The best books about unexpected friends

Steven B. Frank Author Of Armstrong and Charlie
By Steven B. Frank

The Books I Picked & Why


By Sara Pennypacker, Jon Klassen

Book cover of Pax

Why this book?

Peter’s dad has to go off to war, so he sends Peter to live with his grandpa. But first, he makes him return his pet fox to the forest. I love dual-perspective stories. Pax alternates between the boy and his fox as both struggle to adapt to life without the other—and to find each other again in an unsafe world. I also love stories about unlikely friendships. Halfway through, Peter meets Vola, a former soldier who carries the burden of war in her heart. Vola is tough, hard, broken, and wise. She helps Peter heal physically, and he helps her heal emotionally. After reading their scenes, I really understand the expression “tough love.” Vola is a surprising character and the unexpected friend that makes Pax an unforgettable book.

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Klara and the Sun

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Book cover of Klara and the Sun

Why this book?

My son, a philosophy major, and I disagree: I say robots will someday acquire a soul. He says never. “But people are turning to A-I therapists,” I say, and he says, “That’s just the illusion of therapy.” In Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro casts such a convincing spell that the reader forgets that Klara, an “A-F,” or artificial friend, is made of silicon. She waits in the window of a store, hoping to be adopted by a human. From the moment she goes “home” with Josie, she is a devoted friend, therapist, and would-be healer. But her knack for mimicry hints at a dark twist to come. After reading the novel, I think my son might be right, and I’m going to be careful to choose only human friends.

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A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd, Jim Kay

Book cover of A Monster Calls

Why this book?

I’ve read this book over twenty times. Its power only grows, like the monster itself, with each encounter. A boy’s mother is sick. A monster, in the form of a yew tree, breaks into his house and demands that the boy listen to three stories and then tell a fourth tale of his own. The rule: each story must tell the truth. The monster’s tales prove things aren’t what they seem. Good turns out to be evil. Greed goes unpunished. Bad things happen to good people. The boy’s tale, in return, then tells a truth about grief that everyone needs to know—but I won’t say what it is because you have to read this book. I will say that monsters are terrifying…until they out to be your best friend.

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The Arrival

By Shaun Tan

Book cover of The Arrival

Why this book?

When my students first encounter The Arrival, they think we’re up to something naughty in English class by reading a book without words. But soon they see how deep it is. The trope of a stranger in a strange land is as old as Odysseus, as new as Ted Lasso. For me, Shaun Tan’s silent, surreal version is the most emotional. The immigrant struggles with the unfamiliar: signs, clocks, customs, technology, food. What helps him—what helps us all when we wander—is a series of unexpected friends: a fellow immigrant, a grocer, an old veteran, and, most of all, his constant companion, a hyper-intelligent shark-dog whom my students call a shrog. That creature—and Shaun Tan’s brilliant artwork—make this graphic novel a must-share with your friends.

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Toot & Puddle (Toot & Puddle, 1)

By Holly Hobbie

Book cover of Toot & Puddle (Toot & Puddle, 1)

Why this book?

Okay, all this thinking about friends in fiction makes me nostalgic for when my kids were little and my wife and I would read to them before bed. We read them fairy tales and myths and our favorites, like Toot & Puddle, that we’re saving for the next generation. There’s a quiet simplicity about the Toot & Puddle books that prepares a reader for the ups and downs of any friendship. Friends get in fights. Friends aren’t always in the same mood. Friends have different fears, desires, and dreams. Toot & Puddle show us something essential about friendship: the way to keep a friend for life is to let them be who they are, flaws and all.

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