cover image The Secret Friend: A Panda and Gander Story

The Secret Friend: A Panda and Gander Story

Joyce Dunbar. Candlewick Press (MA), $9.99 (24pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-0720-3

Panda gets worried when his best friend Gander writes an affectionate letter to a ""secret friend"" in a disarming installment of the new series Read Me: Panda and Gander Stories. Dunbar (The Sand Children, reviewed above) develops the contrast between rational Gander and the more emotive Panda throughout the books; while id-driven kids are likely to identify with Panda's selfish impulses, they will also enjoy seeing Gander gain the upper hand. In Secret Friend, Panda is his most plaintive: jealous, he advises Gander to sign his letter with a tepid ""Best wishes,"" and after Gander plasters his letter with stickers, Panda says, ""That's enough stuff."" (Of course the letter turns out to be for Panda himself.) Craig's (the Angelina Ballerina books) lively illustrations make the most of Panda's sulking, although the same expressions of concern and dismay appear repeatedly. With text and a generous helping of art interspersed on the tall pastel pages, the books give readers plenty to mull over. Their accessible vocabulary is infused with sly humor. Ages 4-7. (Mar.)