Thursday, January 24, 2019

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Good Friends by Margery Bianco (1934)

When the farmer down the road falls ill, Mary and her grandmother worry about the animals who live on his farm being left on their own. Though they seem to be doing all right for themselves, there is a "society man" lurking about who seems intent on sending them elsewhere to live. Only Mary's ingenuity and friendship can save them from being separated until their master returns.

This book has much in common with The Wonderful Farm. In both books, animals can talk - to each other and to humans - and this is accepted in the world of the story as perfectly natural and normal. In both books as well, the animals, though human-like in their speech, retain all the rest of their natural tendencies and instincts. This gives the story an appealing magical quality without making it feel implausible.

The main character is also very appealing. She is resourceful and determined, has a pleasant relationship with her grandmother, and repeatedly demonstrates her dedication to and love for her animal friends. She makes a variety of mistakes and is at times disrespectful to the society man, Mr. Meaks, but her behavior is never without consequences, and she does, over time, begin to understand that Mr. Meaks isn't necessarily her complete enemy.

I read this book aloud to my daughters, ages 3 and 5, and after each chapter, they begged and begged for me to keep going. They were completely invested in the well-being of the animals, and between chapters, I'd hear them playing games in which one of them was the society man, and the other had to make an escape from him. The reading level for this story is definitely middle grade, but there is clearly a lot in it to be appreciated by preschoolers as well. I plan to re-introduce the book in a few years when they can read it themselves, and also so that my one-year-old can enjoy it as a preschooler too.

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