My Best Friend – written and illustrated by Miguel Tanco
Tundra Books, 2022
The narrator of this book is anyone who has ever appreciated the special companionship of someone who understands her. Whether sharing a mutual dislike for taking a bath, or a shared affinity for ice cream, she knows that togetherness if part of those experiences. Friendship includes differences as well as similarities; one friend might walk on two legs and the other on four. As always, Miguel Tanco’s inimitable gifts bring these examples to life with sweetness and humor, embedded in the traditions of classic children’s book illustration.
When you open a Miguel Tanco book, you enter a world of childhood that is gentle, but not completely idealized. The children in this book, like their animal companions, are individuals. They grab snacks from the cookie jar, maybe without permission. They sit in the doctor’s waiting room nursing injuries, and they look forward to tasting a parent’s delicious cooking. (Some activities are species specific. Only the children play with Legos.) The characters have wild hair, playful smiles, wear glasses, and use wheelchairs. Their unaffected good nature could place them in the mid twentieth century, although the diversity of their backgrounds locates them in the present.
Each sentence of the text is simple and straightforward, defining friendship as children experience it: “We never feel lonely when we are together,” “We give each enough strength.” Sometimes there is a simile: “My best friend is soft, warm and comfy as a ball of cotton.” The book’s theme calls for some irony, of the softest kind, such as remarking on a friend’s “powerful sense of smell,” or “great conversations.” Tanco is able to accomplish in few words what other authors might elaborate with examples. He is always in conversation with children, exactly at their own level. My Best Friend celebrates the joys of childhood; even unpleasant demands on merely bumps on the road. That bath which a child or dog hopes to avoid appears pretty inviting in an inflatable pool, supervised by a kind adult determined to make it fun.
A walk in the pouring rain is delightful, set against the cobblestone streets and elegant buildings of a city that might be European, but not necessarily so. Anyone who is acquainted with Tanco’s distinguished body of work can see the homage to Ludwig Bemelmans’s old house in Paris in this picture. While there are no straight lines of twelve little girls, the one girl in her bright yellow rain slicker, accompanied by a canine friend, might be Madeline’s modern-day descendant.
There are many books for children about friendship, and some of them even welcome pets into the circle. In My Best Friend, Miguel Tanco once again writes and draws for children, about children, and from deep in his own memories of what it was like to be a child.