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Must-Have Children's Books About Friendship

We love picture books with friendship themes, and especially those that feature human characters navigating the ups and downs of relationships in their lives. Research shows that children learn more from books that feature human characters than animals - they simply connect more with stories where they can see themselves, their friends, their families and their communities.

Intentionally teaching about and modeling healthy relationships with kids can have profound impacts on prosocial behavior. At home and in classrooms, it’s more important than ever that grown-ups make the time and space for these types of learning experiences. Picture books are a powerful way to encourage children to be inclusive and kind friends.

When creating this list of friendship-themed picture books, we prioritized ones that showcase a diverse cast of characters and those that reflect a variety of lived experiences, so that any child can find a book to connect with and learn from.

View our complete list here, and continue reading for a snapshot of ten of our favorite friendship-themed books.

Punky Aloha

Author/Illustrator: Shar Tuiasoa | Publisher: HarperCollins

This book is pure sunshine! Punky is a spirited Hawaiian who has one major fear - making new friends. When her grandmother challenges her to venture across the island on a special errand for her, Punky worries she won’t be brave enough. Luckily, grandma shares her magic sunglasses with her so that she feels courageous enough to meet new people.

This is such a fun and uplifting story and we know kids will love learning about the aloha spirit that Punky carries in her heart! This book is perfect for kids who have ever felt they needed a little magic to share their true selves with others.

A Friend Like You

Authors: Frank Murphy & Charnaie Gordon |Illustrator: Kayla Harren | Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press

This book is the perfect choice for discussing all the wonderful ways to be a friend! We love how A Friend Like You gives so many examples of being a friend - it doesn't matter what your personality is like, everyone has something special to bring to a friendship.

We also love the other books in this series by Frank Murphy, including A Boy Like You and A Girl Like You. Any of these books would make great gifts for new parents, educators and children.

Saturday at the Food Pantry

Author: Diane O’Neill | Illustrator: Brizida Magro | Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company

Saturday at the Food Pantry is a wonderfully affirming picture book that destigmatizes food insecurity - it reminds us all that everyone needs help sometimes.

In this story, Molly and her mom don’t always have enough food, so sometimes, they wait in line to get their food from a food pantry. Molly is delighted when she runs into her friend Caitlin from school - but Caitlin feels embarrassed. Molly also notices her mom’s demeanor change as well - suddenly, she’s self-conscious about making the right food decisions for their family. With loads of kindness and open heartedness, Molly helps remind everyone she meets that we all need a little help sometimes.


Author/Illustrator: Harry Woodgate | Publisher: little bee books

In this book, Timmy loves performing but whenever they have an audience, their inner cowardly lion ROARS all their confidence away. When they find out about an upcoming school play, Timmy feels too anxious to even try to be in it - that’s when their friendship with Nia comes into play. Nia wants to help Timmy overcome his fears and put on the best part of the show as a team.

Together, Nia and Timmy help each other overcome their shyness so that they can showcase their talent and have fun. This is a powerful story about friendship and how much we can help each other when we truly see each other, and root for one another. It’s also a great book for any child who also struggles with anxiety.

Woodgate is the author/illustrator behind so many of our favorite books for kids, you can read more about them here.

Lubna and Pebble

Author: Wendy Meddour | Illustrator: Daniel Egneus | Publisher: Dial Books

This powerful and quiet book gives children insight into the refugee crisis while also showcasing how a simple act of kindness can have a transformative impact on someone we care about.

When Lubna arrives at the World of Tents, everything feels wrong or uncertain. Her friend pebble is the only thing that brings her great comfort - it may just be a rock, but it’s hers, and she keeps it with her always. When she forms a friendship with another child, and then finds out she’s leaving, Lubna struggles with what to do next. Should she share her pebble to bring comfort to her friend, or move on knowing that he will feel alone just like she did?

A Thousand White Butterflies

Authors: Jessica Betancourt-Perez & Karen Lynn Williams | Illustrator: Gina Maldonado | Publisher: Charlesbridge

This is a sweet story about making new friends. Isabella recently moved from Columbia to the United States, and was forced to leave behind her papa. She misses him and the warmth of her hometown, especially during her first experience with a midwest winter. Her mama and abuela convince her things will get better once she starts school and makes new friends, but then school is canceled on her first day because it’s snowing!

She’s convinced she won’t ever feel better, until she sees a young girl playing outside in the snow. Isabella acts like her bravest self and joins her! Together, they learn that you don’t have to speak the same language to make friends.

We Laugh Alike/Juntos Nos Reimos: A Story That’s Part Spanish, Part English and a Whole Lot of Fun

Author: Carmen T. Bernier-Grand | Illustrator: Alyssa Bermudez | Publisher: Charlesbridge

This is a fantastic bilingual book to share with young readers! It centers upon two groups of children who encounter each other at the park - one group only speaks English and the other Spanish. They begin observing each other and thinking with their eyes. Soon they realize that they have a lot in common besides language, and begin playing together - teaching each other new words and games, and laughing together. This book wonderfully showcases the power of play, and how it can be used to include others and learn from each other.

The Cot in the Living Room

Author: Hilda Eunice Burgos | Illustrator: Gaby D’Alessandro | Publisher: Kokila

This book features a young girl who is envious of the attention and care given to other children who often sleep on the cot in her family’s living room. She later realizes that her parents are helping their friends who are working long night shifts and want their children to be cared for.

The Cot in the Living Room is a beautiful celebration of how a Dominican American community in Washington Heights takes care of each other and how everything can change when you open your heart and mind to seeing another person’s point of view. This is a wonderful book to use when discussing empathy and perspective.

Bilal Cooks Daal

Author: Aisha Saeed | Illustrator: Anoosha Syed | Publisher: Salaam Reads

This is such a delightful book about food and how it can nurture community. In Bilal Cooks Daal, six-year-old Bilal is overjoyed to help his dad make daal for his friends - it’s his very favorite food! This South Asian dish takes all day to simmer and cook though, so it requires a lot of patience on the part of first graders. As the day goes on, Bilal starts to worry about whether his friends will like it, and his excitement wanes.

This book showcases the beauty of sharing familial traditions with friends, and will encourage children to be proud of their culture and open minded when it comes to trying new foods.

Rosa’s Song

Author: Helena Ku Rhee | Illustrator: Pascal Campion | Publisher: Random House Studio

Jae recently moved to a new apartment complex from South Korea - he feels homesick and lonely until a little girl named Rosa reaches out to him. Her kindness changes everything about his experience in this new and unfamiliar place, suddenly he sees reminders of home all around and feels excitement again to have a new friend.

Rosa leaves the apartment unexpectedly, and Jae decides to carry on her legacy by reaching out to other new kids in the building. She may not know it, but her simple act of kindness has a tremendous impact on Jae, and so many others. This story beautifully encapsulates so many familiar childhood experiences relating to friendship, loss, and resiliency.

Jayden’s Impossible Garden

Author: Melina Mangal | Illustrator: Ken Daley | Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing

We had to include at least one beautiful story about intergenerational friendship. In Jayden’s Impossible Garden, young Jayden sees nature everywhere even when his mom only sees a concrete jungle. Jayden and his friend Mr. Curtis then set out to create a community garden that ultimately brings everyone together, and helps his mama and so many others see the beauty of nature in the city.

The author also included a guide to complete many of the projects and activities that Jayden and Mr. Curtis work on throughout the book!

For our complete book list on friendship themed picture books, click here!


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