The best children’s picture books about navigating friendship

Who am I?

I expect that the folks at Shepherd.com approached me as a picture book author, since I’m the author of eleven picture books, including the four books of the Vampirina Ballerina series, which were adapted into the Disney Junior hit series Vampirina. But my thoughts and ideas about friendship and community really stem from once having been a child myself and from being a parent of four children, each of whom approached the roller coaster ride of childhood friendship in their unique ways. I was always happy to help them find answers in a book, even when those answers involved more, and deeper, questions.


I wrote...

Groundhug Day

By Anne Marie Pace,

Book cover of Groundhug Day

What is my book about?

Starring a cast of lovable forest animals, Groundhug Day is ostensibly a book about late winter and spring holidays, but more deeply, it’s about friendship. If we value our friends, we take time to appreciate the ways in which we are all different from one another. Instead of dismissing Groundhog because he is afraid of shadows, the friends learn to work with him to help him conquer his fears. And while Porcupine’s quills make it difficult to hug him, the friends find other ways to express affection.

Groundhug Day may start out being about a Valentine's Day Party, but in the end, it’s really a celebration of community.

The books I picked & why

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You Will Be My Friend!

By Peter Brown,

Book cover of You Will Be My Friend!

Why this book?

Lucy Bear is determined to make a friend, but it turns out to be a harder task than she anticipated. Her efforts startle, bother, annoy, and anger the other forest animals. She’s ready to give up but in the end, she finds a perfect friend—perfect for her, that is, and isn’t that what really matters? I adore Peter Brown’s colorful, jocular illustrations and the way the answer to Lucy’s desire is presented not in the text, but in the art. For a bonus friendship lesson, check out Brown’s bio on the dust jacket.


The Love Letter

By Anika Aldamuy Denise, Lucy Ruth Cummins (illustrator),

Book cover of The Love Letter

Why this book?

A misunderstanding about the intended recipient of a love letter first brings Hedgehog, Bunny, and Squirrel great joy, but then threatens their friendship. In the end, Mouse helps them remember why they love each other. The final illustration even suggests that Mouse is joining their circle, since after all, love is unlimited. The Love Letter struck me first as a writer, because I recognized a unique story premise; and then I realized how much tenderness underlies both the text and the illustration.


The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

By Dan Santat,

Book cover of The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

Why this book?

An unnamed imaginary friend waits and waits for a child to choose him; but when he has waited long enough, he sets out on an adventure into the real world to find his Alice. The sweetness of Alice and Beekle’s new friendship is heartwarming, made all the sweeter by the wait. Beekle won the Caldecott Medal, so it won’t surprise you that the illustrations are brilliant. Santat’s use of shadow and color is just mesmerizing.


Little Brown

By Marla Frazee,

Book cover of Little Brown

Why this book?

Little Brown is not the type of book on friendship I originally intended to include. The main character is sad and friendless, and that doesn’t really change by the end of the book. But it raises deeply moving questions about the nature of relationships and connection. For older picture book age children beginning to confront bullying and misunderstanding in school settings, it may lead to thought-provoking and important questions.


Bear Came Along

By Richard T. Morris, LeUyen Pham (illustrator),

Book cover of Bear Came Along

Why this book?

After Bear falls into a river, which doesn’t know it’s a river, he’s joined by a series of forest friends, each of whom add to and enhances the group’s adventure until at the end, they have become friends in the community, all thanks to Bear’s misstep. The art is stunning, especially the use of color, which begins drably in the endpapers and ends up stunningly bright and light-filled. A Caldecott Honor book.


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