Friday, December 23, 2016

Famous Friends by Jennifer Castle and Bill Spring, 2017

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Did you know that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, friends and political rivals, died only hours apart from each other on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Or that famed magician Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle were besties until a séance gone wrong ruined their friendship? Famous Friends explores fascinating stories like these to find out what happens when someone who is really famous becomes friends with someone ELSE who's really famous.

From the original "bromance" to Taylor Swift's #squadgoals, get ready to learn about the coolest friendships of all time in Famous Friends!
(112 pages)

When this slim, brightly-colored book showed up on my doorstep a few weeks ago my first reaction was "wait, seriously?" The unsolicited ARCs I get from Scholastic are usually YA fictional novels, often on the grittier side and not really the sort of books I would usually pick up. This, on the other hand, is exactly the sort of book I don't pick up for a very different reason: it's a cartoony-looking flimsy book claiming in colorful letters to be about "famous friends from history!" while displaying very prominent pictures of Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, and Lorde. I've read my share of "documentary" booklets like these over the years (including several about Taylor Swift, I'm ashamed to admit), and developed quite a distaste for them as a result.

Once I actually cracked it open, though, I realized I'd misjudged. I fell into the usual trap of judging a book by its outward appearance! The contents are actually really interesting, and I enjoyed reading them. Taylor Swift and co. don't actually show up until the very last entry, because they're entered in chronological order, so I got to read all the way from Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart before getting to the description of Taylor's "girl power" squad–and actually, I was pleasantly surprised even there: while her latest romantic hijinks aren't included (perhaps they took place after the ARCs were printed?), the possibility that her high-profile friendships are just publicity stunts or trophies is acknowledged and discussed. It's not nearly as saccharine a description as I'd thought it would be.

But honestly, Taylor Swift is more a footnote in this book than anything. The real magic comes from the rest of the friendships, many of which I knew nothing about before reading Famous Friends, that are given their own spotlights. There are fifteen completely separate friendships included in the collection, each of which get about six pages devoted to them. Every one of these full-color spreads features a plethora of full-color photos of the individuals (or at least all the individuals who lived in a time that had cameras), descriptions of the basic plot points of both of their lives, a sketching of the major moments of their friendship (when they met, how they stayed in touch, if/how they ever fell apart, etc.), and some interesting facts about one or both of the friends. My favorites chapters were probably Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini (they got in a fight because Houdini refused to agree with Doyle in the supernatural!), C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (who were also friends with Lloyd Alexander, though this book doesn't mention it), and Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (because seriously, who can't love those two?!). Some of the other friendships included in this book are Lewis and Clark, Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. All of the sections were really good, and very educational. I'm actually taking AP US History this year, a college-level course, and this little kid-oriented book still taught me some really interesting facts about people I'd already studied!

Basically, if you're interested in random facts about history or you like reading about high-profile friendships, then this is the book for you. Never mind that it's short and looks like a little kid book, its looks are definitely deceiving (they deceived me, that's for sure!). Similarly, I think this is a great book for kids–and I'm actually glad that its cover makes it so glossy and appealing to a younger audience, because that means it will be able to draw in their attention the way a more traditional historical trivia book wouldn't. Either way, if you read Famous Friends definitely let us know in the comments section below what you think!

Disclaimer: I received an unsolicited ARC of this book from the publisher.

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