Inside: These engaging books will give your kids useful information about developing and maintaining friendships as well as growing their social play skills.
For better or worse, we are not born knowing how to share, make amends, take turns, compromise, choose good friends, or be good listeners. We learn those things as we go through life from families, teachers, peers, and of course, from good books.
When it comes to picture books about friendship, there’s an overwhelming choice of titles. Here’s a more manageable list of books that we find the most inspiring and interesting.
The Best Books About Friendships
The Cake, Dorothee de Monfreid
Finding a compromise can be complicated under the best of circumstances. It gets even more problematic in a larger group of friends. When Tiger suggests making a cake, his friends agree. But when it comes to deciding what kind of cake, everyone has their own personal favorites. “A carrot cake,” says Bunny. “A bone cake,” says Bulldog. “A fish cake,” says Teddy Bear. “A banana cake,” says Monkey.
Is making a bone-banana-carrot-and-fish cake a good compromise? The story ends with an impressive temper tantrum, but it offers a great opportunity to talk with your kids about How can we compromise so everyone gets most of what’s important to them?
All my kids love this strikingly illustrated book, especially my boys. It’s set in lovely cursive, and my six-year-old loves to copy the pages in his notebook.
Bigger Than You, Hyewon Kyung
The dinosaur kids in this story all want to be the best, biggest, scariest, and most wonderful. While a bit of competitive spirit on the playground is ok, it can sometimes lead to conflict. Good thing smart dinosaur parents are around to intervene and to teach good play skills. In my house, this book is requested over and over again. The minimalist text and illustrations are elegant and easy on the eyes.
Tilly & Tank, Jan Fleck
It looks like Tilly (a friendly elephant) and a tank (yes, a heavily armored fighting vehicle) are both open to the idea of making a new friend. But first, they’re going to have to get through the tricky stage of understanding each other’s signals and making introductions. Your kids will love Tilly’s awkward advances and Tank’s loud explosions. It’s incredibly original and a great book to talk with kids about finding common ground despite serious differences in appearance and character. Digital illustrations have a strong 60s vibe and appeal to kids’ love of vibrant colors.
Not Friends, Rebecca Bender
This story is about a bird and a giraffe who have difficulty getting along. They invade each other’s personal space, annoy each other, and have few kind words to share. But when a seriously scary storm hits the area, they realize that they need each other. Kids might take different things from the story, but I would stress the idea that you cannot change people – your friends and family members can have bad habits or act selfishly – but don’t let that ruin your happiness. The fact is we can’t control other people, but we can always choose how we react to them.
Fox + Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories, Sergio Ruzzier
If you’ve already read every Elephant and Piggie book with your kids and wish there were more, you will be delighted to discover Fox + Chick. Written in a comic book style with action-packed drawings and speech bubbles, the series follows the adventures of two unlikely friends – a philosophical fox and a flustered chick. They don’t always (if ever?) agree, but their friendship is remarkable and a great lesson on the importance of flexibility in personal relationships.
When a Wolf Is Hungry, Christine Naumann-Villemin
Suspense, adventure, and humor abound in this tale of a lonely wolf. The wolf is hungry and wants to eat a rabbit, but the overly friendly tenants of an apartment building where the rabbit lives keep frustrating his plans.
Luckily, something exciting happens to inspire a transformation that takes the wolf from wild to vegetarian and earns him a bunch of friends in the bargain. Idioms such as “lying through his teeth” and charming colloquialisms like “pedal home lickety-split” make this story fun to read. And the unique illustrations are wildly memorable.
Bird Child, Nan Forler
Eliza, a young girl, faces a difficult moral decision: stand up to school bullies to defend a new girl (and likely become bullies’ next victim) or do what everybody else does and look the other way.
With the help of her mom, Eliza finds the courage to speak up, and her bold move encourages many other children to take a stance against bullying. Although it all turns out well, one of my children got rather upset about the bullying incident that takes place in the book, so make sure you look over the story beforehand to see if it’s a good fit for your kids. The unusual mixed-media illustrations inspired an art session at my house.
Best Friends, Steven Kellogg
It can be tough when your best friend is having the best summer vacation ever while you sit at home bored and lonely. And things get worse when that same friend comes back and ends up taking the only puppy in the litter when you were supposed to be the one to get it! Can these two friends find a way back to being best friends? Bright and expressive drawings by one of our favorite authors-illustrators add drama and enhance the story.
Babushka Baba Yaga, Patricia Polacco
Baba Yaga is old, wrinkled, and scary-looking. The village people make up nasty stories about her and keep their children away. But all Baba Yaga wants is a few friends.
