When “Be my buddy, or I’ll bust your bones!” doesn’t work for Benny, who is the classic shark cliché of a villain’s villain, he takes Janice Jellyfish’s words of wisdom to heart and attends Friend School.
Ollie Octopus is the teacher, and he begins with Rule No. 1: “A friend is a good listener.” Unsurprisingly, no one wants to practice with Benny, so he butts in on the shrimps’ conversation about their favorite food and is reminded to listen first. Surprisingly, he manages to keep to himself the fact that shrimp is his favorite food. Rule No. 2 is “A friend always tells the truth,” but though Ollie tells Benny that “My, Janice, you’re an ugly jellyfish” is impolite, he doesn’t really explain what exactly this rule entails. Benny flat-out breaks the fourth rule and the spirit of the third—about taking turns and sharing—with no consequences. The final rule addresses good sportsmanship, and Benny finally sees the light when he refuses to take the easy win in a race and helps Janice out of a pickle instead, thereby earning his first friend. Ollie promptly declares an A-plus for Benny, and he graduates the next day (despite not really having learned all the rules) while practicing one final rule about keeping promises. Montijo’s watercolor, pen-and-ink, and digital illustrations are reminiscent of television cartoons, and characters’ expressions are over-the-top clichéd villain and victims.
Solid rules; one wishes they were better learned and more consistently rewarded, though. (Picture book. 4-7)