At the 2016 summer SCBWI conference I had the pleasure of attending a session led by editor Neil Porter. During that hour, he invited author/illustrator Antoinette Portis on stage to discuss and read from her picture book, Best Frints in the Whole Universe. I fell in love with this PB instantly. It has everything I love in a PB: quirk, humor, and a lot of heart. It’s one of my favorites and I’m excited to gush about it today.
Synopsis: Yelfred and Omek of planet Boborp have been best frints for a very long time (since they were tiny, little blobbies, in fact). They do everything together: eat, play, and share toys. But when Omek takes Yelfred’s new spossip for a spin without asking and crashes it, the two frints get into a fight. Can they go back to being best frints?
The words in this PB are just fantastic. Many of them are made up, yet easily deciphered. Through a combination of beautifully constructed sentences and illustrations, Portis creates a new world of words that the reader instantly recognizes. Take the first sentence: “Yelfred and Omek have been best frints since they were little blobbies.” The word “frint” is not far off from “friend,” and same goes for “blobbies” and “babies.” To help the reader decipher, three illustrations show these two little beings growing and playing (sometimes not so nicely) together.
These made-up words and accompanying illustrations continue throughout and, warning: they are giggle-inducing. One spread shows the frints having “a nice yunch” while they struggle over a spaghetti-looking food in a bout of tug-of-war. Portis also repeats a refrain throughout the story to add to the humor: “(Not like here on planet Earth.)” With this, she shows that human friendships are just like that of Yelfred and Omek: sweet and fun, but not without bumps and hiccups.
The illustrations in this PB are incredibly vibrant. They not only capture the strange (but not-so-different) planet Boborp, but also illustrate all-too-familiar and relatable friendship scenarios. Yelfred and Omek are almost always centered on the page or spread. And even though they aren’t human, Portis uses human-like body language to show the frints getting along or in conflict. For example, after Omek crashes Yelfred’s new spossip, the two stand with noses pressed up against each other, arms drawn behind them, and antennas wrestling in the air.
By taking us to a planet that looks and sounds different, but with characters that experience the same friendship ups-and-downs that humans do, Portis gives us all a chance to reflect on the beauty of our friendships. All readers can recognize themselves and a friend in Yelfred and Omek.
Frints of all kinds will adore this book!