Written by Eoin Colfer
Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Published by Harper
Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers are two of the biggest names in children’s literature on Earth. Between Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books and basically a constant stream of bestsellers from Oliver Jeffers, they’re essentially kidlit royalty. Putting the two of them together is kind of like the coupling of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. (We’ll let them work out who’s who…)
Thankfully, their collaboration, Imaginary Fred, doesn’t disappoint.
Books about imaginary friends aren’t new —A.F. Harrold and Emily Gravett released the chapter book The Imaginary just a few months before Imaginary Fred came out— but Colfer puts a nice twist on the concept: The standard plot in the sub-genre involves a child outgrowing their imaginary friend, who then withers without purpose; here, children are assignments for imaginary friends, who stick around until they’re no longer needed, and then they move on.
Fred, though, longs for a day when he doesn’t move on, but stays put enjoying lifelong companionship with a true friend; he hopes that his new compatriot, Sam, is the one. Eventually, of course, Sam meets a girl named Sammi, who is as perfect for him as Sam, and they become besties, which sends Sam into a bit of a spiral: He sees the writing on the wall, and knows it’s only a matter of time before he loses Sam and goes back to waiting for another kid in need. Or was it?
It turns out Sammi has her own imaginary friend, and the foursome become a great team.
Colfer’s text is nothing short of amazing, with heaps of pathos. The joy Sam feels when finding true friendship is palpable, and his melancholy when that friendship is threatened is equally real. The writing is clever and entertaining and will appeal to readers of any age, allowing for infinite repeat readings without driving parents to drink.
For Jeffers’ part, this is my favorite work of his. 90% black line drawings, with colour accents. The character design of Sam is extraordinary; he’s made up of half tone aquadots (and a few squiggles for facial features), which thicken and shrink depending upon how necessary Sam is to his charge, giving the feeling of transparency. It’s one of the most original and creative character designs in recent memory.
Again, imaginary friends are not unique fodder for children’s books, but with Imaginary Fred, we may have reached a zenith, rendering any future attempts unnecessary.
Kinderlit.ca requested and received a copy of Ninja Baby in exchange for an honest review. Read about our review policy HERE.