Monday, February 11, 2013

The Friend by Sarah Stewart

The Friend by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small

Rating: 5 tear-jerker stars

Annabelle Bernadette Clementine Dodd is a little girl who seems too small for everything in her house.  Her home, a spectacular mansion, seems to swallow her up.  Next to her fancy-schmancy parents, whom we only see once as she kisses them good-bye minutes after she wakes, she seems unnoticeable.  And the big,wide ocean next to which and into which the story takes place engulfs her.

Since her parents are much too busy for her, they entrust her to Beatrice Smith, also known as Bea, the housekeeper/nanny...  These titles just don't begin to describe the relationship between tiny white girl and sturdy, strong, kind African American woman.  Each day has its own rhythm, with these two ladies dancing their part in a sweet relationship.
First day of the week, they'd wash all the clothes--
Hanging them out in the sun's fullest glow.
Belle would assemble large clothespin bouquets,
While Bea would respond in her singular way:
"Glory be, Lord knows you try, my child!
Now let those clothes just flap for a while." 
Then they'd walk to the beach for a swimming spree--
Belle and Bea, hand in hand, to the sea.
Turn the page to a wordless wonder of an illustration by the uber-talented David Small showing Belle and Bea holding hands in the surf, walking down the dozens of steps from the old mansion into the sparkling water.

Each day of the week is full of chores turned into games, from which they deviate to spend time by the sea.  Near the end, after we know that Belle and Bea are completely inseparable, Belle separates from her.  She decides to go to the beach alone.  With her big red ball.  That floats off in the water.  Belle first feels brave and confident when she paddles in after it, but...then a wave hits.

Back at home Bea realizes in a flash that her little shadow is missing and immediately runs to the sea.  And then into the sea, rescuing the drowning girl.  Bea pulls her out of the water and into her strong, loving embrace.  Grateful, frightened Belle clings to her.  Bea weeps with relief; she would have lost her world had something happened to her.

The book is written in tribute to the author's childhood nanny, and it is a beautiful, beautiful book--both prose and pictures, lessons and reflections.

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