One Cool Friend
Author: Toni Buzzeo
Illustrator: David Small
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2012
Lexile Level: AD (Adult Driven)
One Cool Friend introduces us to Elliot, a “very proper young man.” He dresses in a smart suit and dislikes hoards of children. When his father takes him to the aquarium, Elliot discovers the penguins. Excited by how they seem as prim and proper as he is, Elliot decides to take one home. We follow Elliot as he strives to take care of his new friend, named Magellan, after the explorer Ferdinand Magellan. He tries to keep him cold, and goes to the library to do research. Elliot’s father is oblivious to this, despite several near misses. Eventually, Elliot’s father discovers Magellan in the bath–and we discover that Elliot’s father has an interesting friend of his own.
This is a nice story, which doubles as a showcase of manners. In no way is Elliot criticized or made fun of for his properness, which is a nice change of pace. Normally in children’s materials, a character like Elliot would be made to “loosen up” by the end of the story. It is an honest misunderstanding that leads to him getting the penguin, with no deception on anyone’s part. It is especially interesting as a second read through, when hints of the father’s pet are noticeable throughout the story.
The illustrations are simple with a small color scheme. Everything is mostly black and white, with splashes of red, green, and blue throughout. Unfortunately, the story does rely on the illustrations to catch a good deal of what is going on, so it would not be ideal for a visually challenged reader.
This book is best for older readers, who will be more likely to catch the humor of the situation and ending. There are several references to things that young children will not recognize, like Ferdinand Magellan and Captain Cook. It rather feels like a sentence or two is missing, as we do not see Elliot name the penguin Magellan–the text simply stops referring to him as “the penguin” and starts calling him Magellan. This transition may be difficult for younger readers to pick up on. A bit more interaction with the penguin would have been nice too. On one page he goes “Grock” but for the most part he is silent, and simply in the background doing things.
With the right crowd, this could work as a storytime book, but I don’t recommend it. The length and subtleties of the story will go over the heads of most storytime listeners. Far better to tackle this one as a one-on-one reading.
One Cool Friend was a South Carolina Book Award Nominee in 2013-2014, and is honestly a lot of fun. The ending is a bit abrupt–my storytime crowd was begging to know what happened next. Fans of Eloise and Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem will enjoy this selection.