"Toby's teasing can be tasteless-- / Taunting, tweaking tiny Tina. / Tadpoles in her tapioca! / Thumbtacks in her semolina!" begins Jeanne Steig's "Toby Twits Tina," in renowned anthologist Paul B. Janeczko's Very Best (Almost) Friends, a compact book of 24 diverse "poems of friendship" by well-loved contemporary authors. If Toby's antics don't sound too friendly, well, this unsentimental selection isn't exactly Hallmark material. Colin McNaughton's "Another Poem to Send to Your Worst Enemy," for example, begins, "Dweeb, drip, softy, jerk, / Dope, sap, noodle, berk! / Fathead, bumpkin, duffer, mutt, / Loopy, potty, monkey nut!" and hurls goofy invectives through the last line. Other poems explore the complex nature of friendship. In Elizabeth Jennings's "Friends," she confesses, "I fear it's very wrong of me / And yet I must admit, / When someone offers friendship / I want the whole of it." The collection closes with Karla Kuskin's heartwarming poem "To You": "I think I could walk / through the simmering sand / if I held your hand. / I think I could swim / the skin shivering sea / if you would accompany me. / And run on ragged, windy heights, / climb rugged rocks / and walk on air. / I think I could do anything at all, / if you were there." Janeczko writes, "Friends are an important part of our lives, and I wanted to share with kids some of the delicious poems that celebrate this (almost) always wonderful experience." Showcasing poets from Nikki Grimes to Walter Dean Myers to Charlotte Zolotow, this well-designed collection--illustrated with the spirited, artful brushstrokes of Christine Davenier--is a winning introduction to various poetic styles, as well as an interesting perspective on the friendships that shape our lives. (Ages 8 and older) --Karin Snelson
From Publishers Weekly
The theme of this appealing, small-format volume of poems is friendship?both the blossoming and benighted varieties. Avoiding the overtly sentimental, veteran editor Janeczko (Wherever Home Begins) includes poems that celebrate the joy of that "secret thread that makes us friends" (Walter Dean Myers) as well as poems that express disappointment and yearning. Poems like Myra Cohn Livingston's "Lonesome" ("Lonesome all alone/ Listens for the phone") and Kalli Dakos's "Peter the Pain" ("Move me to China,/ To France or to Spain./ Just get me away from Peter the Pain!") are juxtaposed with poems about sweet intimacies, like Nikki Grimes's "Summertime Sharing" or Karla Kuskin's "To You" ("I think I could swim/ the skin shivering sea/ if you would accompany me"). For contrast, there's a particularly amusing series of poems embedded throughout; these include Colin McNaughton's "Another Poem to Send to Your Worst Enemy," Jim Daniels's "Blubber Lips" and Janeczko's own "If I Could Put a Curse on You" ("May you get a pimple on your nose/ May you grow an extra pair of toes"). French illustrator Davenier (Leon and Albertine) offers pale watercolors that exhibit a skillful use of line and are particularly effective in depicting movement and body language. Whether she is portraying two girls convulsed with giggles or two boys hurling insults, she manages to capture the mood and spirit of each poem. A choice gift for new friends and old. Ages 8-up.
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