The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

There’s something instantly comforting, likeable and, well, cute about a white, puffy protagonist — see: Big Hero 6‘s Baymax; even the somewhat freaky Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters looks cuddly when merchandised as a soft toy, which my sister used to have — and few will be able to resist the little marshmallowy guy on the cover, the eponymous Beekle.

Like A. F. Harrold’s The Imaginary, which I also loved, The Adventures of Beekle gives a twist to the usual kid-centric tale by not only immediately legitimising imaginary friends as real standalone characters with their own thoughts and feelings, rather than mere figments and extensions of children’s imaginations, but also making one of them the story’s key protagonist. Yet, by definition, an imaginary friend only has a place when he/she/it has been imagined by a child. And so, this is basically a story of how one imaginary friend — Beekle — got tired of waiting to be imagined, and embarked on a journey to find the child in question.

The real world, of course, can be a strange and lonely place, especially when you are still looking for a friend, much less THE friend, and Dan Santat’s beautiful Caldecott Medal-winning illustrations bring out Beekle’s smallness and invisibility, particularly among the grownups to whom he is literally invisible. But then again, unless you’ve had the experience of being lost, you’ll never know the sweetness and relief of being found. 

And, as this ode to friendship shows, real or imagined, friends anchor us and help to make the world a little less strange.

p.s. I love that the author wrote this story for his son, Alek, as a metaphor of his birth, since it does mirror the experience of meeting the child you’ve thought and imagined about for nine months, for the very first time.

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