Nan A. Talese: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

A Friend for Henry

A child on the autism spectrum navigates the challenge of finding a good friend in this sweet, understated classroom adventure written by newcomer Jenn Bailey with diaphanous illustrations by Mika Song (Picnic with Oliver, Harry and Clare's Amazing Staycation).

Henry, a rosy-cheeked boy with sweeps of dark hair, wants to make a friend who isn't his teacher or Gilly the classroom fish. But he can't find the right fit: "tangle of colors" Vivianne loves her rainbow nail polish, but not the rainbows Henry thoughtfully paints on her shoes; energetic Samuel carelessly wrecks Henry's perfect pattern of carpet squares. Henry also finds other students' experiments off-putting--earthworms should not use the swing set. How can Henry find a friend when every other child seems too loud, too heedless, too much?

Though Henry's concerns reflect his autism, his quandary has universal appeal. Based on Bailey's observations as the parent of an autistic child, this emotional journey illustrates both the difficulties all humans face in finding connection, as well as the confidence fostered by friendship. Song's almost translucent ink-and-watercolor scenes balance sweetness with emotion, subtly conveying Henry's differences and feelings through still, tense body language that contrasts with the ebullient motions of his peers. Her sunny palette of pastels comforts the reader even when Henry has a frustrated outburst and slumps in dejection afterward. A Friend for Henry will speak not only to children on the autism spectrum and their caregivers but will also resonate with any four- to six-year-old child who feels anxious and out of place in their peer group. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library