Some parents have dreams of their kids being doctors when they grow up. Some want their children to be engineers. Some hope for architects who will build remarkable structures all over the world, while still others hope for lawyers or judges who will create the rule of law.
What do I want my boys to be when they grow up? Sometimes I feel a bit sheepish saying this but, in my world, the answer is simple. I want them to grow up to be whatever makes them happy, of course. But, in all honesty, I want them to be good friends. I want them to grow up to be compassionate and loyal gentlemen, to be empathetic to others needs, to lend a hand when a colleague is struggling. I want them to be kind, and I know that building this foundation begins now, at their tender young ages of 3 and 5. If we can cultivate kindness in our little ones when they are young -- if we can truly make caring for others a priority and teach children what it means to be a good friend -- we will set them up to be kind and moral adults. And, I don't know about you, but I think our world could really use some upstanding, respectable and virtuous adults right now.
Our children are our future, so we should start investing in them now, when it truly counts. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all worked towards a common goal of instilling kindness in our kids, if we taught them the importance of being good friends to those in their classrooms and communities? If we make this a priority, then guess what happens? They will too.
There are so many fabulous picture books about friendship that can help all of us make this dream a reality. These are books that can be read to both preschoolers and "big kids" alike -- and you may be surprised at how much they resonate with you, the adult, too. Here are some of Happily Ever Elephant's very favorite ones. Happy reading!
A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Philip Stead and illustrated by Erin Stead: Amos, a zookeeper, spends time everyday with all of his animal friends at the zoo. He delights in being a friend to each of them, and he is sensitive to their unique needs. When Amos wakes up one morning too sick to get to the zoo, Amos's friends decide it may just be time they return the favor. This is single-handedly one of the best books out there to teach little ones about empathy and friendshp.
Hooray for Hat!, by Brian Won: This is a darling friendship story for your littlest readers! The story begins as an elephant wakes up and feels awfully grumpy. Alas, a present outside his door reveals a fun new hat, and it brightens elephant's mood considerably. What follows is an intro to several more grumpy animals, each in turn made happier when elephant and the others share the hat. This book perfectly illustrates the concept of paying it forward, teaching even the youngest readers that their simple actions can brighten the world around them.
My Friend is Sad, by Mo Willems: Each book in the Elephant and Piggie series is just fantastic, and we especially love how this one shows Piggie doing everything he can to cheer up his friend Gerald... but in disguise. What does Gerald truly need? Even though Piggie's antics were pretty perfect, all Gerald wanted was his best friend's company so the two could share the laughs together. So sweet, and so humorous! I especially love how this book distills a more complicated concept into bite size chunks even toddlers can understand.
Be a Friend, by Salina Yoon: In this sweet story we are introduced to a young mime, who never uses words to convey his emotions. He goes through his days in solitude until he is befriended by a little girl who catches his make-believe ball. The beauty of this story lies in the fact that Dennis's new friend never attempts to make Dennis speak. Instead, the readers see that their newfound friendship transcends words, and we can easily find ways to accept one another -- both for our similarities and our differences.
One, by Kathryn Otoshi: Red is a hothead who continuously picks on Blue. Though this bullying is witnessed by several other colors, no one is ready to stand up for Blue and tell Red to stop his taunting. But then One comes along, and One has no qualms about standing up to Red -- and in doing so, One teaches his friends a valuable lesson. At once a concept book on both colors and counting, the story more importantly provides a spring point for discussions on bullying, kindness, and inclusiveness.
The Rabbit Listened, by Cori Doerrfeld: Something bad has happened to Taylor: she cannot get over her devastation when a tower she worked so hard to construct crashes to the ground. Her friends try to help. They offer suggestions and unsolicited advice, trying everything in the books to get her to calm down. But only when the rabbit sits and listens -- just listens, quietly and calmly - does she begin to feel better. How I love this one!
Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Jones: Jeremy wants nothing more than the same pair of shoes that the rest of the kids at school wear. But, according to his grandma, Jeremy’s “wants” are not nearly as important as his “needs.” This is such a special story, one that masterfully sparks a discussion about wants and needs. More importantly, it shows with such a light touch how putting a friend's needs above your own wants is a magical, fulfilling action.
Be Kind, by Pat Zeitlow Miller and illustrated by Jen Hill: Tanesha spills grapejuice all over her new dress, and a classmate searches for just the right way to make her feel better. I love the way this sweet, simple story walks through actions any child can take to spread kindness throughout their classrooms and communities. Even small acts of kindness have big impacts and go a long way towards building friendships and connections.
The Invisible Boy, by Trudi Ludwig and illustrated by Patrice Barton: Brian is never seen or noticed by his classmates. He has no friends, and thus appears in the story devoid of color, making him invisible at school. Eventually a new child winds up in Brian's class and Brian is the first to reach out to him. When a bond forms between the two boys and they are teamed up to work on a class project, Brian finds a way to step out of the shadows and flourish. Not only does he make a new friend, but Barton's illustrations show how small acts of kindness fill Brian up with color until he is, quite literally, a vibrant force in his classroom.
Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson and illustrated by Tara Calahan King: Can your biggest enemy actually become your best friend? When Jeremy moves down the street, he becomes one little boy's biggest enemy. The boy's dad has a surefire way for his son to get rid of Jeremy once and for all - by giving Jeremy a piece of enemy pie. But, before the boy can give a piece to Jeremy, Dad has one rule: the two boys must spend the day together first. I love this book for challenging preconceived notions and helping kids develop a growth mindset that encourages them to learn new things about people in their classrooms.
A Hat for Mrs. Goldman, by Michelle Edwards and illustrated by G. Brian Karas: Mrs. Goldman knits hats for everyone in their neighborhood to help them stay warm during the harsh winter. But what happens when Sophia realizes that Mrs. Goldman is so busy knitting for everyone else and she has no hat of her own to wear? Sophia takes it upon herself to make Mrs. Goldman the perfect hat. I absolutely love this story of selflessness!
The Lion and the Bird, by Marianne Dubuc: When a lion finds a wounded bird in his garden, the lion gently takes him in and cares for him because the bird's flock has flown away. The two animals become fast friends, so when the bird departs with his flock the following autumn, the lion is heartbroken. This is such a tender portrayal of friendship and loyalty, with stunning illustrations to boot. The combination of simple text and exquisite pictures make this story sing -- and resonate deeply.
Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis: Jacqueline Woodson is brilliant, and everything she writes turns to gold. This story packs a powerful punch and is especially fabulous for older elementary students. Chloe and her crew won't play with the new girl in school, totally casting Maya aside every time she tries to make friends. And one day, Maya just stops coming to school. When Chloe's teacher speaks to the class about how even small acts of kindness can have powerful effects, Chloe is remorseful for her actions. This is a must have for every classroom and home, sending an anti-bullying message that is as compelling as it is critical.
Big Friends, by Linda Sarah and illustrated by Benji Davies: Birt and Etho are best buds, using their big imaginations every time they play. But what happens when a new boy comes along and their two turns into three? Three is such a tough number for little kids - I see it first hand with my own boys on a regular basis. But I love how this story reminds kids that there is always room for one more -- and making a new friend in no way means you forget the old.
My Two Blankets, by Irena Kobald and illustrated by Freya Blackwood: In this gorgeous story, a girl called Cartwheel moves to a new country with her auntie, and in her new surroundings, everything is strange. Only a metaphorical blanket brings her comfort, until the day that she meets a new girl and the two embark on a friendship that begins with a smile. This story not only sheds a much-needed light on the refugee experience , but it reminds us that fear of "others" can dissipate so quickly by simply opening our hearts and minds. It can start with a smile, or even just a simple hello.