Party Time! (Or Not)
January 27, 2022 § 3 Comments
With so many posts devoted to serious books lately (not to mention all the awards excitement), I decided we were overdue for a recommendation high on the fun(ny) meter. As it turns out, 2022 has given us a delightful one right out of the gate, as perceptive as it is entertaining. (Plus, if you order from Old Town Books, you’ll get a copy that’s signed by the author-illustrator in the most fitting way. Just wait until you see it!)
Apart from being a total hoot, this story is going to resonate deeply with anyone out of practice at social gatherings. That would be all of us, in case your math skills have also gotten fuzzy.
Our family will attend a dear friend’s bar mitzvah in a few weeks, and as much fun as I know I’ll have, I’m already fretting about how I’m going to wedge my feet into heels, my out-of-shape body into an old cocktail dress, and do I even have lipstick anymore? And then I wonder, how am I going to be vertical at 8pm? What are we going to talk about? Are we going to discuss the pandemic, or will we remember other topics of conversation? And if I’ve got all these worries, what about my kids?
Those of us who were a tiny bit reserved two years ago are now completely overwhelmed by the prospect of hanging out with more than one or two friends at the same time. We’ve lost ground, our social muscles have atrophied. And yet, society’s expectations haven’t adjusted. We’re supposed to want to go back to attending birthday parties and backyard parties and weddings and fundraisers. And we do…but maybe only sort of?
I remember when my dad threw a surprise party for my mom’s 40th birthday. She had an inkling moments before she opened the door that our apartment was full of people, and she shot my dad a look. There was actual menace in that look, and while I don’t remember her exact words, they were something along the lines of, “You’re a dead man.” As soon as she opened the door, she was all smiles and laughter and grace—the hostess with the mostest, as she says—but I’d had a peek into something else. She wasn’t entirely comfortable surrounded by all these people, despite her obvious affection for them. Parties can be a complicated thing, is what I’m saying.
Enter Bina Bear, the large, purple, slightly stiff, certainly awkward protagonist of Mike Curato’s new picture book, Where is Bina Bear? (Ages 3-8, though my 11 year old is obsessed with it). Bina is attending a party thrown by her best bunny friend, Tiny. There are balloons! Cake! Punch! Lots of friendly faces! Bina Bear loves Tiny, so she has come to the party. But Bina Bear doesn’t like parties. She doesn’t do crowds.
And so, Bina Bear hides. This bear of my heart attempts to hide among the furnishings in Tiny’s house. Attempts to become those furnishings, if you will—something familiar to any child who has ever hidden in plain sight with their eyes closed and had a parent humor them. The story unfolds, amusingly and tenderly, through the dialogue between the two friends, as they attempt to navigate their friendship in this new-to-them situation.
After initially attempting to blend in with the purple floral wallpaper, Bina then moves to a different room, dons a lampshade, and attempts to pull off being a lamp. “Bina? Is that you?” Tiny asks, while searching for the missing friend. “No. I am not Bina. I am a lamp,” Bina responds. It is not initially clear whether Tiny is fooled by the talking lamp; Tiny simply says OK and leaves the room.
The next time Tiny comes searching for Bina, the latter is impersonating a coffee table. The exchange starts over again: “Bina? Is that you?” “No, I am a table.” Only this time Tiny goes a step further: “Oh. May I have a banana?” “Yes.” “Okay. Thank you, table.”
The next time Tiny comes searching, Bina is pretending to be a tree, branches over her head, rope swing dangling from her arm. Tiny hops on the swing. “Do you want some banana, tree?” “Yes.” Each time, Tiny stays a little longer, engages a little more, but always respecting Bina’s boundaries, always following Bina’s lead. When Bina attempts to be a big purple arm chair, Tiny takes a seat and ruminates aloud. Just enough so that Bina opens one eye. “Where is my friend Bina? I miss her.”
In my favorite spread—no explanation needed as to why—Bina becomes a bookcase lined with books, and Tiny leaves the party long enough to plop down on a petite cushion and read a pink volume. Inquiry. Patience. Acceptance. Comfortable silence. So many of the hallmarks of great friendship are modeled in these sweet, silly pages.
Eventually, Tiny finds Bina in the kitchen, underneath a grocery bag with groceries lying scattered on the tile floor. Poor Bina is starting to unravel, and Tiny recognizes an opportunity. “Are you okay?” Tiny asks, peeking beneath the paper bag. And though Bina quickly answers, “I’m fine,” a good friend knows when to dig a little deeper.
For the first time all day, the two friends have an honest conversation about parties and shyness and why Bina might have decided to come, even though she hates parties. Plus, everything is better with a bear hug.
As the other party goers come into the kitchen looking for Tiny, the most gratifying thing happens. The two friends have to think quickly—and together. Lampshades, anyone? (That’s the only hint I’m giving.)
When our friends see us for who we are and keep coming around anyway, we know they’re a keeper. Next week on the blog, I’ll be highlighting four books about love for Valentine’s Day, but you could easily gift this humorous but astute portrait of the compassion that true friendship demands.
But seriously: check out how perfectly Mike Curato signed mine, then click here to get yours while supplies last!
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Book published by Henry Holt, purchased by me. All opinions are my own. If you’re in the Alexandria area, please consider shopping at the beautiful Old Town Books, where I assist with the kids’ buying!
Tagged: animals, bunnies and rabbits in children's stories, children's books about imagination, children's books with bears, friendship in children's stories, humor, Mike Curato, picture book, shyness in children's stories, Valentine's Day