The best children’s picture books with unlikely friendships that help readers look beyond differences

The Books I Picked & Why

Can Cat and Bird Be Friends?

By Coll Muir

Book cover of Can Cat and Bird Be Friends?

Why this book?

This is an adorable book about a predator-prey pair. Tradition says felines devour birds, so when Cat says he must eat Bird, the feathered fowl tempts Cat’s taste in other ways … by showing him “the highest tree for a cat to get stuck in,” for example. When Cat points out desirable activities for Bird, the two decide to become friends, until they realize they share nothing in common.

I love the humorous banter between the two and the clever use of different text colors to distinguish between the two speakers. I think it’s brilliantly symbolic that when the characters concentrate on differences, the illustrations are in black and white, but once they accidentally discover a shared interest, the pages are splashed with joyful colors.

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The Scarecrow

By Beth Ferry, Eric Fan, Terry Fan

Book cover of The Scarecrow

Why this book?

This is a heartwarming story of compassion and companionship between customary adversaries. A lonely scarecrow gives his existence a new purpose when he tenderly scoops up an injured fledgling and tucks it against his heart of hay, sheltering the tiny crow until it’s healed. The most poignant part of the story for me is when Scarecrow is happy to see the bird take wing but sad to see his friend go. “Broken heart. Broken pole. Nothing fills the empty hole.”

Loving-kindness is rewarded when the grown crow returns, fluffs Scarecrow’s matted straw, builds a nest in it, and starts a family, thus ensuring continued friendships. The gentle rhyming text is delightful and the atmospheric illustrations with their lush landscapes and magical play of light are stunning.

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Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale

By Josh Funk, Rodolfo Montalvo

Book cover of Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale

Why this book?

George and Blaise are assigned to be pen pals and soon become friends during their correspondence. Unlike the reader/listener, the two don’t know one is human and the other is a dragon. I really enjoyed the book’s humor, which is due to dual perspectives shown by the illustrations. It’s amusing to see the characters’ assumptions when they receive letters. For example, when Blaise mentions his dad is in demolition, the human imagines a construction vehicle, while “in reality,” the dragon’s father knocks down castles with his strength and powerful wings.

Surprised when they meet, the two are able to look past their physical differences and enjoy their across-species connection. This book is a fun read with entertaining letters, clever rhymes, comical artwork, and a message of acceptance.

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Library Lion

By Michelle Knudsen, Kevin Hawkes

Book cover of Library Lion

Why this book?

This beautiful “tail” of inclusion subtly reminds us not to judge a book by its cover. A lion is allowed library visits as long as he follows the rules. Everyone soon loves the helpful creature, except Mr. McBee, in circulation, who views him with suspicion. When the head librarian gets hurt, the lion must decide between obeying the quiet rule or roaring for help. Afterward, he hangs his head and leaves.

The story brought tears to my eyes when, in a moment of empathy and redemption, Mr. McBee realizes how sad the lion’s absence makes the head librarian feel. So, he finds the lion and tells him roaring is now allowed with good reason. The expressions on the lion’s face are charming … contrition and pleasure and pride, oh my!

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Little Beauty

By Anthony Browne

Book cover of Little Beauty

Why this book?

A sad gorilla who can use sign language asks the keepers for a friend. He’s given a kitten, and a wonderful cross-species friendship is born. I especially enjoyed the line “they did everything together,” which is accompanied by a humorous illustration showing the gorilla on a toilet and Beauty, the cat, in a litter box.

The artwork expressively captures the gorilla’s sadness, joy, worry, and anger. When a movie makes the gorilla so upset that he smashes the television, the keepers think they should take the cat away for her safety. However, Beauty hilariously changes their minds by signing that she broke the TV. This is a great story of loyalty and unlikely friendships.

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