Minh Lê (The Blur; Lift) and Raissa Figueroa (We Wait for the Sun; Oona) explore friendship, particularly the dynamic of imaginary friends, in the tender and emotionally resonant Real to Me. "When you have a great friend," the book opens, "the rest of the world can seem to disappear." A girl with brown skin and a halo of natural hair plays with her friend, a fluffy, lime-green creature with a long, tufted tail. They run and play in a vivid, fantastical landscape, complete with three moons, which Figueroa brings to the page with expansive digital compositions and a highly saturated palette of shimmering lavender, fuchsia, electric blue, and marigold.
The narrator of the book makes it clear that others see the pair's friendship as imaginary, but adds that "my friend was always there for me, and I can't imagine anything more real than that." Readers assume Lê, who structures the text with a pleasing use of repetition, presents the child's point of view, but the twist is that the narrator is the non-human, who wakes one morning to find their friend gone. Perhaps they have grown too old for "imaginary" friends; readers may put their inferencing skills to work to answer this question for themselves. The creature eventually makes new friends--other similarly fluffy creatures--and is left to wonder what their friend could be doing now.
This bittersweet, openhearted conversation-starter of a book illuminates the meaning of true friendship, captures the grief over one that ends, and may prompt children to ponder the "imaginary" things in life--and how they can feel the most "real" of all. --Julie Danielson, reviewer