Friday, December 10, 2010

37. Friends Through and Through

Daydreams of a Solitary Hamster, by Astrid Desbordes, illustrated by Pauline Martin, Enchanted Lion Books, $17.95, ages 4-8, 56 pages. Hamster thinks his friends Mole, Snail, Hedgehog and Rabbit rejoice at the sight of him, when in fact they see Hamster for exactly who he is, a friend who's wrapped up in himself, yet lovable nonetheless. This brilliant, amusing book is told through a series of cartoon panels, broken up into short vignettes, and shows to hilarious effect how oblivious Hamster is to the limits of his significance. In one story, he asks his friends to guess which extraordinary announcement he's going to make (a birthday bash for himself) and they all come up with things that are truly grand but have nothing to do with him: a snowstorm, an eclipse, an aurora borealis. Other chapters look in on his friends and give us a glimpse into things that matter to them. Hedgehog privately wishes he was soft like his friends and ponders whether he should wear a coat of moss over his quills to be more like them. Snail frets about being left out and overlooked because he's so small and slow-moving, and Mole is the comforting friend, who commiserates yet never wallows in her own misfortunes.

  "To not be seen -- that is the life of a snail," Snail says after Mole reaches out to him. "And to not see well -- that is the life of a mole," Mole replies. Mole is an uplifting influence, ignoring what he has no control over. Despite his poor eyesight, Mole is writing a novel (tellingly, about a group of friends -- how some are very happy and some not so much, and about all of the things they don't realize about each other). All three, Hedgehog, Snail and Mole, look admiringly upon Rabbit, for his simple elegance, which, as you might suspect, drives Hamster nuts, until he realizes he doesn't have to be the center of everything. Philosophical and hysterical, this book is unlike any other -- a quirky treasure of insight and humor, that, in my opinion, is best appreciated by kids older than the recommended age range. This scene alone is too good to miss:  As Hamster is strolling along with snail, he offhandedly comments how bothersome it must be to be a snail and move slowly. Snail, rising above his friend's insensitivity, doesn't say a word and when Hamster complains that he's too tired to walk and inquires if snail will carry him, snail once again carries on with dignity. In the last frame, you see Hamster standing atop little snail as snail slides ahead.

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