Written and Illustrated by Mark Pett
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2015
Like most days, Leonard walked home by himself.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy gets more than he bargained for from a lizard egg.
Walking through the deepest part of the park, Leonard finds an unusual egg. He takes it home to his apartment and the next day, it hatches a lizard. Leonard names him Buster and he takes him out to show him the world. They go everywhere together and one day, Leonard notices that Buster is growing bigger and bigger and enjoying their adventures less. Leonard starts disguising Buster as a human, but then Buster grows even bigger than the average adult. When he outgrows Leonard’s room, Leonard puts him on the building’s roof, but knows that won’t work for long. Then he gets an idea. He collects all the balloons he can find, ties them to Buster and disguises him as a giant parade balloon. When they get to the park, they leave the parade and go back to where they met, where Buster joins his family and Leonard finds a new friend.
There are a lot of layers at work in this story and I didn’t even notice one of them until my third read through. Author/illustrator Mark Pett sets this story in New York, which is one of the few places in the world where a boy can believably wander around with a dinosaur unnoticed. Of course, at the end of the book, we see Leonard and his new friend playing with toy dinosaurs which seems to indicate that Buster was an imaginary friend all along. And what I noticed reading it again was that the boy who befriends Leonard at the end shows up in several places, always keeping an eye on Leonard, clearly seeing a kindred spirit (since we see that he keeps a toy dinosaur in his backpack).
The artwork was done in charcoal and then digitally colored. It’s somehow both funny and a little distressing to see Leonard walking around the city being ignored by everyone around him. It gives you a real sense of him as being very lonely. When the book ends, he’s playing with his new friend and it feels as though Mr. Pett is saying that by giving up his imaginary friend, Leonard cleared the way to make real friends. I love the artwork, especially the New York icons that Leonard and Buster visit together, such as the stone lions outside the library and the big balloons of the Macy’s parade. I liked it more each time that I read it.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that when you and your friends aren’t right for each other anymore, it’s okay to let them go