Fred Stays with Me

This deceptively modest picture book, Fred Stays with Me, is on the surface a straightforward account of a girl and her divorced parents, who share custody. As our self-confident heroine strides across the cover, we are cued from the very beginning that this not your typical bibliotherapy title She is swinging her overnight satchel in one hand, with the fingertips of the other hand trailing behind, securely tucked under her dog’s chin. Tricia Tusa’s whimsical watercolors bathe this optimistic child in warm sepia tones that perfectly balance Coffelt’s strong declarative sentences. “Sometimes I live with my mom. Sometimes I live with my dad. But Fred stays with me,” says our protagonist. Tusa has created an old-fashioned world with a timeless style of overalls and petticoats, of farmhouse kitchens and tree-hung swings. Fred, a round-bottomed, expressive canine of indeterminate parentage, misbehaves at both of her homes. At her dad’s house, Fred steals his socks. At her mom’s, he barks uncontrollably at the poodle next door. Both parents are exasperated. These moments of drama contrast with the companions’ time together. The very next scene is a pastoral double-page spread in which we observe the little girl and her dog from behind as they perch on a boulder. She states, “Fred is my friend. We walk together. We talk together. When I am happy, Fred is too. And when I’m sad, Fred is there.” As conflict with Fred escalates in both homes, Mom declares, “Fred can’t stay with me!” Her father says, “Fred can’t stay with me!” “Excuse me,” says the little girl, “Fred doesn’t stay with either of you. Fred stays with ME!” –