June 08, 2020

Fast Friends

Written by Heather M. O'Connor
Illustrated by Claudia Dávila
Scholastic Canada
32 pp.
Ages 3-8
June 2020

With a play on words and a story of  friendship beyond differences, Heather M. O'Connor helps children see the importance of focusing on our commonalities which connect us rather than that which might separate us.

From Fast Friends by Heather M. O'Connor, illus. by Claudia Dávila
Tyson is a boy who likes to do everything fast: run, eat, work. It often gets him in trouble with his teacher and classmates who might not appreciate the spills he causes or the impatience he has for them. When new girl Suze joins the class, in her shiny red wheelchair and helmet, Tyson notices how her eyes are drawn to his picture of a red race car and how interested she is in his books about fast jets and cheetahs. But, though he repeatedly volunteers to walk with her at recess, the teacher continues to pick others who either ignore her or put her to sleep. 
From Fast Friends by Heather M. O'Connor, illus. by Claudia Dávila
When Tyson sees Suze being raced to the playground with her older sister and taking delight in their fast play, Tyson knows how to bring out Suze's laughter and joy at school, if just given the opportunity.
From Fast Friends by Heather M. O'Connor, illus. by Claudia Dávila
Though the reading level for Fast Friends might direct this picture book to children of ages 3-8, I think it's really one for all ages. It's for adults who disregard those children who are far too active for quiet activities. Moreover, though we must always ensure that play and learning and fun should never put anyone at risk, we don't always need to treat children with special needs as fragile or something other than children. Fast Friends is also for children who are excluded from activities because they don't recognize how they might be perceived. Tyson doesn't see that his actions are impacting others and can't connect his recess solitude with those circumstances. Most of all, the story is for everyone to recognize that all children are different, in their play and their learning, and placing preconceived ideas about what constitutes safe or effective play and learning does a disservice to all.

Heather M. O'Connor captured my attention with her gripping hi-lo novel Betting Game (Orca, 2015) about sports betting in soccer. In Fast Friends, she also deals with a seldom-discussed issue, the subtle discrimination of both hyper children and those with special needs. Most people, adults and children both, would never intend to exclude or negate the needs of these children but it happens thoughtlessly, though with the objective of protecting children. Still Heather M. O'Connor's words tell the story without condemnation or judgment, only emphasizing Tyson's recognition of what Suze enjoys. In fact, Claudia Dávila's art fills in the blanks for young readers, giving them opportunities to practise their visual literacy skills. Do they notice the titles of the books Tyson is reading and sharing with Suze? Can they read the expressions on the faces of Tyson and Suze and their classmates and teachers? How does Claudia Dávila demonstrate how fast Tyson likes to move? The blend of subtle text with bold art will draw young readers to the story and help them learn that fast friends may come from immediate connections as well as some speedy action.
From Fast Friends by Heather M. O'Connor, illus. by Claudia Dávila

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