Beekle: An Imaginary Friend in Search of a Child

A beautifully illustrated exploration of courage, perseverance, and eternal friendship.


“Whosoever is delighted in solitude,” quipped Francis Bacon, “is either a wild beast or a god.” It’s an observation that speaks to the fact that our deep, universal desire for companionship and connection can feel overwhelming, especially when we’re lonely. We feel slighted when others ignore our overtures of friendship, but if we persevere and continue reaching out to others, we may eventually be rewarded with the ultimate gift of lifelong friendship.

This is the challenge facing Beekle, the main character in The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (public library), a children’s book by Dan Santat about an imaginary friend who is overlooked by children again and again. In the story, imaginary friends are born on an island where they wait to be imagined by children. Once imagined, they’re magically transported to the real world to join their new human friends.

Unfortunately, nobody imagines Beekle. He eventually takes matters into his own hands: he courageously starts looking for a friend himself. It’s an incredibly beautiful journey with a touching ending.

He was born on an island far away where imaginary friends were created. Here, they lived and played, each eagerly waiting to be imagined by a real child.

Every night he stood under the stars, hoping for his turn to be picked by a child and given a special name. He waited for many nights. But his turn never came.

Artwork from the book Beekle by Dan Santat

Artwork from the book Beekle by Dan Santat

Artwork from the book Beekle by Dan Santat

Beekle decides to do “the unimaginable” and leave the island in search of his friend. He builds a boat and sails across the sea to “the real world,” which is portrayed in the book as a dark, dreary place. The juxtaposition between the real world and the children’s world is striking and, for adult readers who inhabit “the real world,” maybe a little too realistic and depressing.

Artwork from the book Beekle by Dan Santat

Artwork from the book Beekle by Dan Santat

The real world is strange. Beekle eventually finds a playground full of children, but he still can’t find his friend. Finally, after climbing to the top of a tree, he meets the girl who eventually becomes his friend. She calls him “Beekle,” and the two of them start having adventures together.

At first, they weren’t sure what to do. Neither of them had made a friend before. But… after a little while they realized they were perfect together.

Beekle and Alice had many new adventures. They shared their snacks. They told funny jokes.

The world began to feel a little less strange.

And together they did the unimaginable.

Artwork from the book Beekle by Dan Santat

Artwork from the book Beekle by Dan Santat

In an interview, Santat explained where the name “Beekle” came from, and how he came up with the idea for the story.

The name ‘Beekle’ was actually my oldest son’s first word for ‘bicycle.’ My wife thought it was a cute name for a book character and so I kept it in the back of my mind for years. When I finally found the time to write the story I had this idea about an imaginary friend who was already born on an island where imaginary friends were born but had to wait to be imagined. I always thought it was interesting to explore the thoughts of an imaginary friend waiting to meet their friend because, when you look at the whole situation, you realize that they don’t have a choice in the matter. They’re a utility to serve the purpose of a child’s needs.

Later in the interview, Santat says that he believes the story is a metaphor for the birth of his son.

To me, the story is a metaphor about the birth of my son. There’s the initial anxiety of being a first-time father realizing that there is this inevitable destiny of meeting this new person but knowing you’ll love them unconditionally without having ever met. Then the imagination becomes a reality when you finally hold your child in your arms for the first time, and that’s when your imaginary friend gets his name, Beekle.

Winner of the prestigious Caldecott Medal, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend is destined to become a timeless classic. Complement with Rude Cakes, a hilarious children’s book that uses humor to talk about bad behavior, then revisit Mr. Meebles, Jack Kent’s story about an imaginary friend whose biggest worry is being forgotten.

Mr. Meebles: The Classic Children’s Book About an Imaginary Friend Who Fears Being Forgotten

“You’re just an idea, and an idea doesn’t exist unless somebody has it.”

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” Albert Einstein once observed, “for knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” The tension between imagination and knowledge is palpable in Mr. Meebles (public library), a delightful and conceptually ingenious children’s book written and illustrated by Jack Kent.

The book chiefly concerns imaginary friends, an age-old phenomenon in which children create friendships with companions that exist only in their imaginations. According to Dr. Larry Kutner, a psychologist who served nearly 20 years on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, 65 percent of children have imaginary friends. Dr. Kutner says that parents shouldn’t be alarmed by the fact that their children have imaginary friends.

Imaginary companions are an integral part of many children’s lives. They provide comfort in times of stress, companionship when they’re lonely, someone to boss around when they feel powerless, and someone to blame for the broken lamp in the living room. Most important, an imaginary companion is a tool young children use to help them make sense of the adult world.

Mr. Meebles acknowledges imaginary friends and provides validation to young readers who have experienced the phenomenon themselves, all while delicately suggesting that imaginary friends might someday be forgotten.

The hero of the story is Donald, a boy who has an imaginary friend named Mr. Meebles. Donald and Mr. Meebles have lots of adventures when Donald has time to daydream, but from the start Mr. Meebles expresses concern over the fact that he’s only make-believe.

Mr. Meebles was a very short man with a very tall hat and a very big problem. Mr. Meebles’ problem was that he was only make-believe. A little boy named Donald had imagined him one day when he didn’t have anything else to do.

Artwork from the book Mr. Meebles

Together, Donald and Mr. Meeble tackle the stuff daydreams are made of: things like dragons, pirates, and outlaws. But one day a profound thought occurs to Donald’s imaginary friend: What happens when Donald doesn’t think about him?

One day, while they were having an adventure full of pirates and parrots and pieces of eight, Mr. Meebles asked Donald, ‘Where am I when you don’t think about me?’

‘Why, nowhere, I guess,’ said Donald. ‘You’re just an idea, and an idea doesn’t exist unless somebody has it.’

Artwork from the book Mr. Meebles

As Donald grows increasingly preoccupied with school and chores, he has less and less time for daydreaming. Mr. Meebles expresses concern at this and asks about what would happen to him if Donald never thought about him.

‘That’s what bothers me,’ said Mr. Meebles. ‘What if you never thought about me at all?’

‘But I DO think about you,’ said Donald.

‘Not as much as you used to,’ said Mr. Meebles.

This was true. Donald was going to school now. He didn’t have much time for make-believe anymore.

Artwork from the book Mr. Meebles

Donald assures Mr. Meebles that he won’t forget about him. He comes up with an ingenious plan for remembering his imaginary friend day and after day.

‘I promise to think about you often, Mr. Meebles,’ said Donald. ‘I’ll write a note so I won’t forget. Whenever I have an idea I want to remember, I write it down,’ he said. This reminded Donald that he had some spelling homework to do.

Things don’t go quite according to plan, however, and Mr. Meebles has to take things into his own hands. The surprise ending will delight readers.

Artwork from the book Mr. Meebles

The book’s gentle approach is perfect for parents of children with imaginary friends. According to Dr. Kutner, children already know that their imaginary friends aren’t real, and parents shouldn’t push their children too hard in either direction.

Don’t insist that your child admit that his imaginary companion doesn’t really exist. Rest assured that he knows that. In fact, if you push your child too hard in the other direction, treating his invisible friend as if you truly believed he did exist, your child will probably become upset, and perhaps a bit frightened.

Mr. Meebles is out of print, but parents lucky enough to find this book used will be in for a treat. Children won’t soon forget this touching story of an imaginary friend whose biggest worry is about being forgotten. Complement it with Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport, a wonderful children’s book about dealing with changes and stereotypes.