We’ve read some amazing children’s books since Boy Detective joined us, so I thought I’d do a series with our book recommendations. When I say “recommendations,” I mean serious, heartfelt recommendations for children’s books about friendship that are totally awesome, by our grownup standards. If you’re parenting young children, you might find some new reads. If you buy gifts for young children, please remember that an excellent children’s book is a gift to both the child and the adult(s) who will be reading it to to them.
Clara and Asha, written and illustrated by Eric Rohmann, was one of the first children’s books we read as adults that blew our minds with sheer awesomeness. Clara is a little girl, and Asha is one of her dearest friends… who happens to be a giant imaginary fish. There is so much magic in this book, and it’s all so understated, which is no mean feat when there’s a giant fish involved. I love how few words were needed to tell this story, none of them are wasted.
Lottie Paris and the Best Place by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Scott M. Fischer. I love everything about this. I love the fantasty-cartoon-comics art style, I love Lottie’s interest in astronomy, and I love that she and Carl are both library fans. I’m also extremely jealous of Lottie’s hair, because it’s freakin’ fantastic. Two thumbs up.
Big Mean Mike by Michelle Knudsen, with art by Scott Magoon. Big mean dog with combat boots befriends tiny cute fuzzy bunnies who like the demolition derby. What’s not to love? The art in this one is just perfect. It’s a great book for subtly communicating that it’s FINE for people to have diverse interests and friends. No one has to be a stereotype.
Thing-Thing by Cary Fagan, with art by Nicolas Debon. One of my favorite children’s books of all times. A spoiled kid who has everything reacts with disdain when his desperate parents present him with a stuffed animal that’s not quite a dog, cat, squirrel, rabbit, or mouse. As poor Thing-Thing falls helplessly past window after window of the high-rise hotel building, we see tiny vignettes about what’s happening in each room and how the sight of Thing-Thing affects each person who sees it. I couldn’t believe how much depth of story Fagan and Debon packed into each 2-page spread, with so few words. Thing-Thing finally stops falling and discovers that the world may be a pretty nice place after all.
Danitra Brown Leaves Town by Nikki Grimes with art by Floyd Cooper. Zuri Jackson is NOT happy with her friend Danitra, who is leaving town for the whole summer! Told in a series of letters, both girls create a meaningful summer vacation even while separated. Quiet and warm. I just pulled this off the shelf randomly, and I’m so glad we did. Such a good exploration of friendship and how strong connections do survive temporary distance, and even hurt feelings.
Henry and Amy (Right-Way-Round and Upside Down), written and illustrated by Stephen Michael King, is a charmer. Henry needs someone to teach him how to do things “right” whereas Amy wishes “everything she did wasn’t so perfect.” You see where this is going, right? King’s art is soft and friendly, and the connection between these two is very sweet.
If you’re going to dislike any of the books I pick, it will probably be Cowboy and Octopus. It’s totally absurd and surreal, or as C-Man puts it, “f***ing awesome.” We have never laughed harder at a children’s book than when we saw the Halloween costume on Octopus. But if you’re more comfortable with sweet and classic than zany, you may want to skip this one. Jon Scieszka wrote, Lane Smith illustrated. (But don’t skip if you’ve disliked other Scieszka, give it a chance.)
Ducks Don’t Wear Socks by John Nedwidek, illustrated by Lee White, is another laugh-out-loud one (and I say this as not much of a laugh-out-loud person.) Emily is very serious, Duck is really not. What gets me aren’t just the objections Emily lodges when Duck wears various clothing items, but Duck’s explanations for them. Completely logical yet completely ludicrous if you’re a duck.
The George and Martha books are all good, but a couple go above and beyond. The writing is exquisitely spare, every word perfectly placed by James Marshall, and the pictures are sequenced just perfectly to carry the story forward. One Fine Day and Rise and Shine are, in my opinion two of the best. I cannot speak for the “Early Reader” versions, no telling what they did to them. Go for the real thing.
Across the Alley by Richard Michelson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Two boys, one Jewish and one African-American, live next door to each other. As they become friends, they discover that one is great at baseball and one at the violin, but it’s backwards from what their families had planned. Luckily, the adults in their lives embrace the discovery. One of our favorite books both about friendship and about being true to yourself. Definitely better for slightly older kids because it does mention someone’s fingers getting broken in a concentration camp – that’s a heavy discussion to spring on a 3 year old at bedtime, for example, if they haven’t already learned about that part of history.
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat. At this point, Dan Santat could do a book about petroleum engineering, and I would read it. I know nothing about petroleum engineering, have no actual interest in it, and can’t think how it would be relevant to my life. But Santat is JUST SO GOOD. His imagination, his storytelling, his character design, his illustration. He’s one of our favorite creators of children’s picture books. The Adventures of Beekle is not about petroleum engineering. It’s about an imaginary friend who’s waited too long to be imagined. Rather than give up hope, he sets off on a journey. It’s scary. But he sticks with it. And eventually, his faith is richly rewarded. Every two page spread in this book is unique and perfect for the part of the story he’s telling. So well crafted. Love it.
And that’s the list of our favorite children’s books about friendship!