Big Friends — the kind of friend you get lost in, love fiercely, feel is somehow exclusively your own — that’s what Birt and Etho are to each other. Every day, Birt and Etho each lug a boy-sized cardboard box up Sudden Hill. “Sometimes they’re kings, soldiers, astronauts. Sometimes they’re pirates sailing wild seas and skies. But always, always they’re Big Friends”.
One cold day, another box carrier shows up and everything changes for Birt. Etho and new-boy Shu get on with the business of dragon-slaying and skyscraper dancing. Birt just feels strange. Gone is the “two-by-two rhythm” he so loved. So Birt smashes his box and stops going up Sudden Hill. He decides to avoid the other boys and stay home “mostly drawing pictures of two boxes, side-by-side” (Ugh. Crushing).
Etho and Shu eventually draw Birt out of his self-imposed exile. That they offer “Mr. Climbfierce” (“It’s a supersonic rocket blaster! A triple Jet transformer! A Sparkling glitter king!”) as an incentive, goes a long way towards healing wounds. And in the end Birt grows to love their new found “Etho-Shu-Birt-iness”. Hurrah!
Pair the best of Calvin and Hobbes with the best of Allen Ginsburg and you’ve got something like what Linda Sarah and Benji Davies have created with On Sudden Hill. Playful and full of intimate detail seemingly plucked from one’s own childhood, yet lyrical and gently but heartrendingly emotional, be prepared to go on a journey when reading this book to your little ones. As an added bonus, there is no end to the number of talking points offered to parents/teachers looking for a way in to issues around inclusion/exclusion, friendship and loss.