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Explore the Meaning of Friendship in New Children's Books

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What does it mean to be a friend? Education World and present six recent titles that will challenge young readers to explore the many meanings of friendship. These stories carry simple but powerful messages about accepting people who are different and about getting along.

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Explore the Meaning of Friendship in Children's Books

Each year, the meaning of friendship is explored in many new children's books. Books can offer powerful lessons about sharing, appreciating differences, and just plain getting along.

Summer is a perfect time for making new friends and renewing old friendships -- and it's a great time to read! So this week, Education World and offer a handful of recent titles made for sharing. Make friends with these fine new books!



You're Not My Best Friend Anymore Book Cover Best friends Molly and Ben live on different floors in a two-family house in Charlotte Pomerantz's latest book, You're Not My Best Friend Anymore (Dial Books for Young Readers). They do everything together. They walk to school together, play together, and do their homework together. Their birthdays are ten days apart, so they split the difference and celebrate together. They're even saving their allowances toward a shared goal.

But one day, a difference of opinion changes all that. Quite suddenly, Molly and Ben are walking to school on opposite sides of the street. Molly writes in her diary that she wishes Ben would "move to Juneau, which is the capital of Alaska." Ben scrawls, "Who needs friends? I hate Molly. I wish I had a puppy."

Predictably, Molly and Ben will iron out their differences. But what's refreshing about Molly and Ben's story is that the kids work through their conflict on their own. At first they're both angry. But anger gives way to loneliness as each regrets the selfishness that led to their split.


David Soman's splendid watercolors capture the range of emotions best friends experience -- from annoyance to enjoyment.

Finally, the approaching birthday celebration brings Molly and Ben together again. They have come to understand that, in a friendship, giving in a little is better than giving up.

Teachers and other adults will appreciate one bonus lesson that might not be obvious to color-blind children. Molly happens to be a blue-eyed blond and Ben is an African American. Ever so subtly, Pomerantz and Soman remind readers that friendship crosses differences of culture too.



Ice Bear and Little Fox Book Cover Author Jonathan London fills Ice Bear and Little Fox (Dutton Children's Books) with authentic detail, but the facts are presented in a way that never dulls the powerful underlying message of his book. Young readers will love this action-packed, real-life story of friends who depend on each other and share a mutual respect and trust.

In a wilderness of ice and danger, Ice Bear's very survival hinges on learning to live alone. But is Ice Bear really alone? In his first year on his own, Ice Bear depends on the skills he learned from his mother -- and a little help from a friend -- to protect himself from harm. Never far from Ice Bear's great shadow is Little Fox, feeding off the remains of Ice Bear's catch and warning him of the presence of his nemesis, the killer whale.

Ice Bear and Little Fox teaches children real-life lessons about the cycle of life, animal camouflage, the changing seasons in the Arctic tundra, and the habits of its main characters. Along the way, London even throws in a bit of Inuit vocabulary (a handy glossary is included) and an afterword that enlightens youngsters eager for added information. But most important of all, readers are reminded that friendship can happen between creatures -- and people -- who, on the surface, seem to have little in common.

Daniel San Souci's striking Arctic panoramas in icy blue watercolors provide plenty of information. As dramatic as the artwork is, young readers see only the slightest before-and-after hints of the natural violence that is part of the Arctic life cycle.

Ice Bear and Little Fox -- a cool summer read!



Fog Cat Book Cover

Hannah saw her for the first time the summer she came to live in Falls Harbor. The cat came out of the mist one gray August morning when Hannah and her grandfather were beachcombing. She stood on the rocks, a pale, thin wisp of a creature with eyes as green as the sea itself.


"Grandpa, look at the cat," Hannah called out.


At the sound of her voice, the cat vanished as quickly as she had appeared.

Hannah is determined to tame the cat she calls Fog Cat because, as her grandfather said, "You couldn't catch that cat any easier than you could catch a handful of fog." It takes months of coaxing, but finally, Hannah is able to win over Fog Cat.

Much that is true of lasting human friendships can be read into this story of a growing "friendship" between Hannah and Fog Cat. Even the youngest readers, with the help of a caring adult, will see the parallels. Patience, understanding, and trust are at the heart of all friend relationships.

Author Marilyn Helmer has conjured up in Fog Cat (Kids Can Press) a sensitive portrait of life in a coastal fishing village and of the bonding between a girl and a cat and a granddaughter and grandfather. As winter rolls into Falls Harbor, Fog Cat becomes a fixture in Hannah's life. Come spring, Fog Cat is gone again -- but not without leaving a lasting impression and a new companion for Hannah.

