Written and Illustrated by Dan Santat
Little, Brown and Company, 2014
He was born on an island far away where imaginary friends were created.
The plot in a nutshell: An imaginary friend goes in search of his child
Our main character waits on the island for a long time, hoping to be imagined by a child, but it doesn’t happen. So he builds himself a sailboat and takes it across the dangerous sea to the real world. He doesn’t know what to make of the real world. He spies another imaginary friend and follows it to a playground, where there are lots of kids busy with their imaginary friends. He explores the whole playground but still can’t find his friend. So he climbs to the top of a tree and waits. As he thinks about how far he’s come, he grows sad and then he hears a voice. A little girl asks for his help to retrieve her drawing that the wind has blown into the tree. When he returns it, he sees that it’s a drawing of her and him together and something about her feels right to him. It’s awkward at first, since neither of them have much experience with friends, but then she introduces herself as Alice. He doesn’t know his name, but she tells him it’s Beekle. Excited to know his name, he hugs Alice and she hugs him back. Together they have adventures and do the unimaginable.
What is it about imaginary friends that is so compelling? Whatever it is, author/illustrator Dan Santat captures it perfectly in this wonderful story about friendship that also touches on finding your place, chasing your dream and staying in touch with your childhood. The book grabbed me from the first page, with the concept of an island where imaginary friends are born and wait to be dreamed up by the child they will befriend. On this page, we see a lot of other imaginary friends that pop up in other places during the rest of the book, which is cool.
The illustrations are done in pencil, watercolor, ink, crayon and Adobe Photoshop. We see the story unfold from Beekle’s point of view, where the world of imaginary friends is bright and colorful and the real world, specifically when he is surrounded by adults, is dark and mostly gray. The initial conversation between Alice and Beekle is conveyed in a two page multi-panel spread, where we see the awkwardness, when they don’t know whether to hug or shake hands, change to friendship. It’s here where Alice gives him his name in a picture series that is just adorable. In the book’s final picture, you can see that Alice’s friendship with Beekle has opened her up to other friendships as well, which is a lovely way to end their story.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that the perfect friend is worth waiting for.