cover image Penny Draws a Best Friend (Penny Draws #1)

Penny Draws a Best Friend (Penny Draws #1)

Sara Shepard. Putnam, $14.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-61677-2

As outlined in an author’s note, Shepard (the Pretty Little Liars series) draws from her own childhood experience with anxiety for this diary-style illustrated novel. Rising fifth grader Penny is looking forward to her best friend Violet’s return from summer gymnastics camp. But the start of school promptly reveals that Violet has moved on: she’s no longer into Art Club—an activity the girls previously shared—and camp has bonded her with popular mean girl Riley. But Mrs. Hines, the “feelings teacher” Penny speaks with regularly about her worries, proves a catalyst for personal change, giving Penny a journal to work through things. As Penny encounters, and slowly befriends, other students who talk to Mrs. Hines, she directs her diary entries to her “loyal and nice” dog, Cosmo, who shares many of Penny’s fears (“Storms. Fireworks. Balloons. Clowns”). In chatty, quick-moving installments, Penny tells entertaining anecdotes and details her brother’s recurring croup, her concerns about social scenarios, and a secret her parents seem to be keeping. Shepard’s light touch and sketchbook-style b&w doodles make for an engaging read that candidly portrays the effect of destabilizing changes on one child experiencing anxiety. Character portrayals reflect the white of the page. Ages 8–12. Agent: Richard Abate, 3 Arts. (May)