It’s a longer kind of picture book, but it has a beautiful message. Don’t be too quick to judge people, and don’t be too quick to write them off. The world is full of amazing people who have the potential to become your friends if you open your mind and give them a chance. The classical Polacco drawings are, as always, a sumptuous treat.
Related: a fantastic collection of picture books about Russia, Baby Yaga, and other cultural symbols.
Ebenezer Has a Word for Everything, Chelsea Rowe
Ebenezer has a weird hobby: he collects words. Every time he discovers a new word, he writes it down in his Word Book. He writes words like catastrophe, linguine, and impostor. But it’s not at all easy for him to find someone to share his passion with.
This is a sweet book to remind kids that no matter how different, weird, or disconnected they feel at times, they’re not alone. Somewhere just around the corner, there is the right person who gets a kick out of the same things as you.
Stick and Stone, Beth Ferry
Stick and Stone is absolutely amazing. We love the friendship story, the page-turning rhymes, and Tom Lichtenheld’s expressive pen and watercolor drawings. “Gee, you stuck up for me!” “That’s just what sticks do. Friends do it too.” It’s impossible not to be moved by this inspirational story about making friends, losing friends, and looking out for each other. It’s a must-read for all ages.
How to Be a Lion, Ed Vere
When a lion finds an unlikely friend in a duck, the other lions roar in disapproval. How can a duck be a friend to a lion? Ducks are lions’ food! Be honest with your kids, the pressure to conform can be hard to resist (even for adults) because we all want to belong to a group we identify with. But we need to be determined and decide for ourselves what the right thing to do is for us. The lion in this story finds the courage to think for himself, even if it makes him the odd one out with his peers. The dramatic orange drawings are really remarkable.
Sealed with the Kiss, Beth Ferry
Seal is a new addition to the national zoo, and can’t wait to make new friends. Unfortunately, she is unaware of the effect her smelly sardine breath has on all the animals, that is, until Snow Leopard states, “You stink!” This begs the question, is honesty always the best policy? And also, can we forgive and be kind and polite towards our friends who occasionally have bad manners or inadvertently say hurtful words? This funny story makes a good case for developing empathy, making amends, and forgiving.
Brothers Are for Making Mud Pies, Harriet Ziefert
Of course, we need to talk about siblings because sometimes (often?) your best friend is your brother. There’s so much you can do together. You can build a snowman, make faces, and play pirates. However, when you are eating a cookie, your brother will want some too. What should you do? This is a cheery little lift-the-flap book that celebrates friendships and sets siblings up to enjoy each other’s company.
Related: a wonderful collection of books for siblings about siblings gathered with the focus on fostering positive relationships among siblings
Pig the Pug, Aaron Blabey
“I know what your game is, you want me to share! But I’ll never do that! I won’t and I swear!” Pig’s corner is bursting with toys, but when his pal Trevor wants to play together, Pig flips out. Sharing is tricky, but let your kids draw their own conclusions from the misadventures of an ill-tempered, selfish, unreasonable, and rude dog by the name of Pig. The ridiculous exaggeration, humorous illustrations, and rhyming narration all combine to create a highly entertaining read.
Lovabye Dragon, Barbara Joosse
A lonely princess wants to have a dragon for a friend, and a dragon dreams of a girl for a friend, and one day they meet. It’s a lovely story about friendship and an affirmation that you can have friends of all kinds. My kids love this sweet book, but not as much as I do. It has an aura of musicality I associate with Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven, that I used to know by heart. “…and the princess and the dragon were lonely nevermore, nevermore.” Wonderfully cadenced rhyming, fantastic oil paintings, and clever wordplay make it highly enjoyable to read aloud.
Strictly No Elephants, Lisa Mantchev
This is one of our favorites! A young boy discovers that he is not welcome simply because he has an unusual pet. The drawing of a boy with his pet elephant taking a lonely stroll in the pouring rain will surely tug at your heartstrings. When this boy meets another person who was turned out of the Pet Club because of an unusual pet, they decide to start their own club where everyone is welcomed. It’s a wonderful story about inclusion and how our lives can be richer for a variety of friends and perspectives. Expressive and colorful illustrations are delightful.
Ribbit, Rodrigo Folgueira
This is a super adorable book about a little pink pig who sits on a rock and says “ribbit.” The pond frogs are utterly confused. What’s he saying? Is he making fun of them? They go to an old beetle for advice and learn that the pig was just trying to make friends with them. By the time they figure that out, the pig is gone. Or is he?
There are so many wonderful lessons and layers in this story. Give people second chances. If you want to connect with someone, do it on their terms. Also, sometimes you might be rejected, but you’re strong enough to stand alone and try again when you’re ready. It might be one of the best books on friendships we have ever read.