Whenever I hear the word “friendship,” I’m immediately taken back to that old “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy and Ethel buy the same dress. When the mishap is discovered, the two chums sing a duet called “Friendship,” written by Cole Porter, which so brilliantly captures the connection (and sometimes angst) that can exist among friends.
Friends are the soul’s great salve. They come from different seasons of life; some stay long and others are with us for a short time. They connect over shared interests and offer a listening ear and a helping hand. They cross cultures and generations and — if we’re lucky — change our lives for the better. Friendship is such a universal experience it hardly needs explaining, and while so many books touch on this subject (middle-grade novels especially excel at these relationships), these 11 books are ideal for most 3 - 8-year-olds (and even babies).
“A Friend for Henry” (Ages 4-7)
Written by Jenn Bailey and illustrated by Mika Song
In a new classroom at the beginning of a new year, Henry is on the lookout for a friend. The goldfish or his teacher won’t do, and boisterous classmates make Henry nervous. Henry needs someone who will listen and understand him. Told with incredible expressive and empathic images, this book helps readers learn about a boy on the autism spectrum and how each individual person processes the world differently.
“Be Kind” (Ages 4-8)
Written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill
A young girl named Tanisha felt embarrassed when spilled grape juice all over her dress and all the kids laughed at her. All but one. Follow a precocious young girl as she ponders how she could have helped Tanisha in that situation and what exactly it means to be kind. With thoughtful text and welcoming images, this is one of those rare books I feel deserves a spot in every home library. I especially like the part about using people’s names as a way to foster kindness. (Related: Read about the importance behind pronouncing children’s names correctly.)
“Bikes for Sale” (Ages 4-8)
Written by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Zachariah OHora
Lotta and Maurice pedal into the park, one setting up a lemonade stand, the other collecting nature’s fallen offerings. Each live content and sunshine-filled lives, that is until things get a bit muddled and an unexpected biking accident leads to a serendipitous friendship. Some books feel like home — a familiar childhood home you long to return to — and that is absolutely the case with this two-wheeled tale. Frankly, we can never resist a book illustrated by Zachariah OHora.
“Hand-Me-Down Magic #1: Stoop Sale Treasure” (Ages 6-9)
Written by Corey Ann Haydu and illustrated by Luisa Uribe
Del and Alma are cousins and best friends. They live in the same apartment building over a family-run SecondHand Shoppe. The entire building, in fact, is home to tias, cousins, Abuelita, and the cousin’s extended family.
Each chapter is told from the perspective of Del or Alma, and black and white images scattered throughout make this new chapter book series perfect for emerging readers. I especially appreciated Del's penchant for finding magic in everyday occurrences and objects, juxtaposed with Alma's pragmatic and reflective approach to life and her love of empanadas.
“I Just Ate My Friend” (Ages 4-8)
Written and illustrated by Heidi McKinnon
A monster-like creature is on the hunt for a new friend (after disclosing that yes, in fact, it recently ate its old one). With this secret openly revealed, the yellow monster asks an assortment of creatures to be its friend. Yet everyone it encounters rejects it for one reason or another. When at last friendship has been found, the twist ending sheds insight on the strange habits of this particular creature. A short but satisfying funny read.
“Life Without Nico” (Ages 4-7)
Written by Andrea Maturana and illustrated by Francisco Olea
As best friends, Maia and Nico pass the days the way childhood friends do. But when Nico has to move because of his dad’s studies, Maia feels a heaviness she simply can’t shake. As time passes Maia finds a kitten to befriend and even finds kinship in a classmate. When Maia talks to Nico on the phone both of them discuss the new things they’ve discovered during their time apart. When Nico is set to return, Maia wonders if her heart (which has grown with newfound interests) has enough capacity to welcome back an old friend. A marvelous tale for children of all ages.
“Love You More than Anything” (Ages 3-7)
Written and illustrated by Doretta Groenendyk
“I love you more than fresh baked bread...
“I love you more than a warm fire in winter and a bubble bath after a long day…
“I love you more than a moonlit bike ride…
“In truth, I love you more than anything.”
This little-known book is such a wonderfully inclusive look at all types of different friendships (some old, some young, between the sexes and so forth). Because at the heart of every friendship lies an endearing love for one another.
“The Girls” (Ages 3-7)
Written by Lauren Ace and illustrated by Jenny Løvlie
Four best friends — Sasha, Lottie, Alice, and Leela — spend their childhood playing beneath their favorite apple tree. They strengthen their friendship as they share secrets, dreams, worries and plans. As they grow into o these young women, they each develop with a unique skill set and personality. Through the years, their adventures take them in different directions, but the girls always stick together. A book that celebrates lasting female friendships through various seasons of life.
“The Lion and the Bird” (Ages 4-6)
Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc
A lone Lion takes comfort in the routines of his day: tending to his garden, drinking tea and enjoying quiet solitude. When an injured bird appears one day, Lion tends to the creature until the days pass and the bird is well again. Throughout the summer season Bird and Lion pass their days together; however, when autumn comes the bird takes to the skies to fly south for the winter. Days pass and Lion’s sorrow for his lost friend is palpable. This slow-moving tale is still one of the tenderest stories of friendship I’ve ever encountered. In truth, Marianne Dubuc is a master at depicting childhood friendship through anthropomorphized animals.
“The More We Get Together” (Ages 3-7)
Written by Celeste Cortright and illustrated by Betania Zacarias; performed by Audra Mariel and Kena Anae
After nearly a year of being apart from loved ones and friends, sometimes it’s helpful to have a reminder of days when large gatherings were common and a hope for when they will resume again. This rousing happy-making book is both book and music, which has been on repeat in our home over the last several months. With an enclosed CD or QR code to access the music digitally, this truly is a celebratory book of the ways we interact and associate with others. “The more we get together the happier we’ll be.”
“We Disagree” (Ages 0-8)
Written and illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Mouse and Squirrel are torn between opposing interests. What one likes the other does not. What one loves, the other despises. With seemingly endless ways to disagree, will these two creatures ever find common ground? A wonderful way to introduce politics and civil disagreements to young children.