This week’s Booktober list celebrates all types of friendship in picture books. One of the most wonderful thing about children is they can make friends with anyone. Things that may be barriers for adults, such as whether the friend is actually a person at all, are not a problem for kids. These books about friendship look at that innocent joy.
1. Corduroy by Don Freeman
I remember absolutely loving this book as a kid. It really made me feel something. My heart ached for both Corduroy and the little girl when her mum said she couldn’t have him because he was missing a button. My heart leaped with joy when she came back for him the next day. I still feel like that when I’m reading it now, and I see those same emotions reflected on Pickles’ face as we read it together.
Corduroy thinks he needs to find his missing button in order for Lisa to accept him as a friend. He is desolate when he can’t find one. But in the end, she comes back for him anyway:
“You must be a friend,” said Corduroy. “I’ve always wanted a friend.”
“Me too!” said Lisa, and gave him a big hug.
Pickles always insists on having a big hug himself after this heartwarming ending. I love that it shows the friendship between a child and a teddy bear. I told everything to my teddy bears when I was little. Pickles already refers to the massive pile of stuffed animals that he keeps on his bed collectively as his friends. He loves this story and I still do too.
2. The Very Itchy Bear by Nick Bland
Last week in my Top 7 Books in Rhyme I included The Very Cranky Bear, so I wasn’t sure whether or not to include his itchy self in this list. I couldn’t go passed it though. The friendship between a bear and a flea is a very special friendship indeed.
Flea bites Bear to say hello. Despite the friendliness of the motivation, Bear is not impressed. He doesn’t much like being bitten. So he jumps into the water and flicks Flea off of his fur. But he realises that he is better off with Flea in his life just in time to save him from a hungry bird.
The ending is the greatest. There is a picture of the big Bear reading a book to the tiny Flea. The text reads:
This is Flea
and this is Bear.
Together they go everywhere.
It’s great for opening up a discussion about how our friends don’t need to look like us. Sometimes you can find friendship in the most unexpected places.
The book has Nick Bland’s characteristically wonderful rhyming style, and fantastic, funny, bright pictures. We always love this bear.
3. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
This book makes me choke up a bit every time I read it. One time when I was reading it to Pickles and pregnant with Pords, the hormones and sentiment got to me and I sobbed to my husband: “That’s me. I’m the tree.”
The Giving Tree tells the story of a boy and a tree. When the boy is young, he spends all his free time with the tree. The tree loved the boy and gave him everything of itself. As time goes by, the boy grows and spends less and less time with the tree. But the tree goes on loving the boy and giving everything it has to make the boy happy. His happiness is the tree’s happiness.
The pictures and text of this book are simple but everything about it is beautiful. Of course the story can be a metaphor for many relationships, but at its essence I also love the fact that it tells the story of a friendship between a boy and a tree. It is a pure, joyful friendship. I hope that my children are able to find friends in nature too.
This book is a true classic. If you’ve never read it, stop reading this right now, go to the library and borrow it! You won’t regret it.
4. Slinky Malinki Catflaps by Lynley Dodd
Slinky Malinki is one of the recurring cat characters in Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary universe and a particular favourite in our cat-loving household.
In this book, Slinky Malinki squeezes out of the catflap and calls out into the night to see who is about. Various friends appear from around the place and they have a good old catch up, until the villainous Scarface Claw (Pickles’ hero) comes to spoil the party.
I love the description of the group of cat friends “hobnobbing happily, ten in a row.” The cats are all different shapes and sizes and colours, but they are just content sitting in one another’s company. It gives you that feeling of what it’s like to catch up with a group of good friends.
Like all of Lynley Dodd’s books, this is an excellent read-aloud rhyme and the pictures are playful and attractive.
5. Little Pip and the Rainbow Wish by Elizabeth Baguley and Caroline Pedler
When I was pregnant with Pickles, my husband and I referred to him as “Pip” and we often still use it as his nickname. So when we saw this book, we just had to get it. He has always loved that the mouse has his name. He loves it even more at the moment because there are dandelions in it and he is going through a dandelion picking phase. So it’s on high reading rotation at our place.
This book is especially good for shy kids; kids who tend to stand at the edges of things for fear of rejection. Little Pip thinks he needs to capture the rainbow in order for Milly and Spike to be his friends, but in trying and failing to catch it alongside them, he realises that they are his friends even without the rainbow.
It’s also a good book for talking about feelings. There are good visual prompts to ask your child how Pip is feeling at various times as his emotions change. You can talk about how it feels to be excluded or included. You can talk about your child’s own experience with friendships, exclusion, or inclusion.
The pictures are delightful, and there are shiny, shimmery bits in this book that kids just love. The night sky on the last page is particularly impressive and I love the line: “the night sky burst into a brilliant sparkling of stars.”
6. Friends by Helen Oxenbury
I’ve often said on this blog that books with minimal text, or no words at all, are often the best books for young children. That’s what the research tends to suggest. It’s also what I’ve found personally when reading to my two little ones. Often when there is too much text, we just ignore it anyway and make up our own stories (the exception always being rhyme, of which I can never get enough!)
This book by the very talented Helen Oxenbury is a picture book in it’s purest form; it only has pictures. This means when I “read it” to my kids, the stories I tell and the discussions we have are almost always linked to their own lives. This is great for their learning and development. It is also great for the ongoing building of our relationship and bonding.
The book is a series of illustrations of a baby with various animal friends. I love to talk to my children about how they can develop friendships with animals. We talk about the qualities that an animal might have that would make them a good friend.
The pictures are absolutely the gorgeous. The baby is so happy and relaxed around the animals. The expression on the animals faces is sometimes slightly more alarmed but they all go along with him hugging them, or picking them up. I particularly love the expression on the cat’s face as the baby falls asleep against its fur.
This book is really just a delight.
7. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and William Nicholson
To balance out the wordless book, I’m including this one which has lots more words than the other books on the list. But it is a great one for showing the power of strong friendship.
Like Corduroy, it shows the love between a child and a stuffed toy. The little boy loves the velveteen rabbit ferociously. They do everything together. When the boy gets very ill, the rabbit is of great comfort to him, but the child’s doctor says he must be disposed of when the boy is well. All ends happily for the rabbit though, as the friendship between he and the boy mean that he can now be a real rabbit.
“Wasn’t I Real before?” asked the little Rabbit.
“You were Real to the Boy,” the Fairy said, “because he loved you. Now you shall be Real to every one.”
There are parts of this book that are quite sad, but it is a great one for talking about unconditional love and friendship.
So that’s my seven for this week. But it would be remiss of me not to add in The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne. I have read bits of this to my kids at various times of their life, but we haven’t managed to get the whole way through yet as it is still a bit long. That’s why it’s not in the list, but I’m looking forward to them being old enough to appreciate the perfect friendship between Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin.
What other books would you add to the list? What is your favourite literary friendship?