and short kind. In this winter that has gone on too long, it is our friends that have put smiles on our faces, ideas in our head, and glasses of wine in our (adult) hands.

With Valentine’s Day shortly upon us, I’ve once again chosen a bit of a non-traditional path for my children’s gifts (and, gasp, I’ve even cheated and given the gifts early!). This new picture book—by a first-time author-illustrator—rises above the saccharine-sweet-mushy-gushy-dime-a-dozen stories out there by celebrating friendship in a unique, quirky, unforgettable way.

In Andrew Prahin’s Brimsby’s Hats (Ages 4-8), Brimsby, a hat maker by trade, already knows what it is like to have a best friend: someone with whom he shares his creations over tea, and “together, they have the most wonderful conversations.” But when the friend follows his dream to become a sea captain and sails away, Brimsby is left to pass the months away alone in his quiet cottage in the country, without so much as a single visitor.

One day, while out in a blizzard, he comes across a tree full of birds. In an attempt to make the birds’ acquaintance, Brimsby’s initial “Hello” is ignored: the birds are too busy shoveling snow out of their nests and “keeping the cold wind from blowing out their fires” (yes, these are chimney-sporting nests). Never one to give up and confident in himself as friend-worthy, our hat maker returns to his cottage, where he diligently works to turns hats into Perfect Little Bird Houses, complete with doors that close up tight and cut-outs for chimneys. Free of their toils, the birds turn their attention to Brimsby, striking up conversations about hats, shovels, and “whether lemon cookies taste better than worms”—and a new friendship is born.

Brimsby stands back to admire his work--and "the birds weren't busy anymore."

IThe unusual color scheme of olive green, pink, teal, and slate grey brilliantly contrasts Prahin’s pervasive use of white for the snow (once again, we behold the perfection of picture book snow). The deceptively simple illustrations speak volumes: the passage of time, for example, is communicated by a progressively melting candle in one place and by the seasonal transformations outside the window in another. My children’s favorite spread is one in which we get a kind of x-ray look into the interiors of the birds’ new hat-houses, each one complete with its own special wallpaper and each one home to a most snug and contented little bird. Friendship leaves none of us unchanged. And thank goodness for that. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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