Dillard explores friendship between two opposites.
It’s the first day of Zoo School. Amanda, a panda, is excited and ready. Alfred, an alligator, isn’t so sure: “Is this really necessary?” When the overbearing and bossy Amanda decides timid “Gator” will be her new best friend, does Alfred have any say? He reluctantly sits where she wants, shares his cookie with her and plays tag, though readers can clearly see his patience wearing thin. It finally snaps when Amanda wants to walk home together: Alfred declares that he won’t walk home with her, she’s not his best friend, and his name is Alfred, not Gator. Instead of relief, though, Alfred feels awful. The next day, the two are not friends, and each misses the other until Alfred finally takes the first step toward reconciliation. While the friendship aspect of the story seems pretty weak and the resolution is unrealistic, Dillard’s illustrations, a mix of spots and comic panels, deftly express the characters’ thoughts and feelings; while Amanda’s speech bubble reads “I LOVE sitting in the FRONT!” Alfred has a thought bubble picturing himself, alone, in a spotlight, under the glare of the grouchy-looking Mrs. Wattles. Amanda’s exuberance cannot be contained, as her out-thrown arms attest. Meanwhile, Alfred’s arms hide behind his back; would that he could hide there too. Eyebrows are especially expressive.
Can opposites be friends? Yes, but real friendship is not the one-way street depicted here. (Picture book. 5-7)