Title: The Friend Ship
Author: Kat Yeh
Illustrator: Chuck Groenink
Published: Disney / Hyperion, 2016
Before I even began reading the story, the endpapers in this book immediately caught my attention. They were maps of the ocean/islands that animals in the book travel to in their Friend Ship searching for friends. Cute island names like “sheep island” and “muledeer island” foreshadow the plot of the hedgehog sailing the ship to animal islands in search of friendship.
This is what the endpapers looked like!
There was also a difference between the cover of the book’s jacket compared to the cover of the book itself. The jacket showed all the animals in the book on a ship heading into the sunset, while the cover illustrated the beginning of the story, with only hedgehog and beaver on the ship. It seems interesting that the publishers would choose to “give the story away” by having all the animals on the ship in the book jacket cover. If I were to choose, I would reverse the order and have the book jacket cover go on the page of the book and put the book cover on the front jacket, just to add some more mystery to the story.
The 12-page book follows a hedgehog who hears that she can cure her loneliness with friendship that is “out there,” and seeks to sail the seas to find it. Along the way, she runs into a beaver, migrating deer, a rat, a polar bear, a duck, and a myriad of other animals who always say that they haven’t seen the Friend Ship but asks to come along because they too are in need of friends.
Along the way, hedgehog becomes discouraged because it seems as though she will never find the Friend Ship until a wise elephant pointed out that she was sailing on it. The book ends with all the new friends on the ship sailing into the night.
Although simple, the plot of this book was creative and drove home a deeper theme to readers: oftentimes the things we search for to bring us happiness (friendship, success, knowledge) are found in the search itself and we just need to be aware of it. The repetition in this book (with hedgehog asking about the Friend Ship and animals climbing onboard) is helpful for young readers especially to learn to anticipate what’ll happen in the text and to carry the momentum of the story. The author was also able to bring creativity in her writing style, using humorous dialogue between characters (ex. having a mouse ask “pretty please with stinky cheese) and describing different areas of the ocean in a simple, yet succinct way (ex. they sailed North into icy seas; south into stormy seas).
The author also used different types of typography to emphasize words such as the word “yes” and the directions of North, East, South, and West. This renders the book very suitable to being read-aloud in classrooms, and to be used when teaching children how to read aloud books in certain voice levels and tones.
The illustrations in the story were sweet and simple, complementing the text without overpowering it. Hand drawn and filled in with colored pencil, the artist drew the animals realistically, while still animating their faces to be able to show a lot of expression. The illustrator also experienced with watercolor and other mediums when drawing the ocean, giving it a surreal, magical feeling, creating to the tone of adventure in the story. I enjoyed the use of various page layouts in this book, with some illustrations spanning full spreads, while others were separated by the gutter or given a frame by surrounding white space.
Overall, this book was a fun, short heartwarming story about friendship that would appeal to young pre-schoolers all the way to late elementary-aged kids. I would recommend this as a read-aloud book for the younger grades and as a book to have on the shelves for free reads in the upper-elementary levels. The meticulous, attractive illustrations make this a good book even for toddlers and those who don’t know how to read. A possible reading activity to do with kids who are a bit older is to have them write a paragraph or two about another intangible thing “love, friendship, kindness” and how one could go about “finding” that thing. Enjoyed reading this book, and I know Neely’s News readers will as well!
By: Abby Wei