November 20, 2020

What Do You Want, Little Friend?

Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
Princeton Architectural Press
24 pp.
Ages 0-4
October 2020

At its simplest, What Do You Want, Little Friend? is a story about a kitten trying to help a fly and listening to what the fly needs. In twelve short lines of text, a relationship is formed and compassion extended. Ah, if all interactions were this positive.

From What Do You Want, Little Friend? by Marianne Dubuc

While flying a kite, a little kitten steps on a fly that is on the ground. Desperate to make things okay, the kitten encourages the fly to walk like the ants or to fly like the birds but there is no response from the fly. Each time, the kitten comes back to ask the fly, "Don't you want to?" to check with the fly as to its needs.

From What Do You Want, Little Friend? by Marianne Dubuc

It's only when the kitten stops to listen, that things are made right for the fly and thus for the kitten as well. By speaking up, the fly gets what it needs, and by listening, the kitten gets to help.

From What Do You Want, Little Friend? by Marianne Dubuc
Although Marianne Dubuc's premise may be a simple one of showing caring for others, What Do You Want, Little Friend? reminds us that sometimes the best way to help others is to listen. Not to decide what is best for them. Not to always offer suggestions as to what they would do. Not even to advise them as to the most logical action to take. It's just to listen. Whether an injured fly, a weeping child or a depressed person, sometimes just offering support by listening will make things better. As the little kitten realizes soon enough, a solution is at hand if they only listen and hear. (Of course, it is also incumbent upon the fly to ask.)

Like many of Marianne Dubuc's picture books (see Little Cheetah's Shadow, The Fish and the Cat, and The Lion and the Bird), What Do You Want, Little Friend? is about the interaction of two unlikely allies. The story that results from their meeting is the stuff of legends. It's simple but powerful, all the more so because of Marianne Dubuc's uncluttered illustrations. There is a lightness in the austerity of her shapes and colours which brings focus to the text and the kitten's expressions. (We never see the fly's visage.)

The messages are clear in What Do You Want, Little Friend? First, if you do harm, make it right. Secondly, ask and listen to those who might need help. These mighty messages may be aimed at our youngest children because of the delicate board book in which they are found but they are messages which we should all heed.

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