Review by Kristi Mahoney
Walter Had a Best Friend (Beach Lane Books, October 2022), by author Deborah Underwood and illustrator Sergio Ruzzier is a story of friendship that sometimes drifts apart.
Walter and Xavier are best friends who do everything together. Until slowly, quietly, they’re not. As Xavier spends more time with new friend Penelope, Walter is left with a big hole in his heart where Xavier used to be. It’s not until a sunny day beckons Walter to get up and back out into the world, that he finds just the thing to make his heart full again. Ruzzier’s scenes set in soft pastels perfectly complement the story, capturing the weight of moments where emotions are heavy but words are purposely spare.
Walter Had a Best Friend is an important SEL book showing that friendship can change and sometimes end. But slowly, quietly…it will be okay.
There are a number of ways we can use Underwood’s techniques as a mentor text for our own writing.
To truly capture the power of this story, Underwood demonstrates extremely effective pacing. Using a restraint with words, the author opts for sparse, well-chosen text as well as a few repetitive words/phrases that are packed with emotion to make a big impact. Her pacing encourages the reader to slow down and process the story as it unfolds: the fading friendship, the aftermath, and ultimately…the hope that lies ahead.
Underwood’s sparse text is a reminder of the power that can be infused into picture books if authors leave room for the illustrator. Within this book, there are spreads that only feature one or two words. But these words combined with the emotional art carry more weight than a whole paragraph of explanation.
Although this story is packed with heart, it’s a different kind that’s not prevalent in picture books —at times more raw and relatable than warm and fuzzy. Yet it ends with the important nugget every picture book needs —a ray of hope. There is a saying that you don’t always remember what someone says, but you’ll always remember how they made you feel. Long after reading Walter Had a Best Friend, I remember the feeling it evoked. I remember —the heart. Isn’t that what we all strive for as writers?
Our favorite mentor texts to guide your writing and revisions.