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2015 Caldecott Medal Winner: The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
Written and Illustrated by Dan Santat
Published by Little Brown and Company in 2014
ISBN: 978-0-316-19998-8
Grades PreK-8
Book Review
Surrounded by fellow imaginary creatures of infinite variety, he waits… and waits for his turn to be imagined into being by a “real child.” Losing patience with the process, he does the “unimaginable,” leaving his island place of origin to journey to the “real world.” The voyage is fraught with “scary things” and in contrast to the vividly fantastical landscape he has left behind, he finds “the real world… a strange place. No kids were eating cake. No one stopped to hear the music. And everyone needed naptime.” Continuing his search, he locates a playground filled with children (and some of his former island co-habitants), yet even here, his match eludes him. But wait! Just at his moment of deepest desolation, a child appears, a bespectacled girl, with a pencil behind her ear. Alice has in fact, both imagined and illustrated her future encounter with him, and she appropriately bestows his name: Beekle. “Neither of them had made a friend before,” but it doesn’t take them long to figure it out. In his third solo picture book, illustrator Dan Santat employs digitally rendered spreads to tell the story of the coming together of two special friends. Images from Alice’s notebook that represent her version of the encounter and following events, along with hand-lettered text throughout the book, raise questions as to who is the true narrator of this tale. Whether it is Santat, Alice, or Beekle, this story holds great promise for deep conversations about risk taking and persistence, journeys into the unknown, the power of friendships, and the transformative nature of the creative process.
Teaching Ideas and Invitations:
Grades PreK – 4
Portrait with Imaginary Friends.Examine the end papers of The Adventures of Beekle (you will need to obtain a hardcover copy of the book). They depict cameo images of children and their imaginary friends. Your students will notice that that the humans and imaginary friends are clearly connected. For example, a young boy depicted holding a kite is accompanied by a cloud, and a young girl wearing water wings has an oversized fish sporting a sailor’s cap next to her. Ask your students to create portraits of themselves with their own imaginary friends. How are their interests and talents reflected in the images? Create a display for all to enjoy.
How do we make a friend?  Children in the preschool and primary grades are working hard to connect with their peers (aren’t we all, really?). After reading The Adventures of Beekle, begin a conversation about strategies young children use to initiate an encounter with a potential friend. Record their ideas on chart paper. Invite them to consider other stories they may have read that feature newly forming friendships. Consider having students transform their ideas in to a class composed and illustrated Big Book describing “how to make a friend.”
A Celebration of Imagination.Read The Adventures of Beekle as part of a collection of picture books that celebrate the power of children’s imagination. (See our classroom bookshelf entry on The Nowhere Box for some title suggestions). Invite children to discuss the power of their imagination and to create a work of art (a picture, a poem, a story, a song) that pays tribute to the concept. If a more concrete invitation is needed, ask your students to consider the locations / conditions in which imagination flourishes in the books you have read together. Then ask them to name the places where they feel most free to create and to depict these places with words and illustration (or a photograph). With older students, connect the concepts of imaginations, creativity, and invention more concretely, investigating the conditions that support innovators in our world.  A visit to a local museum that celebrates invention in some form (science or history museum, children’s discovery center) may be the perfect launching point for this inquiry.
Duet Model: Comparing with a Classic. The Adventures of Beekle has some similar story elements to the Don Freeman’s classic picture book Corduroy. Invite children to compare these two stories, considering plot, setting, theme, characterization, and writing style. Compare the illustrations and their effects, too. Students can complete a graphic organizer (Venn diagram, for example) to record their findings.
Grades 2 – 8
Illustrator Study. Use the links in the Further Explorations section to learn more about Dan Santat. You will want to preview the links ahead of time to be able to focus on content that is appropriate for your students. Gather a collection of the books that Santat has both written and illustrated and illustrated. Examine Santat’s visual storytelling techniques. What patterns can students identify across his body of work? In an interview for, Santat encourages his readers to examine the whole book, including the dust jacket, cover, spine, and endpapers, because he attends to all of these details in his creative process.