Bill Mombourquette's watercolors transport readers to a quaint little fishing village. Young readers will see the sights, hear the sounds, and smell the air as they turn the book's pages. Mombourquette captures the beauty and wild nature of Fog Cat too. His illustrations are the perfect companion to Helmer's vivid prose.



Tacky In Trouble Book Cover Some friendships are borne of patience and understanding, others of curious happenstance and wacky repartee! The latter is very much the case in Tacky in Trouble (Houghton Mifflin Company), the rollicking tale of Tacky the penguin and an elephant named Rocky.

Readers familiar with Helen Lester's Tacky ( Tacky the Penguin, Three Cheers for Tacky) know they are in for a real treat -- but Tacky in Trouble is the silliest story yet! While the other penguins lead an orderly existence, Tacky's brightly flowered shirt stands out in an otherwise black-and-white world. The back-slapping Tacky is an odd bird, indeed.

One day, while the other penguins enjoy a lazy nap, Tacky heads off for some iceberg surfing. Suddenly, the wind kicks up, and Tacky's colorful shirt becomes a sail! When Tacky finally comes back down to Earth, he finds himself on some South Sea island inhabited by strange-looking penguins (parrots) and a huge, warm, hairy rock (an elephant)! Rocky the elephant mistakes Tacky for a colorful bouquet of flowers and promptly plops him into his largest vase. The real fun begins when the elephant challenges Tacky to prove that he's a penguin -- not a plant.

Tacky's rib-tickling antics have a lot to say to insightful readers about friendship. Among the lessons: All friends don't fit the mold and respecting differences is what friendship is all about.

At story's end, Tacky returns home. But he's left a lasting impression on Rocky the elephant. And Tacky's staid penguin pals have learned something about friendship too. Yes, Tacky might be an odd bird, but when he was gone, the others truly missed the color he brought to their dreary world.

Lynn Munsinger has captured all the mayhem of Tacky's tale in her winning illustrations. They are the highlight of this amusing Antarctic adventure!



Sitting Ducks Book Cover If you're looking to carry the aquatic friendship theme to another level, don't miss Sitting Ducks (Putnam and Grosset). This is the first kids' book produced by award-winning poster artist Michael Bedard. It's a book that kids will love, but adults are bound to enjoy it even more! This simple story has much to say about friendship -- and life.

It's an alligator-eat-duck world out there! At the labyrinthine Colossal Duck Factory, machines hum as alligator workers push buttons and pull levers to produce conveyor belts full of ducks blissfully unaware of their eventual fate. In this world of high-tech precision, nothing ever goes wrong. Well, almost nothing!

One day, in an industry fluke, one little duck egg rolls off the assembly line and crashes to the factory floor miles below. Discovered, the duck is stashed in an empty lunch pail by a worker alligator harboring thoughts of a plump duck roast and tasty pt. But as the little duck grows, so does the friendship between this odd couple. When the duck sees the light -- when he realizes the ugly truth about what goes on in the Colossal Duck Factory -- he hatches a plan to liberate his kind and one alligator who has become his friend!

Read into Sitting Ducks and you might find a story about vegetarianism, a commentary on the evils of consumerism, or, most simply, a story about how hard it is to develop trust between people of different backgrounds.



Poppleton And Friends Book Cover Award-winning author Cynthia Rylant has written more than 60 books for children. Her books include the Henry and Mudge series, Missing May (Newbery Medal winner), The Whales, and Dog Heaven. Now she's teamed up with award-winning illustrator Mark Teague to produce her latest series, Poppleton and Friends. Each book in this series includes several delightful vignettes perfect for beginning readers.

Among my favorite Poppleton stories is "Grapefruit," from Poppleton and Friends: Book Two. Poppleton hates grapefruit, but he forces himself to eat it because a man on TV said grapefruit makes people live longer -- and Poppleton wants to live to be 100! Young readers will love Poppleton's faces as he tries to eat something he can't stand. Tears come to his eyes, his lips pucker outside-in, and his face turns green -- all in the name of living a long and healthy life!

Then one day, with his lips still puckered, Poppleton's friend Hudson introduces him to his 100-year-old uncle, who shares his own secret for living a long life. Poppleton pops his grapefruit in the wastebasket and goes out to make friends!

Simple messages about the bonds of friendship and the powers of sharing and kindness abound in the Poppleton series. With cheery illustrations by Teague, the books convey messages that children are sure to savor.



Like good friends, good books have the power to change the way people think. Each of the books highlighted this week is sure to leave a lasting impression on readers young and old. This summer, make a new friend with somebody -- and with some good books!


Return to Education World's Summer Reading Ideas page.


Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor in Chief
Copyright © 1999, 2002 Education World



Last updated 06/23/2017