The best children’s books about kindness and friendship

Cheryl Lawton Malone Author Of Dario and the Whale
By Cheryl Lawton Malone

Who am I?

Fairy tales were my first love but I didn’t discover the true magic of children’s picture books until I left my 25-year career as an attorney to enter an MFA program. Wow, was I amazed. Picture books—books in which pictures tell an integral part of the story—not only create an instant connection between reader and little listener but stay with us into adulthood as memories. With this insight, I dove into the genre to discover what distinguishes picture books that are read and reread from those that fade. The answer turns out to be—tales that engender awe and wonder, yarns with heart, and narratives about friendship and kindness. Those are the stories that stay with us forever.

I wrote...

Dario and the Whale

By Cheryl Lawton Malone, Bistra Masseva (illustrator),

Book cover of Dario and the Whale

What is my book about?

When Dario and his mother move to Cape Cod from Brazil, Dario has a hard time making friends because he doesnt speak English well. But one day Dario meets someone else who has just arrived in New England, and he doesn’t speak English at all—a right whale! Inspired by the author’s real-life encounter with a whale, Dario and the Whale (Albert Whitman) captures the heart-warming efforts of a migrant boy to make friends and fit in. 

Dario is the Massachusetts selection for the Library of Congress 2021 Great Reads From Great Places award, a 2019 Massachusetts Book honoree, and recipient of numerous starred reviews including Shelf-Awareness.

The books I picked & why

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The Jupiter Stone

By Owen Paul Lewis,

Book cover of The Jupiter Stone

Why this book?

With simple, colorful drawings and age-appropriate text, author-illustrator Lewis relays the amazing journey of a Jupiter-striped stone through the cosmos, including its brief billion-year stop on Earth. I absolutely adore this book and use it as a mentor text in my classes to show new and experienced writers how children’s picture books can touch the soul. Working with only 32 pages and minimal words, Lewis captures the wonder of the universe and the never-ending story of where we, as humans, fit into the heavens. The twist at the end is pure magic.

The Farmer and the Clown

By Marla Frazee,

Book cover of The Farmer and the Clown

Why this book?

The Farmer and the Clown is my personal candidate for “best” wordless picture book. Author and two-time Caldecott Honor medalist Marla Frazee tells the story of a reluctant farmer who rescues a frightened baby clown separated from his circus family. With zero words and perfect pacing, Frazee steals our hearts as the farmer and the clown overcome their fears and learn to love each other. A testament to kindness and friendship, this book will appeal to grandparents, parents, and young readers alike. Once you read The Farmer and the Clown, you’ll want to acquire the other two books in this amazing trilogy: The Farmer and the Monkey and The Farmer and the Circus.


By Meg Kearney, E.B. Lewis (illustrator),

Book cover of Trouper

Why this book?

Author Meg Kearney and Caldecott Honor Book artist E.B. Lewis join together to create the enchanting story of a three-legged street mutt who longs to find his forever home. After his canine mob is napped by animal control, Trouper watches each of his pals get adopted. Alone in his crate, he wonders if anyone will ever want him. Of course—with perfect pacing—the right boy comes along at the right time and oh my goodness, do we cheer. In a charming approachTrouper is told from the dog’s POV. This book oozes with heart and humor and is a sure re-read for anyone who loves an underdog.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee

By Philip C. Stead, Erin E. Stead (illustrator),

Book cover of A Sick Day for Amos McGee

Why this book?

In his debut picture book, Philip C. Stead relates the tale of kind-hearted zookeeper Amos McGee who goes out of his way to care for his charges in ways that are special to them: running races with the tortoise, keeping the shy penguin company, and reading bedtime stories to the owl. But it isn’t until Amos is too sick to go to work that his animal friends band together and show him how much they care. As a picture book author, I was delighted when Snead’s gentle, lyrical writing earned the 2011 Bank Street—Best Children’s Book of the Year award and illustrator Erin E. Snead’s sweet pencil sketches won the 2011 Caldecott Medal. The story is a winner on every level.

A Splendid Friend, Indeed

By Suzanne Bloom,

Book cover of A Splendid Friend, Indeed

Why this book?

A bear and a goose are so different. Bear is quiet and firm. Goose is loud and pushy. How could they possibly be friends? But that’s exactly what happens in this bestselling tale of a bear who wants to read in peace and a goose that needs a friend. Author-illustrator Suzanne Bloom captures the concept of making and keeping friends with toddler-appropriate language and sparse but colorful drawings. The simple text paired with hilarious illustrations make this book one of my all-time favorite read-a-louds. A Splendid Friend, Indeed is, indeed, a sweet reminder of why friendship and kindness matter.

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