by Maureen Fergus
Illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
I’m sure that most friendships don’t start out that way. There may be those encounters by which individuals become “fast friends” but I suspect many friendships begin slowly as each tries to figure the other out. Friend? Foe? Agenda? Danger? In fact, in Maureen Fergus' Buddy and Earl, when Meredith brings a mysterious open box in, Buddy the dog probably wasn't thinking "friend" at all but rather "what?"
A few pokes and an amiable introduction between Buddy and the rounded creature who identifies himself as Earl has the two chatting away. But still Buddy doesn't know the "what" that is Earl. He asks but Earl has an odd assortment of answers to, "And what are you, Earl?" He could be a race car, or a giraffe, or a sea urchin, a talking hairbrush–definitely plausible–or a skyscraper, rhino or mouse. Nothing seems to work for Buddy who is clever enough to know what Earl isn't. But when Earl suggests that he is a pirate and Buddy his first mate, the two go off on an adventure that has Mom shaking her head and the two bonded with friendship.
I've adored Maureen Fergus' YA books (The Gypsy King, Razorbill, 2012; A Fool's Errand, Razorbill, 2013; Tomorrow's Kingdom, Razorbill, 2014) but she's showing her versatility in writing picture books, recently winning the Ontario Library Association's Blue Spruce readers' choice award for The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten (Kids Can Press, 2013), and Buddy and Earl displays the same wonderful voice of innocence and discovery, with a touch of parental attitude. Whether Buddy is a real dog and Earl another family member, I have no doubt but it really doesn't matter. The two dissimilar pets demonstrate the ability to make friends no matter where and no matter with whom just by being themselves. It doesn't really matter whether Earl is a hedgehog, though I suspect he is, and prone to imaginative bursts of creative play or steadfast and thoughtful like the loyal Buddy. The two come together and make something better and bigger: a friendship. And that's all it takes to identify Earl in the end and to add a new moniker to Buddy beyond "dog".
I don't know Carey Sookocheff's work but I think we all will soon. Buddy and Earl is her first picture book and I believe the simplicity and retro style of her artwork, here in muted creams, khaki, orange and powder blue, will endear her work to many. It has the effortless ambience of child's play to which young children will be drawn. I imagine that the young will be as charmed by Carey Sookocheff's illustrations as they are to the guessing game that Buddy and Earl play whilst the two strut into their new friendship. Even better, we've got more adventures to which we can look forward with the two new friends getting into new situations in Buddy and Earl Go Exploring (March, 2016) and Buddy and Earl and the Baby, both from Groundwood Books.