Neal’s (Kinship, 2013, etc.) latest picture book presents an idealized view of universal friendship.
Neal’s first children’s book references the I Have a Dream Elementary School and conveys an understanding of Martin Luther King Jr.’s hope, expressed in his speech of that name, that the time would come in America when people of all backgrounds would be joined “in a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” Neal expresses this vision through the narration of Christopher, a dog and “friend to all of mankind,” who invites readers to consider various types of friendship. Beginning with real and imaginary friends, he then covers diversity of hair and sleeping arrangements before moving on to body type, likes and dislikes, disabilities and animal friends. No matter the differences, Christopher says, all his friends “are friendly, in their own special way!” Also touched upon are friends who speak different languages or live in different types of housing; friends who use wheelchairs or are deaf, sick or blind; and those who live in a home with two parents of the same gender. The diversity of these friends’ ethnic backgrounds is further revealed in colorful digital illustrations. Christopher concludes with claims that friends are never bullies, and they should always be friendly and estimable. The final lines demonstrate the book’s overly optimistic view of reality: “It takes all types of friendships to / make the world go around. / Friends are really special people, / that are very easily found!” The fact that the narrator is a dog doesn’t seem to matter much; there’s no story, and very few of the images actually contain a dog. Similarly, despite the book’s summery tone, it offers no guidance for finding friends or tackling the challenges of friendship.
A light and breezy view of an inclusive, perfect world in which everyone can be friends.