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A sloth, a snake, a toad, and a toucan sit high in the branches of a tree playing cards, or at least three of the friends are − the sloth is asleep. Suddenly, whoosh! Someone cuts down their tree. This is how The Lazy Friend: a wonderful wordless children’s book by author Ronan Badel, begins.
Badel studied art in Strasbourg and taught illustration in Paris. With an unfussy and whimsical style, he easily conjures blooming flowers and wide jungle vistas. After the tree is cut down it is loaded onto the back of a truck, but the sleeping sloth still clings to a branch. How will the friends rescue the sloth? The snake slithers over and hides among the logs. While the woodsman looks suspicious, he drives off.
During their adventure, the snake and the sloth encounter many hazards. They cross a rickety swing bridge, float down a river full of crocodiles (the snake paddling hard with his tail), and drop over a waterfall − all while the sloth is asleep. While danger is certainly a theme in the book, so is bravery and friendship. The snake is determined to save his friend, and there is a delightful moment when, emerging from the river, we see the sloth being carried by the snake. It’s a sweet story and the dangers in the book never feel sinister; we always believe the long-suffering snake will bring his friend home.
The illustrations of the animals are especially evocative, and it is through their expressions that Badel creates emotion. For example, a single tear runs down the frog’s cheek as the snake and sloth disappear on the truck. The story is told from the animals’ perspective, and this allows a child to build empathy with the characters’ troubles. In this way The Lazy Friend has an environmental message, but it is subtle and part of the story.
One of the wonders of a wordless children’s book is that it allows the reader to make up their own story. What is the frog feeling? I asked my son. What do you think will happen next? The book’s absence of words will also encourage tentative readers, or pre-schoolers who cannot yet read, to pick up the book.
Another strength of this story is that it features animals that children do not often encounter. The sloth is particularly adorable; even if she does nothing but sleep, she always has a small smile on her face! When the snake and sloth eventually make it home, the friends hug, and the sloth opens a single eye. As with all Gecko Press books, The Lazy Friend has excellent production values and feels great in the hand. It is a delightful and funny book.
Reviewed by Sarah Jane Barnett
The Lazy Friend
by Ronan Badel
Published by Gecko Press