Before I Leave is a celebration of friendship, as well as a lively, understated picture-book primer on saying goodbye. A roly-poly hedgehog named Zelda has big news for her best friend, an anteater named Aaron. “I found out we’re moving,” she says.
One of the things that makes this book special is the unlikely duo created by author and illustrator Jessixa Bagley, whose first book was Boats for Papa. Zelda is adorably energetic, decked out in a blue hair ribbon and big red glasses, while Aaron is enormous in comparison, with a bit of a sad-sack look lent by his large, curving snout.
The text is effectively spare, with just a few words on each spread that move the story forward while giving emotional weight to Bagley’s charming pen-and-watercolor illustrations. When Zelda tells Aaron that he can’t come with her to their new home, we see Aaron trying to curl his huge body into her suitcase.
Zelda informs her parents that she’s not moving, and the friends leave her cozy home, where boxes are busily being packed, to go outside and play “One last time, like nothing is changing.” Their joyful fun―playing tetherball, swinging, boating and playing in forts―provides a nice counterpoint to their sadness over their impending separation.
Before long, the inevitable happens: Zelda rides away with her parents on top of a load full of packed boxes, waving a melancholy goodbye. Before I Leave doesn’t sugarcoat the pain of moving, but assures young readers friendships continue. The last spread shows Zelda writing to Aaron in her new room, where a clothesline full of his letters adorns her wall.