Handle With Care

When placed on the outside of a package it indicates special consideration, whether the contents are known or not.  We use the words handle with care when something holds value to us or to others.  The value is determined by the individual using those three words. 

What we deem worthy, be it concrete or abstract, requires a commitment.  This promise is freely given.  How to Grow a Friend (Random House, January 6, 2015) written and illustrated by Sara Gillingham guides the youngest of readers (everyone) on how to cultivate a lasting companionship.  

To grow a friend,
first plant a seed in good soil.

Already the two children have the beginning of a bond; the act of starting something new together.  Like a seed it is essential for them to nurture common interests in total freedom.  They discover sometimes it's better to be silent as another chats.

As they watch their seed sprout and flower they realize good things take time, some longer than others.  During those days, weeks and months harmony does not always happen but working as a team can create change for the benefit of everyone.  If your friend seems lost, lend a hand. 

Lifting their spirits is imperative so you can stand side by side no matter the weather.  If you want more friends be ready. They can blossom or appear when least expected.  You can never have too many flowers or friends.


Twelve sentences parallel gardening and friendship in a wonderfully wise sequence leaving room for discussion and illustrative interpretation.  Sara Gillingham understands the thought processes of her intended audience as evidenced by her inclusion of all things plants and friends need to realize their full potential.  It's important that she speaks about the times when everything is going well and those times when things are not so grand.  Here is another sentence from this book.

And don't let your friend 
get stuck in the weeds.


Parents, caregivers or anyone who has worked in education with children will tell you they are drawn to colorful books like bees to honey.  When you open the matching dust jacket and book case for How to Grow a Friend an image extends from book flap to book flap.  The bright turquoise background overlaps slightly giving way to white on the flaps but the floral border continues.  The bold circular patterns and vivid pastel colors on the flowers shout happiness as does the wide-eyes on the four children.  The variations in their clothing and skin tones allow children to see themselves in the pages of this book.  On the back, to the left, a boy wearing glasses is shaking hands with a girl carrying a garden tool beneath the words

To grow a friend...
open this book!

The opening and closing endpapers are a repeating vertical pattern of three kinds of leaves in black on white.  Insects and some flower buds appear.  The subtle difference between the two endpapers will have readers nodding knowingly and smiling.

Gillingham begins her narrative on the title page as the hummingbird flies over the pail of soil.  When we see her again on the starting visual she is carrying the seed.  With a page turn the seed is dropped into the soil.  Pictures shift from a larger overview to a close-up of the two children, a girl and a boy, as their friendship and the seed grow.  Gillingham brings us farther into the story with a zoom-in of the children's hands among the flowers at one point.

The hummingbird is never far from the children or the pail.  Readers will enjoy finding her in each image.  They will also be able to spot the tiny worms, lady bug, bees, butterfly and flies.

One of my favorite illustrations is for the sentence

To grow a friend, talk and listen.

On a background of white to the left of the gutter at the top we are looking down at the pail.  A tiny bud has appeared.  The hummingbird is hovering nearby.  Pink blossoms are scattered around the children.  They are lying on colored blankets next to each other.  The boy on the left is talking and his hands are moving.  The girl on the right is listening with her hands and arms behind her head.


Toward the end of 2015 Sara Gillingham released a companion book, How to Mend a Heart (Random House, December 22, 2015).  She depicts similarities in sewing a damaged beloved toy with fixing an emotional hurt.  She clearly demonstrates the process of making repairs which create a stronger new whole.

To mend a heart,
you need gentle hands.
the right tools,
and lots of patches. 

With the same patience you give to threading a needle, tying in a knot and making each stitch, you need to do for sadness.  At times it will take more sewing than others, which means more thread... a lot more thread.  If you are mending a heart what does this mean?

If you get stuck (sewing can be tricky), there are those willing to help loosen the tangles.  Remember even a lovingly pieced project can break apart again and again.  You might need to rethink your process.

You can do it, even if it takes several attempts.  Each time a heart (or a toy elephant) is restored something happens.  Can you tell me what that is?


Little hands will be more than ready to fashion repairs after reading the careful and clever words of Sara Gillingham.  In only six sentences which are spaced to provide a slow pace, she outlines each step.  As she did in the first title, she addresses the challenges but recommends to keep going.  She draws our attention to the results of this practice.  Here is another sentence.  

Some hearts need a little bit of thread,
and others need
the whole spool.


The cheery cherry red as a canvas for the matching dust jacket and book case is warm and welcoming.  The illustration crosses the spine spilling into the flaps especially the border of hearts and patches of fabric.  The thread being held by the two children on the front extends to the back where another two children hold the end and the threaded needle.  The little robin on the front is found throughout the book.  The toy elephant is a key character.  

The opening and closing endpapers are a series of red vertical stitches repeated over and over.  The background is of a much lighter red fabric.  Spanning the verso page, on the left, and the title page, on the right, is a single image showing the passage of time.  The boy's puppy is playing with the elephant.  Then he chews parts of it.  Finally in front of the boy and his friends, the puppy is saddened to see the elephant in bits.

Gillingham does shift how we view the illustrations.  We are farther away, close to the boy or the elephant, looking at them from above or very, very near as in looking at the boy's two holds holding the scraps of his toy.  More than once she features his friends watching closely, ready to help if asked.  The facial expressions on the boy, his friends and even the puppy, portray the appropriate emotions.

One of my favorite pictures (I really like them all.) is of the boy beginning to take the pieces of his elephant, laying them on the table like a puzzle.  Spread before him are fabric, scissors, thread, a pencil, buttons, a needle and thimble, two types of pins, a measuring tape and sewing ruler.  The puppy has his paws on the table watching.  He is holding the tiny red cloth heart.


How to Grow a Friend and How to Mend a Heart written and illustrated by Sara Gillingham are charming models for starting, building and strengthening friendships and our emotional hearts.  It's important that the two key elements in both of these are using our hands and our time.  These two titles work together very well.  They both invite further discussion and possible projects.  I plan on getting out my sewing machine to make an elephant.  What will you do?

To learn more about Sara Gillingham and her other books, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  How to Grow a Friend is part of a trifecta hosted at Nerdy Book Club, Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog Watch. Connect. Read. and standing-on-a-desk-yelling-I-Love-Reading third grade teacher, Colby Sharp's sharpread. Sara Gillingham was recently interviewed at Kids' BookBuzz.  This interview is as adorable as her books. 

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