Going back-to-school is an exciting time to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, but it can also be a stressful time with complex emotions. The below books are excellent conversation starters on what it means to be a good friend, how to set boundaries, address cliques and process feelings of jealousy.
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My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison, 2016
This is such a powerful and relatable story about peer pressure and standing up for your friends. Paula and Maggie have been best friends all their lives, but when another girl, Veronica, says something unkind about Maggie, Paula begins rethinking their long friendship. Paula starts playing with Veronica only to have Veronica then say something mean to her. Luckily, Maggie generously forgives Paula and stands up for her demonstrating what true friendship looks like.
I love everything Hannah E. Harrison creates and this accessible friendship tale is especially moving and beautifully illustrated.
The Not-So-Friendly Friend: How to Set Boundaries for Healthy Friendships by Christina Furnival; illustrated by Katie Dwyer, 2021
This impactful book is an excellent conversation starter on how to respectfully stand up for yourself and others when another child is being unkind.
When a sociable young girl is confronted by an unkind classmate, she learns to set appropriate boundaries. If the other girl is being nice, they can play and have fun, but as soon as the other girl becomes hurtful, the play ends. The girl states, “If you want to be kind, I’d be glad if you’d play, but if you don’t treat me right, you can go on your way.”
I really appreciate how the book shows the main character giving the other girl chances to make amends or join in, but as soon as she turns nasty, she’s done. She is also encouraged to seek a trusted adult if necessary as well. The book is further enhanced by a discussion guide in the back that is helpful for parents and teachers.
Jenny Mei Is Sad by Tracy Subisak, 2021
(Ages 4 and up)
This beautiful friendship story teaches kids the importance of accepting friends for who they are and loving them during the good times and the bad. Jenny Mei is funny and kind, but also struggles with some bigger emotions that occasionally cause her to act out. The narrator demonstrates what it means to be a good friend by listening and being there to support Jenny Mei no matter what. While the text is sparse, this powerful book speaks volumes and is an excellent lesson in empathy.
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev; illustrated by Taeeun Yoo, 2015
(Ages 4 and up)
This charming story is a must-have. When a boy and his pet elephant are excluded from a pet club, he finds other children with unusual pets and they form their own club that welcomes everyone. Without being overly didactic, this lovely friendship story teaches children the beauty of inclusion.
Almost Always Best Best Friends by Apryl Stott, 2022
The delicate dynamics of friendship are skillfully expressed in this charming story.
Poppy and her best friend Clementine do everything together, so naturally Poppy grows jealous when Clementine plays at Georgia’s house one day. I absolutely love how Poppy’s dad helps her process her envious feelings and role plays how to talk to her friend. When Poppy finally meets Georgia, she realizes it is even more fun to all be friends together.
Tomorrow is a Brand-New Day by Davina Bell; illustrated by Allison Colpoys, 2022
(Ages 4 and up)
This is a book that all children need to hear! With flowing rhymes and vibrant artwork, this clever story brilliantly captures life’s frustrations that can cause us to not be our best selves and weaves in a message of hope and forgiveness stating that children will be loved no matter what.
The story follows two girls who have several ups and downs throughout the day ending with an argument. The next morning they wake up ready to apologize and set things right. I think it is so important for kids to learn at an early age that everyone makes mistakes, but when we do, we also need to make amends.
Just Kidding by Trudy Ludwig; illustrated by Adam Gustavson, 2006
The thin line between joking and hurtful teasing is expertly addressed in this powerful story. Vince is consistently putting D.J. down following his unkind words with the phrase, “just kidding.” This realistic glimpse into one boy’s struggles to stand up for himself is very eye-opening. Complete with discussion questions, additional resources, and list of “Teasing Do’s and Don’t’s” this is an excellent conversation starter for classroom and home libraries.
Two of a Kind by Jacqui Robbins; illustrated by Matt Phelan, 2009
Unfortunately, cliques occur way too often in schools and this helpful book addresses the lure of popularity versus true friendship. Even though Kayla and Melanie may not be the nicest girls, their coolness is oddly appealing. When Anna is invited into their exclusive twosome, she briefly abandons her best friend Julisa. Anna quickly discovers, however, that she has nothing in common with Kayla and Melanie and when tested to make the right choice in standing up for Julisa, she does.
How to Apologize by David LaRochelle; illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, 2021
Using just the right amount of humor and charm, all-stars David LaRochelle and Mike Wohnoutka have created the perfect read aloud for teaching kids why and how to apologize! This entertaining story reassures readers that everyone makes mistakes, but it is important to rectify them with a heartfelt apology. With its delightful illustrations and impactful message of conflict resolution, this book is a must-have for home and classroom libraries.
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig; illustrated by Patricia Barton, 2013
All too often introverted children can be overlooked in a classroom setting. This poignant story presents Brian in black and white as he quietly keeps to himself while secretly longing to make a friend. When a new boy finally notices him, Brian relishes in feeling accepted and is able to shine. An excellent discussion guide is also included.
I Walk With Vanessa: a story about a simple act of kindness by Kerascoet, 2018
(Ages 5 and up)
With themes of kindness, courage, and anti-bullying, I Walk With Vanessa is a must-have for classroom libraries.
When a young girl observes a hurtful act toward a new classmate, she decides to take action and extend kindness to the victim by walking with her to school. Soon several classmates join together and form a united front.
The book is made even more powerful by its lack of text. It allows readers to interpret the characters’ expressions and develop their own conclusions. This story is an excellent tool for teaching anti-bullying standards. It touches upon a child demonstrating bullying behavior, a victim, and a bystander. The story can be used to prompt an important discussion about each character’s role and the actions they take. Students can take turns role playing the characters and because there is no text, children can create their own dialogue further internalizing the situation.
My children were captivated by this story and asked for repeated readings, creating several important discussions.
Sometimes It’s Hard to Be Nice by Maggie C. Rudd; illustrated by Kelly O’Neill, 2021
This impactful book, takes very relatable situations and demonstrates to children that even though it may, at times, be challenging to be kind, it is well worth it! I love how this book acknowledges that doing the right thing is not always easy. Sometimes it takes practice and even courage to be nice. The relatable scenarios are sure to resonate with many readers and help them see the benefits of offering compassion.
The Color Collector by Nicholas Solis; illustrated by Renia Metallinou, 2021
When an observant young boy helps a new girl feel welcome, an incredible friendship flourishes. This tender tale skillfully depicts the impact of the boy’s kindness in black and white illustrations that light up with color as the friendship blooms. The acts of saying hello and listening may seem simple, but this story demonstrates the powerful effect empathy can have in changing someone’s life and helping them feel seen.
Each Kindnessby Jacqueline Woodson; illustrated by E.B. Lewis, 2012
This thought-provoking picture book uses a poignant story and lovely watercolor illustrations to present a unique view of kindness.
View more of my BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS HERE.
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