Top 100 Picture Books #73: May I Bring a Friend? by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, illustrated by Beni Montresor
#73 May I Bring a Friend by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, illustrated by Beni Montresor (1964)
Another classic that I enjoyed as a child and enjoyed more as an adult reading to children. – Libby Gorman
Despite the fact that I can never spell de Regniers’s name correctly (I had to correct it just now after looking it up), May I Bring a Friend? is a steadfast favorite. When I do a Caldecott story time, I always include this story (1965 winner) about a young boy who brings his unusual friends to tea with a very tolerant king and queen. Not all Caldecotts are great read alouds; that’s not a requirement of course. It’s just gravy when they are good read alouds. I do recommend practiving before reading it, because it’s easy to fool yorself into thinking that this is a story in rhyme (it only rhymes on occasion). – Jennifer Schultz
The ultimate Caldecott storytime readaloud? Now that I can sell!
The description from Sweet On Books reads, “Who doesn’t like getting an invitation…discovering the mail in the mailbox, opening the envelope and feeling the excitement of being included. Those are just some of the emotions that the reader might feel upon seeing the first page of this book. Now imagine that the invitation is from a King and Queen. Pretty cool, huh? Well, unlike some of us, the main character doesn’t give a simple yes when invited to tea with a King and a Queen. He politely asks the King and Queen if he “may bring a friend.“ The King and Queen are quite polite in return and respond that any friend of his is a friend of theirs. Good behavior to emulate but just wait until your reader sees this kid’s friends.”
Illustrator Beni Montresor wasn’t one of those one-trick ponies, as it happens. In Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom we find that he was a bit of a set and costume designer as well. In fact, in 1964 (the same year May I Bring a Friend? came out) he created sets and costumes for the Royal Opera House of London’s Benvenuto Cellini. “The gossip columnist Suzy Knickerbocker reported in the World Journal Tribune that the artist was being lionized by everyone in the British capital from Mary McCarthy to Princess Margaret.” I’m going to just stop you right there . . . gossip columnist Suzy Knickerbocker? I’m sorry, did I just stumble into a romantic comedy circa 1934, because that name is too good to ignore.
As for Beatrice Schenk de Regniers (Jennifer is right when she says that’s a hard name to spell) she wrote other books for kids but few are remembered today. One notable exception is a book she didn’t write so much as edit. Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child’s Book of Poems was, for a time, sort of your defacto poetry book when parents came in looking for the best. It’s out of print these days but I’d maintain that with its delicious combination of classic picture book illustrators (Sendak! Lobel! Dillons!) it remains the top. *glares meaningfully in Scholastic’s direction*
Filed under: Best Books, Top 100 Picture Books Poll
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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