Santat, Dan. 2014. The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 9780316199988.
2. Plot Summary
Beekle lives in the world of imaginary friends, where imaginary friends wait for humans to imagine them. Beekle waits and waits to be imagined, but no one does. Eventually Beekle travels to the human world to seek out a child to be his best friend. After searching through the drab world of adults, Beekle finally discovers a park filled with children; no one there imagines him either. Finally Beekle climbs into a tree and then encounters Alice, who adopts Beekle as her imaginary friend.
3. Critical Analysis
The diversity of the imaginary friends presented lends an air of believability to this fantastical world since each imaginary friend would be as unique as the child who imagines it. Beekle’s cuddly, marshmallowy appearance immediately endears him to readers. As Beekle embarks on his grand adventure, readers gain an impression that his strength will help him be an excellent friend to a lucky child.
Although the real-world portions of the story are set in a city, the setting does not alienate readers from less urban locales; Beekle could just as easily have appeared in the real world in the fields of Iowa as in a large city. The children represented in the park and playing in the tree represent a broad range of ethnicities, ensuring no one feels excluded.
Characteristic of wonderful picture books, the artwork steals the show in this story. Each full-page picture brings Beekle’s world vividly to life. Whether the art draws readers into the whimsical world of imaginary friends, saddens with the drab nature of an adult world, or excites with the brilliant colors of the park, the stunning art creates the sense of wonder so in line with children who have imaginary friends. I want to plaster the walls of my room with the pages of this book!
The subtle presentation of theme in this story leaves readers understanding the point without coming across as preachy. Instead of stating, “It’s okay to have an imaginary friend,” Santat creates a world where having an imaginary friend is the norm. As Beekle searches for his friend, he comes across child after child with their own imaginary friend, not just one or two. This is an important message for young children, who may face ridicule from adults or bullying from other children over their imaginary friends.
4. Review Excerpts
2015 Caldacott Medal
2015 ALA Notable Books for Children winner
From Booklist: “Whether he’s lost amid a sea of black pants-legs, lonely on top of a bare tree, or joyful at discovering the loopy, colorful world of vivacious children with vivid imaginations, Beekle’s journey is lovely.”
From School Library Journal: “Like Beekle’s new friend, there’s something here that feels just right as an “unimaginary” friendship creates a joyous, recognizable bond.”
From Horn Book Guide: “Santat’s bright digital illustrations capture the vivid land of imagination, the drab adult world, and the giggle-inducing expressions on marshmallow-like Beekle’s pudgy white face.”
-Use in an art unit and have children draw/paint what they believe a world full of imaginary friends might look like
-Use in a writing unit and have children write the story of an adventure Beekle and Alice might have together
(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)