- Barry's Best Buddy by Renée French
Barry (the bird) is awakened from his nap by his friend Polarhog (the . . . polarhog?), who has a surprise for his buddy. Polarhog takes Barry out for a walk, teasing him with the upcoming surprise, and the two wander around trying on hats, indulging in ice cream, and amiably bantering and bickering (Polarhog is sunny, Barry sardonic). They end up back at Barry's house, which has been transformed by hardworking ants (who've been trudging past Barry and Polarhog with paints, [End Page 416] balloons, and ornaments in spread after spread) into a vivid and brightly illuminated birthday-celebrating showpiece. This is positioning itself as a "first comic," but it's basically a readalone picture book with the text all in speech balloons, and a fine and inviting one at that. The friendly, jibing conversation between the protagonists has a pleasing edge ("How is this a good idea?" queries Barry as he's squashed into a ridiculous hat), and the text's blend of sparseness and humor makes it appealing to novice readers. The visuals are key here, since they're cluing viewers into the ants' ongoing action, and the full-bleed spreads effectively immerse readers in the peaceful and parklike landscape as Barry and Polarhog troop across the pages. There's a subtle waxy depth to the digital coloration, and the pencil linework is trim, tidy, and slightly otherworldly: the big-eyed ants look vaguely mechanistic, and squat, huge-eyed Barry resembles one-eyed monster Mike from Monsters, Inc. With its sophisticated look and easily decodable blend of art and text, this friendship story should win early readers looking to conquer something on their own.