Linda Sarah and Benji Davies capture the fragility of friendship in this tender story that goes from two to three best friends.
Birt and Etho are best pals and play imaginatively together with cardboard boxes in tow. When Shu appears, Etho is happy with the idea of a trio of friends. In Birt’s view, three's a crowd. After lashing out in anger at his cardboard box, Birt sequesters himself at home and avoids Shu and Etho’s invitations to play. It’s when they make Birt a cardboard-box contraption on wheels that he joins them once again, realizing how fun Shu is.
The book’s pacing, particularly in the beginning, contributes to the honest characterization of the three boys. Sarah and Davies take their time to establish the close bond between Birt and Etho. It's also impressive that nothing is sugarcoated: Friendships at this age can be hard, and vulnerability is required. It’s especially challenging for boys, who are still often told to bottle up their emotions. This is demonstrated well when Shu and Etho bring the cardboard vehicle to Birt as a peace offering; look closely to see Shu standing with his arms crossed and Etho looking tentative and unsure. Davies communicates a lot with minimalistic lines and merely dots for eyes, and each boy seems to be feeling vulnerable and scared. What if Birt doesn’t accept their peace offering? Perhaps they’re even wondering if they’re working too hard to heal wounded feelings. Either way, all’s well that ends well, and they find their “three-by-three rhythm.” It’s all new, but it’s good, Birt realizes.
The book also acknowledges the courage it takes for friends at this age to open themselves up to others. It takes courage for Shu to introduce himself and ask to become friends with such a tight-knit duo; for Etho to reach out to someone he hurt, even if inadvertently; and for Birt to be so vulnerable. Each of them also learns a little bit about forgiveness.
No third wheels in this warm and welcome story.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.