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Review: One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo

One Cool Friend
By Toni Buzzeo
Illustrated by David Small

Dial (Penguin)

ISBN: 9780803734135
Grades K-3
In Stores

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Local Library

Oblivious parents are a staple in children’s lit. Kids are so used to being micro-managed that the thought of being able to pull one over on the man is an appealing fantasy. With One Cool Friend, Toni Buzzeo and Caldecott-winner David Small present a child dealing with a distracted dad in a miscommunication comedy with a twist.

The story begins with a simple description of our dark-haired protagonist:

Elliot was a very proper young man.

When his seemingly inattentive father drags him to the aquarium, Elliot is mesmerized by the penguins. So much so that he decides to take one home and name it Magellan (and ode to the explorer this particular species is named after). Keeping Magellan a secret doesn’t seem too hard, as Elliot’s father is always preoccupied with the latest National Geographic or his academic pursuits. Although this is one tough secret to keep, and eventually the jig is up. But there’s a twist – Elliot’s father has a pet of his own.

This is the rare picture book that gets better through repeated readings, with text and illustration details that might not come to the surface the first time out. Here’s a suggestion – read it straight through to a child, then talk about all the hints Small included leading up to the conclusion. It will send readers right back into the book, and give an added appreciation for the beautiful illustrations.

Yes, the artwork. Small’s illustrations are, as ever, something to see. He grasps opportunities to expand on the text with a humor and creativity that few other illustrators can match. He also has a knack for memorable scenes. The image of Elliot jumping into the penguin exhibit will is one that will stick with you. A checkerboard theme runs throughout the book, from blue tiles in the aquarium to the green checks on the father’s suit. It’s a nice unifying motif and creates a ample amounts of white, fitting for a book about a penguin.

Nothing absent-minded about this one – a solidly excellent offering from two children’s lit professionals. It would work in a read aloud setting. It would work solo. Either way, don’t be without it.

Review copy purchased

Read about the evolution of One Cool Friend at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Great review for my favorite picture book of the year. Thanks!

  2. This book sounds like one my students will love! You sold me before the end of your review. I had to stop & put in my request at our local library before reading to the end. I may have to run to the books store though; there is already a wait-list for this one at our library.