Deborah Underwood

“Walter had a best friend named Xavier. They hiked up the hill together. They painted pictures together. They were quiet together. Walter and Xavier were best friends.” Then gently and slowly, they were not.

[Underwood’s photo by Lisa V. Leach]

Walter and Xavier do everything together together. This cheerful mouse and green-footed fowl are best buds…happy in their close friendship. Then as it often happens, they drift apart until Xavier strikes up a friendship with Penelope, a hedgehog. Right away, Walter is angry. Loneliness settles in. There’s a “big hole in his heart where Xavier used to be. It felt like the hole would be there forever.”

One morning Walter awakes with a hint of hope. He decides to try a new path, a trail he hadn’t hiked with Xavier. In a welcome twist, Walter meets a badger named Ollie, who joins Walter on his journey toward a new friendship.

Bestselling author Deborah Underwood crafts a caring, candid picture book telling children that it’s okay if their best friend doesn’t always last forever. Walter Had a Best Friend centers on the ups and downs of friendship with a dash of hope. Its takeaway for children is a life-lesson for us all: a new “best friend” may be a breath away. Deborah’s thoughtful story addresses the sting and sadness of losing a close friend yet shows children a way forward.

Walter had a best friend

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Born in Walla Walla, Washington, Deborah dreamed of being an astronomer from a young age. Then a singer. Then a writer. After college, she made her way as a street musician until she decided to write for children. She tells us that “at first [her] stories were pretty awful, but [she] kept trying.”

Sergio Ruzzier

The award-winning illustrator Sergio Ruzzier (photo by Francesco Fantoni) of Walter Had a Best Friend adds his soft pastel landscapes and pen-and-ink lined characters to match the reflective tone of the simple, intuitive text. Born in Milan, Italy, Sergio has authored and illustrated several celebrated picture books, including Fox and Chick: The Party, a 2019 Geisel Honor Book; Two Mice.

Landscape of Walter Had a Best Friend

After living in Brooklyn, New York, he now works out of his antiquated home in the Apennine Mountains in northern Italy. Each of his books stands on its own merit, but the storybook characters interact within a similar panorama—warm-hued hills and waters, and strange rocks and plant life sketched beneath a yellow-pinked sky.

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Kirkus gives Walter Had a Best Friend a starred review: “Walter’s best friend is Xavier. They share a companionable friendship—until one day, they don’t…. This tender, sensitive story speaks to the pain of losing a friendship, validating sadness but emphasizing that there is a way ahead. Perceptively, Underwood recognizes, too, that not all friendships end with fights or drama and that drifting apart slowly can feel just as raw.”

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Not surprisingly, we all struggle navigating the ups and downs of friendship from our preschool years up through retirement. That deep sense of loss and loneliness of losing our best friend stings. When those hard times hit, the simple message of Walter Had a Best Friend is one to remember: with a whisper of hope, set on a new path—one-day-at-a-time—and we might find a new friend waving “Hello.”

Walter Had...cover art

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Marsha Elyn Wright

Bursts of belly-laughs. Raised eye-brows. Teary trickles. Heart tugs. Grumbly mutters and more. Good storytelling sparks emotions and memories in us. It connects cultures and generations. The best words create melodies on a page we can sing reading aloud. These story songs expand, challenge, affirm, and delight us. My hope is that my storytelling creates this magic for you.


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