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

Who am I?

I've had 20 reproducible books published in the educational market, and more than 200 of my articles, word puzzles, poems, plays, and stories have appeared in magazines such as Highlights and on websites like the Disney-themed PassPorter.com. I enjoy creating book trailers and free activity kits which can be found on my website. One of my picture books is Dough Knights and Dragons. Curious about the origin of doughnuts, I created an imaginary tale about them with the goal of encouraging friendships of all kinds, setting children’s imaginations on fire, and motivating youngsters to always be hungry for books.


I wrote...

Dough Knights and Dragons

By Dee Leone, George Ermos (illustrator),

Book cover of Dough Knights and Dragons

What is my book about?

A knight and dragon meet serendipitously and bond over their love of baking. But the two secret friends are required by law to duel in an upcoming tournament. Can the unlikely pair cook up a plan to obey the edict but still save their friendship?

No matter what our differences ... tall or small, dragon or knight, castle inhabitant or cave dweller, there is always something we can find in common. Whether in an imaginary kingdom or a real-life setting, friendship rules. Children will devour this scrumptiously clever tale which shows that when conflicts arise, peaceful and creative problem solving can come to the rescue.

The books I picked & why

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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.

Can Cat and Bird Be Friends?

By Coll Muir,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Can Cat and Bird Be Friends? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cats and birds can't be friends! They have absolutely nothing in common. After all, cats are supposed to eat birds, not play with them!

But there's something special about this prey-and-predator pair...and they may just find that it's our differences that bring us closer together.

In a delightful picture book filled with pleasing banter and hilarious quips, rising talent Coll Muir creates the perfect unlikely friendship between unexpected creatures.

Perfect for fans of Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back, This Is Not My Hat, and We Found a Hat.


The Scarecrow

By Beth Ferry, Eric Fan (illustrator), Terry Fan (illustrator)

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.

The Scarecrow

By Beth Ferry, Eric Fan (illustrator), Terry Fan (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Scarecrow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Junior Library Guild Selection | An Indie Next List Pick | An Amazon Best 3-5 Books of 2019 Selection

“An emotionally impactful exploration of love and loneliness, this is an essential addition to any picture book collection.” —School Library Journal (starred review)

Bestselling author Beth Ferry (Stick and Stone) and the widely acclaimed Fan Brothers (The Night Gardener) present a gorgeous and poignant picture book about two unexpected friends and the special connection they share.

This tender and affectionate story reminds us of the comforting power of friendship and the joy of helping others—a tale that will inspire and…


Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale

By Josh Funk, Rodolfo Montalvo (illustrator),

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.

Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale

By Josh Funk, Rodolfo Montalvo (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dear Dragon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A sweet and clever friendship story in rhyme, about looking past physical differences to appreciate the person (or dragon) underneath.

George and Blaise are pen pals, and they write letters to each other about everything: their pets, birthdays, favorite sports, and science fair projects. There’s just one thing that the two friends don’t know: George is a human, while Blaise is a dragon! What will happen when these pen pals finally meet face-to-face?

"When I was a kid, my best friend was Josh Funk. Now he's becoming a friend to a whole new generation.”--B.J. Novak, author of The New York…


Library Lion

By Michelle Knudsen, Kevin Hawkes (illustrator),

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!

Library Lion

By Michelle Knudsen, Kevin Hawkes (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Library Lion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A wonderful addition to any child's library, this is the multiple award-winning and bestselling picture book about what happens when a lion visits a library.

In this international and award-winning bestseller about the joys of discovering the library and making new friends, a lion visits the library for the very first time. The head librarian, Miss Merriweather, is very particular about rules in the library. But when the lion visits, she isn't sure what to do - there aren't any rules about lions in the library! As it turns out, this lion seems very well suited to library visiting. His…


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.

Little Beauty

By Anthony Browne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Little Beauty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"No one renders primates with more faithful detail or surreal humanity than Browne." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

A USBBY Outstanding International Book
An Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award Winner
Three starred reviews (Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal)

Once there was a very special gorilla who had almost everything he needed. There was only one thing he didn’t have: a friend. With no other gorillas at the zoo, the keepers try something new. Will the gigantic ape strike a bond with another sort of creature, one as tiny and innocent as a kitten? Sparked by the story of a…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cats, friendships, and lions?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cats, friendships, and lions.

Cats Explore 134 books about cats
Friendships Explore 385 books about friendships
Lions Explore 20 books about lions

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Bibliophile, The Shadow of the Wind, and My Heart if you like this list.