Principles of Illustration. What makes a picture work? After reading Molly Bang’s book Picture This (see below), explore some of the principles of illustration with your class. As a class, model the application of these principles by dissecting the illustrations in The Adventures of Beekle. Ideally, you would examine the illustrations using a document camera to project the images. How did Santat create emotional impact through the use of color, line, page breaks, and perspective? Next, break students up into four groups; have two groups apply Bang’s principles to The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus, a nonfiction picture book and Caldecott Honor book, and Sam and Dave Dig A Hole, a fictional picture book and Caldecott Honor book. How do the other illustrators also use some of Bang’s techniques, but to achieve illustrations with a very different mood and tone?
Grades 6 – 8
Waiting to be Found. Beekle’s wish to find his creative partner is poignant and palpable. Children in the intermediate and middle grades will likely empathize with this longing to be known. Invite your students to compose a poem in which they express some aspect of their identity that they want others to know. Post the poems along with “selfies” on a classroom bulletin board.
The Role of Imaginary Friends. After reading The Adventures of Beekle along with other children’s books that include imaginary friends (such as Jessica, Ted, Claraand Asha, Dory Fantasmagory), invite students to consider what research shows us about children who have imaginary friends. Then consider the potential benefits for creativity. In what ways is having an imaginary friend like having an internal dialogue? How is that quality/background a strength for writers who are trying to convey character’s thoughts and ideas?  How do creativity and problem solving skills support innovation?
Books into Movies: Animating Beekle. In one interview about the book, Santat discusses DreamWorks studio’s interest in the book. Invite your students to imagine the transformation of book into movie. While some students may be interested in writing the script for a movie version, others may want to use digital tools to explore the animation of Beekle and his worlds.
Metaphor in Writing. The Adventures of Beekle is dedicated to Santat’s oldest son and Santat has described the book as a metaphor for awaiting the birth of a child. In an interview for Picturebooking Podcast, Santat talks about several other metaphors explored in the book:  (1) “What do you do with a blank piece of paper?”; (2) the power of creativity; (3) how two people, such as author and illustrator, come together to tell a story; and (4) if you are true to your own interests, you will connect with others who share these interests. Prior to identifying any of these metaphors, ask students to discuss their interpretation of the deeper meaning and themes in the story.  Ask them to use evidence from the text and illustrations to support and share their interpretation with classmates.
Digital Image Making. Recruit support to explore the process of digital image making with your students. Santat uses Adobe Photoshop and a scanner to capture colors and textures from the physical world. Find an artist in your community who uses digital techniques and invite him/her to visit the classroom or to Skype to discuss their creative process. If possible, allow students to experiment with digital image making themselves.
Online Resources
Author’s Website
KPCC Interview with Dan Santat
Picturebooking Podcast: Dan Santat
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (includes adult content)
Publisher’s Weekly Interview
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
Bang, M. (2000). Picture this: How pictures work. New York: Seastar Books.
Barnett, M. (2014). Sam and Dave dig a hole. Ill. by J. Klassen. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Bryant, J. (2014). The right word: Roget and his thesaurus. Ill. by M.Sweet. New York: Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers.
DiTerlizzi, T. (2001). Ted. New York: Simon & Shuster.
Freeman, D. (1968). Corduroy. New York: Viking.
Hanlon, A. (2014). Dory Fantasmagory. New York: Dial.
Henkes, K. (1989). Jessica. New York: Greenwillow.
Jeffers, O. (2005). Lost and found. New York: Philomel.
Rohmann, E. (2005). Clara and Asha. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.


  1. Do you know why every Tuesday is party day ? It is the day I receive the latest post on the classroom bookshelf !
    Thank you so much Classroom Bookshelf for all the book presentations and the teaching ideas.
    Librarian/International School of Geneva-Switzerland