an exploration of what it means to be a friend—for good or ill

by Timo Parvela, illustrated by Virpi Talvitie – Gecko Press, 2016
ages 4 to 12 years / chapter books, emotional resilience, funny

Friendships are seldom perfect, especially when the friends are new to forming and maintaining relationships outside their immediate family. 

Purdy (the cat) and Barker (the dog) have a solid but anguished sort of friendship. 

It’s the sort of friendship that will be instantly recognisable to many kids and their parents (or teachers).

Purdy and Barker live together in a charming little blue house on top of a hill, and in Bicycling to the Moon we follow them through a year of adventures and arguments.

Purdy is a thrill seeker.  He joys in creativity and adventure. He’s also self-absorbed and irresponsible:

'Purdy certainly could be lazy and comfort-loving but, when he badly wanted to do something, he could also be very determined.'

Barker, by way of contrast, is steady and hard working.  He’s irascible sometimes and occasionally manipulative. But he can always be counted on to get the work done and he has a soft spot for Purdy and his wild dreams:

'Barker believed that hard work pays off. He also believed that all’s well that ends well; a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; if you set a trap for others, you’ll fall into it yourself; the early bird catches the worm; and a hidden bone is the best bone. He’d come up with that last proverb himself.'

There are twenty chapters in this book and each one is a nice bedtime-reading length. (Also there’s a proper Table of Contents, which is a bit of a thrill when you’re just embarking on the world of chapter books.)

Aside from being an enjoyable read-aloud book and a great early reader, Bicycling to the Moon is wonderful for:

Examining friendships and recognising that they are seldom smooth sailing all the time. Purdy and Barker embark on an all-out tomato throwing war in ‘The Great Tomato War’. It all starts with a couple of misunderstandings and ends with hesitant apologies, lingering annoyance and finally reconciliation.

Talking about gossip. Purdy is a gossipy cat and worries constantly what others will think of him. When Purdy and some friends exclude Winky Pig because they think she is getting too full of herself, Barker saves the day by talking to Winky and discovering it’s Winky’s birthday. Meanwhile Purdy and friends are shut inside, feeling miserable. It’s a succinct and pointed lesson in being kind and inclusive.

Talking about how friends can lift and help each other. Purdy and Barker have many occasions when they are just plain mean to each other, but they contrast strongly with those times when they are kind and thoughtful.

Each of the chapters takes Purdy and Barker on another adventure – and inevitably another conflict! Some they deal with beautifully, some remain unresolved, some fester. Which is quite often the way of friendships. 

Following Purdy and Barker as they navigate their way through their challenging friendship can be confrontational: 

Can we enjoy Purdy for all his enthusiasm and his big dreams and still love Barker for his constancy and quiet in the eye of a storm

Can we love them both in spite of their glaring character flaws?

Navigating these tricky questions can help when we must deal with similar real-life issues.

There's an especially charming end to this book – Purdy and Barker sit together at the end of the year which began with Purdy’s wild idea of bicycling to the moon, thinking about their adventures and their future. And they loftily think about the passage of time and their place in the world:

“Let me guess how it ends,” Purdy said. “Underneath that apple tree there’ll be a cat and a dog. They’ll drink juice and they’ll be best friends.”

“Yes. Except, that’s not the end, it’s the beginning.”

Bicycling to the Moon is an off-beat tale filled with life-questions and life-lessons. It’s great for talking about the complexities of friendship and for considering the type of friend we want to be and have.

P.S. Depending on the situation, this could also be a useful book for talking about bullying. Both Purdy and Barker bully the other once in a while but it’s usually very subtle, as bullying often is. Purdy and Barker are both loveable, the friendship is real, but so is the bullying - making this a great book for leading into a conversation about subtle-bullying.

You can buy Bicycling To The Moon via these direct links: AmazonBook Depository - Booktopia

You might also like to browse these books from our friendship theme.

Names in this book - Purdy, Barker, Henny, Daisy, Martha, Connie