cover image The Very Best of Friends

The Very Best of Friends

Margaret Wild. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $13.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-15-200625-9

James and Jessie, a farm couple, share a life of happy companionship. When James dies unexpectedly, Jessie withdraws in grief, shutting out everything and everyone, including James's dearly loved cat, William. Unattended, William grows ``mean and lean,'' and one day scratches Jessie. Thus startled back to reality, Jessie undertakes to win William's trust and affection, with favorable results. Children will be quick to figure out the underlying theme here--that friendships need careful tending and generous amounts of love. The poignant tale is superbly told by Wild ( Mr. Nick's Knitting ), who achieves an enviable balance of detail and simplicity. Vivas's pictures are a perfect complement: her ragtag characters and soft watercolors capture the essence of an affectionate marriage in the way James's hand rests fondly on his wife's slipper, and the pathos of death in the scene where the ambulance carrying James pulls away, leaving Jessie and her pets standing in stunned silence. This is a moving story by a gifted Australian duo. Ages 4-8. (Mar.)