Barry is a humdrum bird who finds the world a bit blasé. He likes naps, his grey house, and being polite. He does not like being awakened, hats, or ice cream. At least that’s what he tells his friend, Polarhog, who makes Barry try all of those things. Luckily, Polarhog has a happy nature and blithely blunders on, dragging Barry with him. With the help of the neighborhood ants, Polarhog even manages to make boring Barry have a happy birthday.
I recently read a quote from designer Kelli Martin saying, “weird is the new black.” While both terms refer to style and clothing, I think this can also include some of the more recent children’s picture books and graphic novels. (Though, honestly, this is the world is Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak. It has been peculiar for a while now.) Barry’s Best Buddy fits right in with the bizarre crowd with its quirky characters and offbeat sense of humor. Some of the jokes are perfect for the intended Kindergarten through first grade audience, like the sweaty ant carrying a flag with a picture of poop on it. Other jokes and Barry’s sarcasm might glide right over the readers’ or listeners’ heads. I spent most of the book wondering what on earth was happening, but I could see this being embraced by the kids who love the quirky stuff.
The art is almost more bizarre than the text, with beautiful soft backgrounds and weird characters in the foreground. Barry shows off his grumpy attitude with his Eeyore colored feathers and half-closed, annoyed eyes. Polarhog lives up to his name with a doofy, polar bear look. However, you will also be treated to a cross-eyed robot selling ice cream, extra large ants, and a raccoon-tailed sun hat that Polarhog says makes Barry look like the king of France.
While labeled a “First Comic” for kids, it is essentially a picture book with speech bubbles. Not for everyone, this surreal story is for the kids who want books that let their freak flags fly, which, honestly, is a large percentage of Kindergartners and first graders.
Barry’s Best Buddy
by Renee French
Toon Books, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Kindergarten and first grade