Inside: These picture books about friendship teach kids how to be a good friend and how to handle friendship problems. Add these titles to your collection of the best picture books.
My preschooler was eerily quiet while we all sat at the breakfast table. She ate her oatmeal, spoonful by spoonful, but she stared past everything and didn’t say a word as the rest of us chit-chatted.
But she’s a talkative 4-year-old who loves to ask why every chance she gets, so I tried to read her face a couple times. I knew she must be mulling something over.
And then during a break in the conversation, finally: “Mommy? Yesterday at the park, Alex told me I’m not his friend.”
Oh no, I thought. We’re starting friendship drama already?
When Parenting Lectures Don’t Work
I reached out to rub my daughter’s shoulder. “I’m sorry that happened. How did you feel when he said that?”
“I felt sad.” She ate another bite of oatmeal, the corners of her mouth turned down.
I waited, not sure what to say.
“He is my friend,” she said. “Friends shouldn’t say things like that to each other.”
I nodded. “You’re right. That’s not a nice thing to say to a friend.”
But then the image of my kid ghosting another kid at the park popped into my head, so I kept going. “But sometimes even friends say not-nice things to each other. What’s important is to talk about it after. You can tell him his words made you feel sad. Maybe he’ll say he’s sorry and make it right.”
She nodded, but I could tell my mini-lecture hadn’t quite made it through to her. She was stuck in the hurt.
But Here’s What Does Work
Lectures don’t work with kids.
Deep down, I know that. But in the moment, I wanted to fix my child’s hurt heart. So I resorted to busting out some parental wisdom she didn’t ask for – and wasn’t ready to hear.
But after four kids, I’ve finally learned what does get through to kids.
Because I can talk to my kid until I’m blue in the face about what it means to be a good friend, but it won’t get through to her the way a story about friendship will get through.
Research shows this isn’t just in my head – when reading fiction, your brain reacts the same way as if you were living the story in real life. In other words, reading fiction about something your child is struggling with is like setting up a virtual reality simulation where they can fully enter the experience and understand different perspectives.
So after that conversation with my daughter, I set off on a new parenting mission: Find all the picture books about friendship I can get my hands on.
But not the sickeningly sweet stories that go in one ear and out the other. The juicy ones my kids can sink their teeth into. The picture books about friendship that will lead my children down the path of understanding how to be a good friend, what to do in tricky situations with friends, and how to tell when someone’s a true friend.
The Best Picture Books to Teach Your Child How to Be a Good Friend
For months, I made it my my job to research children’s book titles that tackle friendship. Every week, I put 20 books on hold at the library, plus at every visit I browsed the shelves for even more picture books about friendship.
Together, my kids and I read hundreds of picture books on the topic of friendship.
The list below is the cream of the crop from those hundreds of books: the books I loved reading, and the books my kids asked me to read again and again. But more importantly, these are the best picture books about friendship that kicked off the most powerful conversations about what it means to be a good friend.
Note: indicates my family’s absolute top favorites on the list. These are the books my kids can’t get enough of!
For When It’s Hard to Make New Friends†
† This site is reader-supported. When you buy through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
If your child is starting a new school year or you’ve moved to a new area, share one of these picture books about friendship with your child to help them understand and cope with the emotions they might feel.
At first glance, I made the mistake of thinking this book was just about imaginary friends, but it’s so much more than that. Kids who are shy will especially appreciate this story of what can happen when you push past that initial scary part of trying to make a new friend.
This is a cute story about making room for a new friend. We had great discussions about why it would feel weird to have a new friend join you and how it would feel for the kid who’s trying to befriend you.
When your child has to say goodbye to someone important like a friend who’s moving away, this is the perfect book. When my preschooler’s favorite babysitter was moving to another state, we read this book several times a day, and it was the number one thing that helped my daughter process those big, scary emotions about losing a close friend.
This is a sweet story about losing a friend and finding a new one. Plus, this book gave us an opportunity to talk about the topic of death and what that means – in a way that wasn’t scary or upsetting for our preschooler.
This little story about a child who befriends a squash is perfect for kids who are struggling with having to say goodbye to a friend who’s moving away.
For When You’re Not Getting Along With a Friend
Tiffs between friends are normal, but it’s not always clear to a child how they can move past the conflict and get back to having fun together. These picture books about friendship will teach your child important lessons they’ll be able to use in any relationship.
When your friends annoy you, what do you do? Kids who have younger siblings will appreciate this funny story of a bird annoying a bear.
About the Importance of Being an Includer
If you want to raise your child to be kind, they need to understand what it looks like to be an includer. These children’s books about friendship will give your child powerful, tangible examples of how to be an includer.
Fair warning: This thoughtful story does have a sad ending. However, my kids enjoyed talking about what the main character could have done differently. We ended up having an ongoing discussion about regret and how we all have those moments in life we look back on and wish we’d acted differently. So many great conversations come out of this one every time we read it!
This cute book helps kids think about the ramifications of excluding others and how that makes others feel. The perfect way to teach your child to be an includer. One of our family’s all-time favorites!
The Best All-Around Picture Books About Friendship
These are the best picture books about friendship to show your child what it means to be a good friend and to give them examples of how to handle various friendship problems.
This is a wordless picture book about a girl who saves up for something she wants but then makes a decision to brighten a friend’s day instead. Full disclosure: The “friend” in the story may very well be her little brother, but siblings can be friends too!
From the start of this story, kids feel empathy for the friendless scrawny cat, and the ending is perfect. This one gives you lots of opportunity to talk about how we treat others and about being open to new friends.
Which are your favorite picture books about friendship? Share in a comment below!
Kelly Holmes, Certified Parent Educator
I'm a mom of four, a Certified Parent Educator, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. I believe if you want a loving parent-child relationship that will last into the teenage years and beyond, the time for nurturing that kind of relationship is now. The good news? All you need is 10 minutes a day. Start here »