October 05, 2016

Friend or Foe?

by John Sobol
Illustrated by Dasha Tolstikova
Groundwood Books
32 pp.
Ages 4-7
October 2016

The beginning of Ottawa author John Sobol’s debut picture book Friend or Foe? is only missing the “Once upon a time…” because the sentiment is definitely that of a traditional tale, here based on a lonely, dark mouse who lives in a small house beside a great palace in which a white cat lives.

The two creatures have their evening routine, with the mouse creeping out onto the roof of the house, and the cat peering down from the palace’s tower window, each staring at the other. When the mouse notices a tiny hole in the palace’s exterior wall, he decides to slip into the palace, hopeful that he might find a friend in that cat with whom he feels a connection.  As he makes his way through the palace, he continues to wonder whether the cat really is a friend or perhaps a foe.
As the mouse climbed the stairs to the palace tower, he began to grow afraid.
What if he was wrong? If he was, the cat would tear him to pieces.  Still he kept climbing.
Was the cat friend or foe?
He had to know.
(pg. 11)
But as he approaches the feline from behind, asking her aloud whether she is a friend or foe, the feline is startled and tumbles off the palace tower.  John Sobol ends Friend or Foe? with a twist, both in the animals’ reversal of fortunes and in the answer to the titular question that is probably reflective of many relationships though nebulous in its honesty.

From Friend or Foe? 
by John Sobol, illus. by Dasha Tolstikova

John Sobol's story is aptly illustrated by American Dasha Tolstikova’s austere artwork which emphasizes the disparity in the characters’ sizes and situations, powerfully using hues and tints of greys with only dashes of brightness in a red brick wall or orange light bulb.  Though there is little colour in Friend or Foe?, supporting the idea that there really is a subtle differentiation between the two situations of the title, Dasha Tolstikova uses colour cleverly both to reflect that contrast and suggest their similarity. Friend or Foe? is a very artful examination of connection in which only differences and likenesses are normally perceived.
From Friend or Foe? 
by John Sobol, illus. by Dasha Tolstikova


A very special launch event is in the works for John Sobol’s Friend or Foe? 

Be part of Small Print Toronto’s Cat & Mouse City 
with author John Sobol 

for young readers 
(ages 2-8, who must be accompanied by an adult) 

on Saturday, October 22, 2016 

from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. 


Lillian H. Smith Library 
(Toronto Public Library) 
239 College Street 
Toronto, ON 

The event is free but participants must sign up early as space is limited so register at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/cat-mouse-city-with-john-sobol-tickets-27655152305

Small Print Toronto’s invitation describes the event as follows: 
Our popular model city-building workshop, Mouse City, is about to face its its biggest urban planning challenge yet: the arrival of cats! Urban planners aged 2-8 can decide how Mouse City will accommodate its new, feline citizens. 
Ottawa author John Sobol will unveil his new book, Friend Or Foe?, and help young planners find the best place for their cardboard buildings on a large city grid.

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