Quality picture books have the ability to engage both the youngest and oldest of readers with stories and illustrations that work together to capture the imagination. One Cool Friend, by Toni Buzzeo with illustrations by David Small, falls into that elite category of books we return to again and again. Tuxedo-clad Elliot is a “proper young man,” a boy who prefers quiet, solitary pursuits. When his scientist father proposes a trip to the aquarium, Elliot is unsure. He’s quickly enchanted by the penguins, asking his distracted father if he might have one. A misunderstanding leads a confident Elliot to pop the smallest Magellanic bird into his backpack for the journey back to their spacious, well-appointed home. His new friend proves to be a delight, if not a bit of a challenge.
Small works in pen and ink, ink wash, watercolor, and colored pencil, rendering charmingly witty pictures that add a surprising amount of humor and depth to the story. Readers will delight at the details Small works in to give depth to the character of Elliot’s father, details that begin to hint at the surprise that reveals itself as the story progresses. This is a sophisticated, nuanced book that demands multiple readings in order to fully appreciate the interdependence of Buzzeo’s highly original plot and Small’s clever illustrations.