The best children’s books that celebrate the joys of friendship, exploration, and imagination

Who am I?

Hi there! I am a children’s author, illustrator, and designer living in MA. I spend a lot of time thinking about how important friendship is to me; both the good and bad times, and how I could have handled certain scenarios differently. Books give us the opportunity to act out scenarios without having to live them. Books can teach us mannerisms and coping skills, making us more prepared for life. They also give us an opportunity to take a break from reality and sneak off into other worlds from time to time. Every book on my list highlights the importance of friendship and the thrill of adventure, I hope you enjoy them!  

I wrote...

The Flower Garden

By Renee Kurilla,

Book cover of The Flower Garden

What is my book about?

After planting a seed packet in the backyard, things don’t go as expected for best friends Anna and Tess. They fall asleep in the sun and wake up to blooms as tall as buildings! Did the seeds really grow that fast?

All is explained when Anna and Tess meet May, a little garden gnome whose magic is responsible for the transformation. The girls are May’s size now, and they follow her through the flower garden and into May’s underground gnome home—discovering new things about their world and themselves along the way. This immersive graphic novel from author-illustrator Renée Kurilla is perfect for emerging readers. It explores growing and changing friendships and offers details to discover on every page and with every read.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Tiger vs. Nightmare

By Emily Tetri,

Book cover of Tiger vs. Nightmare

Why this book?

This book is such a clever way to approach a nightmare discussion with older kids. I first picked it up because I love Emily’s art; her watercolors are so expressive and rich. 

It’s easy to fall in love with the simplicity of the little futuristic world that Tiger lives in. She has a monster living under her bed that actually helps fight off nightmares, how lucky! 

The way Emily weaves the story, you can clearly see Tiger’s struggles with the scary thoughts on her mind. Emily highlights the importance of talking about it and working together to conquer those fears. It’s a very powerful experience!

If a kid can relate to Tiger’s character, I would imagine they would feel empowered to conquer their own scary thoughts, too. 

Little Robot

By Ben Hatke,

Book cover of Little Robot

Why this book?

A young girl, who appears to be different from the other kids in her town, finds a misplaced robot and teaches it the joys of nature (exploring, petting cats, skipping rocks, etc.). They continue to meet every day, and each day their friendship grows stronger. Eventually, the friends realize they are very different, and the robot longs to find more of his kind. 

The concepts are more advanced in this story than the others I’ve chosen. The girl is a loner who finds a friend she wants to protect by any means. The robot resists her protective nature because he wants to be free. Through this struggle, we watch the girl uncover a talent for tinkering and building that helps everyone in the end. 

Ben Hatke does so much storytelling in his amazing art. Most of the dialogue consists of Jonks, Morps, and other sound effects. I would recommend this graphic novel for any early reader, especially those who are beginning to form solid friendships.

Snail Crossing

By Corey R. Tabor,

Book cover of Snail Crossing

Why this book?

Snail is cabbage bound! The only thing that stands in his way is a busy highway and the fact that he moves…at a snail’s pace. Through his determination, he finds a way to be helpful to a colony of ants who ultimately find a way to return the favor.

This story has so much subtle humor and makes a great read-aloud. (My 5-year-old daughter cackles when snail tries to make “evasive maneuvers” to avoid a crow.) It teaches how you can be persistent, kind, and brave all while having a good sense of humor. In the end, it pays off for everyone because Snail and the ants have forged a new friendship!

Peter and Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths

By Graham Annable,

Book cover of Peter and Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths

Why this book?

This book has the perfect sense of humor to grab your attention, but then slips in notes on being a good friend, bravery, trusting others, and general appreciation for the world we live in. 

Peter and Ernesto are so relatable (I truly think there is a little bit of my own personality in each of them). Peter is content to experience life right where he is, Ernesto wants to explore. When Ernesto leaves their shared tree home to see more “pieces of the sky,” Peter panics and tries to catch up with him to make sure he doesn’t get hurt. In doing so, nervous Peter has unknowingly been as brave as Ernesto! In the end, they reunite (in the most hilarious way) and realize how much they need each other. 

I can see kids re-reading this one a lot, and also grabbing one of the other 2 books in the series!

Little Fox in the Forest

By Stephanie Graegin,

Book cover of Little Fox in the Forest

Why this book?

Stephanie Graegin’s art is warm and welcoming. I was already familiar with the adorable anthropomorphic characters in her other books when I discovered Little Fox in the Forest. She seems to have created an entire world all her own that translates so well from book to book. You can always expect caring, kindness, and friendship in Stephanie’s world. 

The wordless story introduces two friends, a girl and a boy. When a cute little, sweatered fox snatches the girl’s favorite stuffed animal from the playground, her friend helps her try to find it. They run into the woods together and happen upon the most amazing alternate universe.

The girl and boy locate the stuffed animal only to discover that the little fox who found it seems to need it so much more. Through a happy ending, we learn that sharing can feel rewarding too.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in good and evil, magic-supernatural, and fairy tales?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about good and evil, magic-supernatural, and fairy tales.

Good And Evil Explore 68 books about good and evil
Magic-Supernatural Explore 348 books about magic-supernatural
Fairy Tales Explore 184 books about fairy tales

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Man with the Golden Torc, Swan Song, and The Bear and the Nightingale if you like this list.