"Out of Nowhere" by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros (Simon & Schuster, March 9), 4-8 years, 40 pages, $19.77 hardback
STORY: A spiky gray beetle lives on the Big Rock — a bare ledge overlooking a vast gray forest. He is our narrator. He used to have a friend, a red caterpillar. She arrived out of nowhere one day. They ate picnics, and every night they watched the moon rise.
One morning, the caterpillar was gone.
Readers can see a red chrysalis strung below the ledge, but Beetle couldn't. He was bereft. Looking everywhere for his friend, he spotted something red far away in the forest and decided it must be her. She must be lost.
He says he looks strong with his shell and spiky horns, but "the truth is sometimes ... I don't feel very strong at all. But if I wanted to find my friend, I'd just have to pretend." Shouldering his picnic basket, he set out.
For courage, he sang: "I'm a beetle and don't you know, I'm not afraid of a hungry crow. Yes, I'm a beetle and can't you see, fearsome frogs don't frighten me." A crow and a frog gave him the side eye, but they left him alone.
He survived his epic trek only to find the red thing was not his friend. "I was tired," he says. So he sat down to eat a sad picnic.
Older kids will guess at once that the caterpillar is inside the chrysalis, will emerge, and that the friends will be reunited in the forest. But the manner of their reunion makes a sweet point about enduring friendship.
Friendship might come out of nowhere, but it can last forever.
This dramatically illustrated tale was first published in London by Nosy Crow.
Read to Me is a weekly review of short books.