As a young child, I was already big on books. Although I had a large collection of picture flats, there were some that I loved more than others. On reflection, these best-loved books all seemed to have something in common; they were all stories about best friends, many of whom were ‘odd couples,’ pairs who had to muddle through friendship the way we, as people, must do every day–not always gracefully, but usually with good intentions at heart.
The first such pair was George and Martha, a set of Hippopotamuses, each of whose books tell a few short stories about how friends relate to each other. Favourites include what to do when you are having trouble telling your friend the truth (hint, the answer is not pouring her awful-tasting split pea soup into your shoes under the table) and how to handle a friend who is a prankster.
The second pair was Frog and Toad, two amphibian best friends whose tales include how to develop enough self control not to eat all the cookies (the only sure way is to feed them to the birds), and what to do when your friend enjoys an activity that you do not.
Other notable buddies include Morris the moose and Boris the bear, Harry and Shellburt (a retelling of the tortoise and the hare), and, Jon Scieszka’s more modern pairing: Cowboy and Octopus.
The appeal of the Buddy children’s book exists on many levels. The stories can help teach about friendship, including how to accept opinions different from one’s own (such as Shellburt’s conviction that salads are better with flies in them). They offer many chances for humour and silliness (e.g. when octopus chooses to dress as the tooth fairy for Halloween), and they provide many opportunities for developing funny character voices when reading aloud.
One New Zealand author currently upholding the tradition of Buddy children’s books is Joy Cowley, writer of Snake and Lizard and Friends: Snake and Lizard (both illustrated by Gavin Bishop). As a reptile fan, these books already had a good chance of charming me, but Cowley’s works, (like most other Buddy series before hers) use the multiple-tales-per-book format to great effect, building the friends’ relationship throughout. I hope there are more adventures to come for this scaly duo. I’d also love to see a Buddy children’s book series centred around two friends who are endemic New Zealand creatures, tuatara and fantail perhaps? Just think of the hijinks that could ensue…