Review by Sara Francoeur
Candlewick Press (Penguin Random House), September 2020
32 Pages, hardcover, $23.99 CAN, ISBN 978-1-5362-1747-6
Ages 3-7, Grades Pre-K-2
Picture Book, Fiction
Readers and listeners will be charmed by Will You Be My Friend? This gentle tale of first friendship reads like a seamless sequel to the now-classic original tale by author Sam McBratney and illustrator Anita Jeram, Guess How Much I Love You. Despite the 26-year gap, the character, illustration and style mimic the original enough to make us forget that this book will be on the shelves of an entirely different generation.
Enough time has passed with the beloved bunny characters that Little Nutbrown Hare is ready to play and explore away from Big Nutbrown Hare. With permission, Little Nutbrown Hare sets out to explore and play. In his solitude, Little Nutbrown Hare first finds his reflection and shadow intriguing, but when he encounters another real hare on the mountain and the two bunnies begin to play, it becomes clear that being together is much more fun.
The hesitant nature of Little Nutbrown Hare as he explores is cleverly expressed in the thoughts and observations of the little bunny. The carefully chosen phrases are enhanced with softly detailed watercolour scenes that are deeply expressive. The bunnies are undeniably adorable due to the pastel colour scheme and understated setting, yet the subtle details in the ears, whiskers, gestures, and variations of face details, deliver a depth that is so subtle you might miss it on first reading.
As the bunnies play and excitement builds, the sentences are shortened and placed alongside smaller illustrations that include several brighter colours as well as butterflies and birds. When Little Nutbrown Hare returns home from his exploring, he is shown tucked safely into the oversized frame of Big Nutbrown Hare in a more subdued warm colour palate. The very slight evolution of seasons between the covers of this story are yet another example of the subtle charm of this lovely book.
On the final page of the story, Little Nutbrown Hare confidently declares the new bunny to be his friend. The cheerful, celebratory scene is a hopeful and sweet example of new friendship, in a book that is destined to become a new classic. Depicting first friendship and tentative separation from the parent figure, the beautifully complimentary story and illustrations deliver a tale that has the depth to keep readers and listeners coming back again and again.
Sara Francoeur lives with her family in a beachy neighbourhood just outside of Vancouver, B.C. With a degree in comparative religion and a background in fashion, Sara now studies creative writing at UBC.