REVIEWS

 

“The friendly, jibing conversation between the protagonists has a pleasing edge (“How is this a good idea?” queries Barry as he’s squashed into a ridiculous hat), and the text’s blend of sparseness and humor makes it appealing to novice readers.  With its sophisticated look and easily decodable blend of art and text, this friendship story should win early readers looking to conquer something on their own.”
Review: The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

 

“When an excited Polarhog wakes Barry up from his peaceful slumber in his boring gray house, promising a surprise, Barry is not impressed. The two friends meander through the woods and past the hat shop, where Polarhog is determined to find the perfect hat for his bird buddy. Throughout the story, ants are seen carrying all kinds of objects that leave a trail for young readers to find Barry’s surprise. This funny story has plenty of jokes to keep reluctant readers’ interest. A few higher vocabulary words like “tragedy,” “bliss,” and “decorate” are sprinkled throughout and add to the richness of this excellent little comic book. The whimsical artwork adds subtle humor to the story. Barry’s expression when he is wearing his hat is perfectly captured, and the tear in his eye when his surprise is finally revealed is poignant and sweet.”
Review: Alison Donnelly, School Library Journal

 

“The illustrations do most of the story telling, which allows even the youngest readers to deduce the story. The character’s expressions speak volumes, and bizarre details—a flamingo peeking through the tree line, for example—inspire the reader to keep searching for more.”
Review: Tammy McCartney, Sacramento Book Review

 

“French embraces the panel constraint and goes even bigger in some cases, with two pages containing a single panel’s worth of action. Her figures are still recognizably her, as Barry’s one-eyed appearance (we only ever see one eye) and Polarhog’s slightly amorphous body are a bit on the unsettling side while still being recognizably cute. French goes all-in with the big panels as she has the pair of friends ambling in slightly dull fashion from left to right. At the same time, she introduces a parade of ants moving across the panel from right to left, carrying increasing strange objects to an unknown destination.  It’s an ingenious storytelling device, pushing kids to read a comics page in several different ways without telling them to do so. The final payoff is not completely unexpected but it’s still quite pleasant as it rewards the eye for paying attention to what the ants are doing. French’s ability to write a book that is simultaneously off-kilter and straightforward in any number of ways (especially in portraying friendship) make her a perfect candidate to as many of these Toon Books as she cares to do.”
Review: Rob Clough, High-Low

 

“Anyone who’s read many of Renée French’s highly-detailed black-and-white comics, like her surreal, dark and disturbing meditation on migraines and ants h day, or perhaps her off-kilter family melodrama about deformity and surgery The Ticking, may be a little surprised to hear her name in the same sentence as the words ‘kids comic.’ But then, that’s one of the great virtues of the Françoise Mouly-edited Toon Books imprint—securing some of the greatest cartoonists in the world to provide new work in a format and for an audience that may not be their natural one, and in the process providing first comics for young readers that also happen to be great comics. For Barry’s Best Buddy, French’s style has been highly modulated to be more simple, more open, more cute, but it is still recognizably hers. The penciling is less detailed, and the spaces between her lines digitally colored. There are two main characters, Barry, a bored and blasé, maybe even depressed-looking, bird, and his pal Polarhog, who looks vaguely like a bucktoothed polar bear. One day, Polarhog awakens Barry from a nap in his dull, gray house and insists on taking him for a walk, promising a surprise at its end. The entire time, big, remarkably cute ants pass them in the foreground, carrying mysterious objects (paint, light bulbs, a flag with a picture of a pile of poop on it) for a mysterious purpose. The book is oriented horizontally, so that each two-page spread forms a single, eighteen-inch long image, in which the pair appear repeatedly, sharing a funny conversation as they progress through the book. The ending took me by surprise, although it is perhaps an obvious twist; I was too engaged with the dialogue and the ants to wonder overmuch about the exact nature of the surprise. Grown up comics fans will certainly want to check this out just to see French do kids comics—the ants here, for example, are a marked, puppet-show echo of those in h day—and kids will find a typically engaging, fun and funny story that begs to be reread almost immediately.”
Review: School Library Journal

 

“The tale of Polarhog’s attempt to pull his friend Barry the Bird out of a humdrum existence is told in generous two-page spreads that give the environments a lustrous feeling and allow readers to appreciate the idiosyncratic personalities packed into the characters’ distinctive faces. Alternating subdued colors with much brighter ones also helps breathe lovely life into some of the book’s visual punch lines. The needs and nuances of children’s literature are well represented, as echoes of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books find their way into the slightly morose Barry and his upbeat pal, and friendship and cooperation are the key themes here, with Polarhog arranging a colorful surprise with the help of some friendly ants. Naturally, in the tradition of curmudgeons since time immemorial, Barry is eventually won over by his friend’s love and devotion. Yet another winner from TOON.”
Review: Booklist

