In an awkwardly rhyming picture book about helping a friend overcome an illness, debut author Chouteau introduces Claire, a fun-loving, caring redhead in the diverse neighborhood of Lafayette Square, St. Louis.
Claire lives on the top floor of a town house in Lafayette Square. She loves her room because, as she makes her way to the top, she can stop and check in on all her family members: her mother, father, brother, sister and sporty grandmother. Claire and her friends share interests in reading, swimming, pets and especially soccer. Claire is planning a soccer party for her birthday, but when her friend Jane gets very ill two weeks before the party, Claire and her friends have trouble understanding the illness. All they know is that they miss their friend, so Claire works with her mother, a doctor, to organize a much quieter, nonsoccer party that they can take to Jane. Depenthal’s illustrations show a young girl bursting with personality; her parents and grandmother are also well-depicted to reveal more about their characters than the words share. Unfortunately, none of the other characters are well-developed, and though Claire is one of four friends of different ethnicities, only the two white girls have names; nothing else is revealed about the friends beyond Jane’s illness and the group’s love of soccer. The rhyming text can be forced: “Claire is a little friend / with whom a Saturday you’d like to spend. / She has a family of different ages / with members going thru various developmental stages.” Claire’s age is also rather ambiguous; though she looks 10 to 12 in the illustrations, her brother and sister let her win at all their games so she won’t throw a fit; yet she shows mature empathy when trying to help her sick friend.
The message of friendship trumping serious challenges comes through clearly despite sometimes–cringe-worthy rhymes.