When I love a book, I don’t keep it to myself. If you live with me, work with me, talk to me on the phone, end up waiting in line for something with me, or land in front of me when I’m at the library, I might just pounce. My regulars at the library have mostly gotten used to this. If you’re a veteran and mostly read nonfiction, I won’t bore you with my latest children’s book find, but I might suggest a few great reads about World War II. If you’re a kid or live with one, you can pretty much count on me bubbling on about my favorites in children’s literature. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, novels in verse, graphic novels, more.
When I find a book I love, I can even get a little pushy. Recently I read Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Matthew Dicks). One of my teacher friends passed it on to me because she loved it. I had such a big stack of kids and teen books that I wasn’t sure I had time to read it, but one chapter in, I was hooked. I’m not sure I can even put into words how much I love the idea of an imaginary friend as a narrator. Badly done, I think it would be really awful. But here, with Budo, it’s perfect. He reports on his life and his boy, Max, in a way that bridges the worlds that children and adults live in. He looks at the world with somewhat naïve eyes, but sees beauty and promise in it for Max. He struggles with the pain of losing friends and faces the prospect of losing Max with courage. And it’s a thriller of sorts. Budo has to figure out how to save Max, which is something of a challenge when he can’t move things and no one but Max and the other imaginary friends can see him.
I had been talking about it so much as I read it that my son asked if he could read it after I finished. (He did and loved it, too.) I’ve mentioned it to my sister, people at work, at least four friends, and my manager who also leads the book club — which really may need to read it, too. I’ve mentioned it to people who don’t even read fiction. So what? So start now!
This also happened with Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp last year. I’ve been a fan of hers since reading The Underneath with my son several years ago. Appelt blends the real and imaginary into something powerful, suspenseful and exciting, and there are layers upon layers of connections and meaning to go through before you race to the end, wondering all the time how things can possibly work out. The True Blue Scouts has a very different atmosphere – it’s completely wacky – but it has layers and layers of fun instead. My son and I read it together, too, and we laughed and laughed. It was a happy book to share and I just loved it.
I loved it so much that I sent an email to Kathi Appelt thanking her for writing it. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but she replied. That just encouraged me more. Not only did I love the book, but now I also thought its author was a fantastic, amazing, wonderful person. (I still think that. She could write a shopping list with canned soup and saltines on it, and I’d think she was a genius at writing in the shopping list genre.) You could have tried to shut me up then, but you’d have had a hard time. I told about half the school where I volunteer about her and the book. I bought several copies for friends. I went on about it to pretty much anyone who’d listen. I’m still talking about it a year later.
A book like that, an author like that… how lucky we are! They overwhelm the books that don’t quite work out and leave behind a happy glow and the hope, always the hope, that there are more out there.