 

“Comics creator French, who has written and illustrated two picture books as Rainy Dohaney, presents an offbeat story of misdirection, generosity, and opposites-attract friendship. Barry, a squarish bird with half-lidded eyes that telegraph disinterest and disdain, is awakened from a nap by his doughy, rodentlike friend, Polarhog, who promises him a surprise. Polarhog leads Barry on a rambling journey down a path, with stops along the way for hats (‘I do not like hats,’ grumps Barry), ice cream (‘I don’t like ice cream,’ sniffs Barry), and a found meatball (‘EW. Then maybe don’t eat it,’ suggests Barry). Their perambulation unfolds over full-bleed spreads in a palette so milky one would be forgiven for thinking the artwork was printed on vellum. As Barry and Polarhog move from left to right, a crew of ants travels in the opposite direction; armed with paint, light bulbs, and wire, they hint at what awaits Barry when he returns to his house, which Polarhog had dismissed as being the color of ‘snooze.’ French’s sharp, pared-down dialogue easily establishes the friends’ personalities and provides many moments of humor.”
Review: Publishers Weekly

 

“Barry’s Best Buddy (Level 1) is a fun read-aloud comic about Barry the bird and his friend Polarhog (say those names without giggling) who encounter new adventures on each page that keep kids guessing at what is coming next.  After seeing the surprise at the end, kids will want to go back and re-read the story to catch certain details they might not have ‘gotten’ the first time. I really appreciate these books because they ignited a spark in my son that nothing else was able to do, and now he enjoys taking a book to bed with him at night.  I even have to remind him to turn out his light or he would read into the wee hours.  If you have a reluctant reader or an emerging reader, I encourage you to check these out.”
Review: Learning Table Reviews

 

“Barry’s Best Buddy is a delightfully written and illustrated toon book that captures the attention of the reader from the beginning until the end.  Definitely a favorite in our home collection!”
Review: NonieC, Amazon.com

 

“In addition to doing books like Micrographica and H Day, which showcase her haunting, fine-grained pencil art, Renee French has done a couple of kids’ books under a pen name. My kid turns 1 year old this week, and already he’s inherited my love for books, so this goes on my wishlist for him.”
Review: Robot 6

 

“Stunning graphics instantly draw the reader into Barry’s world. Even young readers will appreciate Barry’s lackluster attitude. Don’t we all have days when we’re less than enthusiastic? Fortunately, Barry has a best buddy who realizes that Barry needs some uplifting, especially on his birthday. Creative ant characters bring a second layer of storyline to the book without complicating it. This is a book that can be read many times over with the reader finding new things with each reading. Fun reading for child and parent alike. This will be a great addition to our growing Easy Graphic section at our library. Thank you, Toon Books!”
Review: Becky, Goodreads

 

Barry’s Best Buddy is a fun read.”
Review: Carolyn, Goodreads

 

“The ants at the bottom of every page give a nice foreshadowing of the big reveal. I will be recommending this one to my pre-readers with parents, as well and my early and possibly reluctant readers.”
Review: Ann, Goodreads

 

“This book does so many things right.”
Review: Robin, Goodreads

 

“This would be a good addition to your graphic shelf for younger readers.”
Review: Chris, Goodreads

 

“The introduction of a few unusual words for an early reader lend a welcome sophistication to the humor in the text. When Barry is suddenly without his hat Polarhog asks, ‘Hey! Where is your hat?’ Bird, ‘Oh, tragedy. I must have dropped it.’ Polarhog exclaims about his blue popcicle, ‘Oh, happiness! Oh, BLISS!’ Another unlikely duo in the annals of unlikely duos for beginning readers. Barry’s Big Surprise [is] a droll bit of fun to entertain young ones.”
Review: Teresa Rolfe Kravtin, Goodreads

 

 

 Praise for Renée French

 

“Renée French is that rare gift among artists — one whose work finds its way into the most guarded corners of our psyches and allows us to revel momentarily in all that is awkward, embarrassing, or sticky about being alive.”
Review: Myla Goldberg, author of Bee Season

 

“Renee French has crafted a soft, fuzzy little masterpiece of imagination and beauty masquerading as a simple children’s book, all the while remaining a product of her own strange and wonderful voice.”
Review: Artbomb