cover image Walter Had a Best Friend

Walter Had a Best Friend

Deborah Underwood, illus. by Sergio Ruzzier. Beach Lane, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-5344-7700-1

The basic pathway of this emotionally significant story by Underwood (Every Little Letter) will be familiar to anyone who has loved, and lost, a dear companion. Walter, a rodent, and Xavier, who appears to be a green-footed fowl, are best friends, hiking and painting and boating together, until one day, after Xavier and a newcomer bond, “they weren’t.” Though Xavier and hedgehog Penelope are friendly to Walter, even extending an invitation to a ballgame, “it wasn’t the same,” and Walter has many empty hours to fill. Ruzzier (No! Said Custard the Squirrel) creates a warm-hued landscape in which appealing animal characters experiencing recognizable emotions move among delightfully strange natural wonders. As Walter’s world changes, his whole body sags—even his tail. Far from bouncing back quickly, Walter sustains a period of real mourning before things improve. The creators pay careful attention to this stage of his experience, giving it direct, powerful words (“ ‘I hate Xavier,’ Walter said to his mirror. But really, he didn’t”) before revealing what’s on the other side. Reprising the words quietly and slowly around the story’s illustrated phases, the creators paint a realistic portrait of painful change and a hopeful vision of moving on. Ages up to 8. [em]Author’s agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Jennifer Laughran, Andrea Brown Literary. (Oct.) [/em]