Friends and friendship groups are an incredibly important part of any primary-schooler’s life. And it’s in the infant and primary school years that we learn the fundamentals of what it takes to be a ‘good’ friend.
What role can books play in ‘making friends’?
Reading fiction can help to develop empathy in children – an important part of building friendships.
Children’s novels which feature strong friendships can also provide a model of ‘how’ to be a friend, and inspire kids with what can be achieved through friendship. (Sometimes novels also remind us about the hurt that can be caused by ‘bad’ friends.)
Recently we ran a competition on our Facebook page asking readers ‘What’s your favourite children’s story about friendship, and why?’.
We received such wonderfully passionate and moving responses! So many of us still carry the great fictional friendships we read about as kids in our hearts, and continue to be inspired and touched by them.
Here are some of our readers’ suggestions, along with some from the Better Reading team.
Click on the titles or cover images below for more information about each book.
The classic story of Charlotte the spider, Wilbur the pig and the other farmyard animals focuses on kindness, loyalty, trust and how friends can help us solve problems. It’s heartbreakingly sad towards the end, but leaves readers understanding that close friendships will continue to influence us throughout our lives.
One of our favourite children’s book quotes comes from Charlotte’s Web:
“‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’”
We count this wonderful novel – about Auggie, a fifth-grader who was born with facial abnormalities and is starting mainstream school for the first time – a must-read for pretty much every child of around eleven.
Ten-year-old Ruby and her Mum told us on Facebook that Wonder
‘shows that it does not matter what you look like or how much you have,
it all comes down to what you have to offer as a friend and what is on the inside.’
Auggie’s story shows us friendships being forged, that friends can be betrayed with careless words, what happens when we take the time to learn what people are truly like inside, and what kids can achieve when they stick up for one another. In a subplot we see his big sister Via drifting away from her friendship groups and rediscovering old connections.
Anne of Green Gables
Several of our Facebook readers named the friendship between irrepressible red-headed orphan Anne and her ‘bosom friend’ Diana as a favourite.
How wonderful for Anne, who had never had a real friend – only imaginary playmates – to find a neighbuor like Diana in Avonlea. And how dreadful when Diana’s mother temporarily separated them after a misunderstanding!
“’Miss Barry was a kindred spirit after all,’ Anne confided to Marilla,
‘You wouldn’t think so to look at her, but she is. . . Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think.
It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.’”
Karen wrote on Facebook, ‘How lucky they were to have each other. All through my teenage years I dreamt of having my own bosom friend like that.’
Bridge to Terabithia
Things get off to a bad start when Jesse’s new neighbour Leslie beats him in the running race he has been determined to win in order to gain his dad’s attention and stand out among his siblings. Nevertheless, Jesse and Leslie do become close friends, building a fantasy world (‘Terabithia’) together and navigating family and school issues with each other’s help, even in the face of ribbing from their school mates about their boy-girl friendship.
This beautiful novel about friendship and connecting with people despite barriers is also a tear-jerker, with themes of loss and grief.
Hating Alison Ashley
This page-turning novel with a deeply flawed lead character portrays the agony of rivalries between sixth-grade girls and all the feelings of awkwardness and insecurity that can plague kids of that age.
Often very funny, it also has important lessons about the danger of making assumptions about others and letting your own ambition get in the way of possible friendship
Some of the closest friendships in children’s books are between siblings or cousins.
Our Facebook reader Kirsty says of Seven Little Australians: ‘ I love the friendship between the siblings and particularly the bond shared between Judy and Pip. I was given this book by my Nana when I was 7 and it has found its way inside my heart and stayed there.’
(Seven Little Australians also has a gentle message about allowing friends to be a bad influence, when Meg lets her opinions be swayed by older ‘friend’ Aldith.)
Several of our readers were inspired by the camaraderie between the kids in Enid Blyton’s series The Secret Seven, The Famous Five and The Magic Faraway Tree:
‘the children love Silky and Moonface and help each other when the goblins come’ – Sadie, 5
What about friendships between children and adults – particularly older adults?
One book which deals beautifully with this theme is The Simple Things, in which 10-year-old Stephen is sent to stay with his elderly aunt, who is nearly eighty.
Our Facebook reader Abbey calls this a ‘ refreshingly innocent and heart warming book’ and says she regularly recommends it to students.
‘Acknowledging feelings of uncertainty and ambivalence, Condon asks his readers to
look beyond what scares them to have empathy for others. It turns out that, despite the age gap,
Stephen and Lola aren’t all that different after all. And, after negotiating their way through the initial awkwardness,
they discover their unexpected friendship is a means to new beginnings and healing old wounds.’
– Meredith Lewin, Books + Publishing Junior magazine
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory also includes a lovely portrait of intergenerational friendship. Eight-year-old Ellie and her mum told us:
‘I like that Charlie has a good friendship with his grandpa Joe just like I have with my Pa.’
Grandpa Joe is sensible, kind, thinks Willy Wonka is a genius, and is Charlie’s closest friend and confidant. (There’s also a subtle warning in the book about putting too much trust in fairweather friends.)
At the younger end
The following highly-illustrated books suit younger readers, but they can also be a great springboard for discussion for older primary schoolers.
The Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh offers a lovely model of friendship between Pooh and Piglet. The two connect so charmingly: they like the same kinds of uncomplicated things, they remind each other of their strengths, and they enjoy and miss each other’s company:
“’I wonder what Piglet is doing,’ thought Pooh.
“‘I wish I were there to be doing it, too.’”
Amy and Louis is a loving story about a deep friendship between young children and the experience of having a treasured friend move away.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee is a sweet, beautifully illustrated story which reminds us that friendship is about caring for each other and ‘giving back’. Amos is an elderly zookeeper who sticks to the same routine each day, playing chess with the elephant, running races with the tortoise and checking on all of his animal friends. But when he is sick one day he misses all his friends … until they decide to come and check on him.
Minton Goes! The Complete Adventures of Minton and Turtle is by the creators of Tashi. The stories in the book focus on the friendship between two very different personalities: the ever-optimistic Minton, a salamander who loves all forms of transport and finds just what he needs to make them, and doubter Turtle who worries that it will all end in disaster. There is also a theme of jealousy, as Minton reunites with an old friend, leaving Turtle feeling on the outer.
Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley are also close friends who are very different to each other. Pearl is loud and boisterous, Charlie is quiet and likes to sit. She solves mysteries, he watches his garden grow. But they appreciate each other and look after each other when in need of a bit of TLC.
Which children’s book friendships have inspired you? Please let us know in comments, below.
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