It takes time for kids to understand not only the nuances of creating friendships but also the bigger picture about how to be a friend. Picture books are such a powerful tool and the books below are a mix of how to be a friend and how not to . Cautionary tales are great for preschool aged kids because they are such firm promoters of justice and will often tell you why a character shouldn’t do something before you can spark the discussion yourself. If you have a favorite picture book about friendship we haven’t reviewed please share the title and why you love it in the comments for us and other readers to learn more about it.
Bob and Otto by Robert O. Bruel is a lovely story about 2 friends who must part ways. In this case because one is a caterpillar who needs to build a chrysalis. The other is an earthworm who needs to dig deep into the ground. What I like about this book is that it goes on to explain that the earth worm’s digging is vital for the trees to grow so that the caterpillar can eat the leaves and turn into a butterfly. I like the lesson about how we all play a part!
Pink Tiara Cookies For Three by Maria Dismondy is a story I think most of us can relate to . It’s about two best friends whose friendship is challenged when another little girl is welcomed by one friend and not by the other. I know as a young girl I dealt with this and it was heartbreaking. Now as a mom I watch my son and his two closest friends deal with this often. The author does a beautiful job at recognizing the feelings of rejection, loneliness, and anger that children feel when this happens. The little girls in the story are probably a little more capable of expressing themselves than our children but that makes this book even more important.
As my son and I read it today we took a lot of breaks for me to ask if he’d ever felt like any of the characters and that got him talking, relating and connecting not only to one side of the issue but to both. Oh and please don’t think it’s a girly book, it’s not my son loved it. His exact words were “This would be really good for teachers to read to classes.” I agree.
Best Friends (Owen And Mzee) by Isabella and Craig Hatkoff is a board book with real photographs of the friendship of orphaned baby hippo and his 130-year-old adoptive tortoise named Mzee. The text is simple and perfect for toddlers, although older children will better understand how amazing the story is. There are so many learning opportunities between these pages from the Tsunami, to learning about hippos and tortoises. The real lesson though is about friendship and I like that it shows animals being affectionate, something rare to see and something that can help foster a true appreciation for animals in young kids.
Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated) by Florence Parry Heide is such a fantastic ( and funny) fairytale about a little princess who has a very odd problem. She can’t keep her feet on the ground so her parents worried that she will literally float away weigh her down. The problem with being weighed down is that she can’t be herself and one day when she is set free to float she discovers that that is who she is. The only problem left is how does she get down? Luckily a little boy with a big heart and a kite comes to help. He’s not a rescuer coming to fix everything simply a true friend helping. I love this book and the messages of breaking free from your limitations and of being yourself while staying connected to those you love.
Duck, Duck, Goose by Tad Hills is a story about friendship and what happens when a twosome adds another person (or duck) into the mix. The message is similar to the Maria Dismondy book above but is broken down for younger readers. The author brings these characters emotions to life and children will be able to relate to Goose’s feelings for sure. Cute book for young kids just starting to navigate the complex paths of friendship.
The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers is a moving story about a boy, a martian and the moon they were both stuck on. Together they figure out a way to get back home even though they are so sad to say goodbye to each other. I love this author. I love his illustrations as well. They are so unique and the emotion he manages to convey is amazing. There is an illustration of the boy and martian standing awkwardly before they have to say goodbye and it embodies the emotion. Grab anything written by this author and you will be happy!
Fish Is Fish by Leo Lionni is a cute book that not only talks about friendship but it also explains the transformation of a tadpole into a frog in an entertaining way. I have used this book in classrooms while doing animal life cycles and kids always love how the fish in the book imagines people as fish with legs! I enjoy the message of friendship, as well. It is a great message about change and the way friendships if true can withstand change. That makes it one of the best picture books about friendships to share.
The Little Red Hen by Lucinda McQueen is another easy to read folktale that you are probably familiar with. It’s such a great opportunity to talk about helping friends, doing your share and not being lazy! As you may remember Little Red Hen worked so hard and her friends didn’t lift a finger, yet were eager to reap the rewards of her hard work. You don’t get to be lazy and entitled! This is a bedtime favorite for my 2-year-old daughter right now and we are using it to talk about being kind to friends and doing your share.
