The Faithful Friend

written by Robert D. San Souci
illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Robert D. San Souci's The Faithful Friend
illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 5-10

West Indies folktale by way of the Brothers Grimm

Clement Duforce, black and the son of a sugar plantation owner, is born to a mother who dies in childbirth. The Frenchwoman his father hires to raise him has her own newborn, Hippolyte.

Before the first page is complete, the boys are young adults, as close as brothers, and Clement has fallen in love with the portrait of a beautiful young woman, Pauline, herself motherless.

The boys set out on foot, together, to the young woman's village, so that Clement can ask for her hand in marriage.

(And get this: No one's a prince or princess!)

Along the way, Clement and Hippolyte come across the body of an old beggar. After some consultation, they delay their travels to do the right thing and see to his Christian burial.

(And it's a good thing. Had they not, things wouldn't have worked out very well for them.)

Once they arrive at the estate of Pauline's uncle Monsieur Zabocat, events grow dramatic.

Clement and Pauline indeed fall for each other, but uncle is unamused. When the young lovers resolve to marry and return to the plantation, Zabocat - a quimboiseur, or wizard - enlists the aid of three beautiful zombies to make sure that the young couple doesn't make it alive.

Hippolyte learns of the plot, but is also subject to its curse. If he tells the young lovers, he himself will be turned to stone. And guess what?...

You're going to have to get the book if you want to find out how it all turns out.

The Faithful Friend

The story descends from numerous folktales told in numerous lands, most prominently Faithful John (or Joannes) from the Brothers Grimm. (Click the link to brush up on the Brothers!)

Author San Souci was drawn to this version by the exotic setting (Martinique is a French island in the Caribbean, peopled largely by the descendants of slaves), its "emphasis on the friendship of black and white characters," and zombies.

love in the next village

No zombies in the Brothers Grimm version!

Illustrator Pinkney won a 1996 Caldecott Honor for his gorgeous scratchboard and oil paintings that bring Martinique alive, and the book scored a Coretta Scott King Honor as well.

Different times, foreign lands, magic, romance, racial fellowship and a complete absence of royalty make The Faithful Friend a book worth checking out.

More Caldecott honorees.

More picture books about distant lands.

More of Steve's reviews.

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