Moon Rabbit by Natalie Russel is a calm, beautiful book about two rabbits who find each other and become great friends even though they are from different places. White Rabbit is a city rabbit and loves her urban home but is called away by the longing for company. She finds it in a park with Brown Rabbit who is wonderful and plays beautiful music. There is just one glitch White Rabbit misses the city. I loved this book, my son liked it too but it almost made me cry.
My husband and I are from different countries. Long-distance relationships are so hard, I wanted to jump in the book and tell White Rabbit that. I had to restrain myself from saying “The pressure will be too much. The limited time will make them argue and fight”. When my son pointed out that I shouldn’t be sad that White Rabbit leaves the park and goes home because he comes for a visit in the end. But if ever I projected my own experience onto a book it was this, wow. It really is a sweet tale about friends who can be friends despite physical distance. Oh, and the illustrations, they are the very definition of springtime. Lovely.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. This book makes me incredibly sad. I don’t like how horrid the boy is to the tree, how spineless the tree is. See, I never saw it as a lesson in giving like so many do but a lesson in taking. I read it to my son and we talked. We had a great talk about taking advantage of those who love us, and how it hurts everyone. Yes, I don’t like this book but it is useful. It can be a great tool for teaching children about what makes a bad friend. I have never hidden that I don’t like this book because it’s so sad but that as a lesson it’s worth the sad story.
Amos & Boris by William Steig is a touching story about the power of an unlikely friendship and helping others. Boris the whale rescued Amos the mouse when he goes overboard in the middle of the ocean. After the rescue they develop a tender friendship despite their obvious differences. Then they go on their separate ways with full hearts. Many years later though it is Amos’ turn to rescue Boris. We are all reminded that size does not equal the ability to help a friend.
My Friend the Monster by Elanor Taylor is a sweet and not at all scary look at a friendship between a little fox and the monster who lives under his bed. The monster was left behind by a previous owner of the house that the little fox moves into. This is a sad monster but with a little time and patience the monster and the little fox make new friends and all is well. The monster even gets his own bed in the little fox’s bedroom so he doesn’t have to live under the bed anymore.
Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend is hilarious! I laughed from start to finish. My son who was 18 months old didn’t get the humor at all but laughed at me laughing! Older preschoolers will get most of the humor though and like my son, will love the pictures! Here is my favorite line: in very small print on the inside cover it reads “* Caution: this story not suitable for walruses”. Oh, how I laughed! The dry humor aside, the book follows an anxious squirrel looking for a friend. One that is safe and won’t bite! Of course, the message is about taking risks and kids will get it! I love picture books about friendship like this one!
Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson is such a heartwarming story about friendship. Bear is hibernating but his friends wake him up to celebrate Christmas. It’s not easy at first, as Bear is super sleepy. He wants nothing more than to cuddle back up and fall back to sleep. They get a tree, decorate it, hang their stockings and sing carols. When all the other animals snuggle in and go to sleep Bear stays up. He is busily making gifts for all his friends. In fact, he is so busy he doesn’t even notice Santa coming and filling the stockings. He delights in the friendship. His friends present him with a lovely quilt. He snuggles under and goes back to sleep happy and filled with friendship. This is such a wonderful book, I love its focus on friendship and the excitement of giving gifts!
The Boy Who Grew Flowers by Jennifer Wojtowicz is one of those books that stays with you. Rink is a little boy whose family is strange. Rink is no exception. With every full moon, he sprouts flowers, from his head. At school he is an outsider and only when a new girl comes to school does he make a friend. He reaches out to her because she too is an outsider, not at school, in her own family. In the end, the kindred spirits celebrate their uniqueness. This odd romantic story will warm your heart. It serves as a great lesson about how we all feel different and like an outsider sometimes. The illustrations by Steve Adams in these picture books about friendship will stun you. They were so vibrant and paired so perfectly with the story. Wonderful!
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