Stretching back across millennia unlikely friendships have featured strongly in stories across the globe. These heart-warming eclectic tales often begin with two characters thrown together by unusual circumstances. Initially they might be wary of one another until they solve a mystery or go on an adventure and a strong bond is forged. Such stories are a delight to read as the reader observes a reluctance turn to respect and reciprocity. These stories highlight that friendship comes in many forms and can span generations, continents, cultures and species.
At times these tales highlight how prejudice and fear can be transformed when alliances and solidarity are essential for survival. Understanding, empathy and compassion are addressed and trust is cemented. In E.B. White’s classic Charlotte’s Web Charlotte the spider forms a wonderful bond with her friend Wilbur the pig. Roald Dahl captures the theme brilliantly in the unconventional and magical friendship between Sophie and the BFG. Raymond Briggs’s The Snowman encapsulates the wonder and awe of discovering an instant rapport with someone when the boy’s snowman comes to life.
This month we have plenty of magnificent books on various attachments, pacts and unlikely unions to choose from. 2+ Rob Biddulph fans will treasure Sunk! Join Penguin Blue and his crew of unlikely friends as they set sail on a swashbuckling adventure. Gilly’s cheerful illustrations will capture young readers in The Day Henry Met … A Dog. Kevin is another awesome tale celebrating a heartfelt bond.
3+ Young readers will adore Leonard the Terrible Monster from award-winning Mo Willems. This quirky and imaginative tale highlights that sometimes it is better to be a friend than a scary monster. Juniper Jupiter by award-winner Izzie Stewart is a hilarious superhero story about a quest for friendship. But who could be bright, strong and brave enough to be Juniper’s sidekick? Alex T. Smith’s adorable Claude series features best friends canine Claude and his trusty side-kick, Sir Bobblysock.
5–8 Emerging readers will love Helen Peters and Ellie Snowdon The Jasmine Green series featuring a wide range of animal friendships. 7+ Helen Cooper’s The Hippo at the End of the Hall is a vivid and absorbing book which includes a mysterious invite, a museum of stuffed animals, exquisite descriptions and a fantastic adventure plus a bizarre band of allies.
Middle Grade readers 8+ and animal lovers will be captivated by Clare and her Captain by Michael Morpurgo with Catherine Rayner’s charming illustrations. When Clare encounters a retired horse and his reclusive owner, her summer is transformed by an amicable accord. Alan Nolan’s Conor Caveman follows Conor’s madcap adventure and his unexpected friendship with a prehistoric man. The Sam Hannigan series is jam-packed full of entertaining capers following Sam and her pack of furry and feathered friends.
Older readers 10+ will be enthralled by Stewart Foster’s Bubble Boy. At the end of the garden through their hedge seems like another world with magical creatures and many friends in many forms. Mary McCallum’s Dappled Annie and the Tigrish is a whimsical story of nature, magic, family, courage and friendship.
So, remember you never know when your next encounter or unexpected conversation might blossom into a lasting friendship.
Síne Quinn, MPhil Children’s Literature, is an editor working with Cubicle 7 Entertainment, and Irish and international publishers, CBI Book Doctor and creative writing teacher for the Bookmarks Programme at TCD.
HarperCollins, 32pp £6.99 ISBN 9780008207427
‘Kevin: the make believe friend you can really believe in.’
Who would have thought that an enormous colourful monster could be the perfect best friend? Travel with a young boy, Sid Gibbons, and his imaginary ‘vanilla-and-pink’ friend to the magical land where Kevin comes from. The story begins when Sid gets into trouble again for making a mess. The first few pages of this ingenious and incredible picturebook are a dull two-tonal colour, highlighting Sid’s glum feelings. When Sid decides to blame his make-believe friend, the pages are transformed into an explosion of colour. Rob Biddulph’s latest uplifting tale is a mulitcolour visual delight with a brilliant twist. (Age 2+)
Alex T. Smith
Claude: Claude All at Sea
Hodder 32pp €11.99 ISBN 9781444903676
Follow Alex T. Smith’s stylish hound on a nautical adventure as he sets sail accompanied by his trusty sidekick Sir Bobblysock, but watch out for Nigel the seamonster! This wonderful picturebook creation is a perfect combination of words and pictures, which make this an engaging, inventive and humorous caper. Claude All At Sea is sure to create a splash! If you love this picturebook, older readers will enjoy the bestselling fiction Claude series, featuring the eponymous canine’s adventures captured in a chapter-book format – ideal for emerging readers. (Age 3+)
5-8: A Lamb Called Lucky by Helen Peters, Illustrated by Ellie Snowdon, Nosy Crow, £5.99, ISBN 9781788000246
The exceptionally talented Nosy Crow are known for publishing high-quality children’s book. So it’s no surprise to learn that their popular series The Jasmine Green series has a large following. A Lamb Called Lucky is the fifth novel in this charming series of animal stories centred on forging friendships. (A sheepdog, kitten, piglet and duckling star in the other books.) Join Jasmine and her friends on her latest adventure as she rescues animals and battles hidden dangers on the farm. Be prepared to want to read every book in the series before spring is over. Helen Peters’ engaging storytelling is the perfect complement to Ellie Snowdon’s adorable black-and-white illustrations.
The Bubble Boy
Simon & Schuster 48pp £6.99 ISBN 9781471145407
‘Not all superheroes wear capes’
The Bubble Boy is a poignant, charming and uplifting debut story. Eleven-year-old Joe lives with a very rare condition: severe combined immunodeficiency disorder (SCID). His immune system is so compromised that he has to spend his life in a bubble. When he was two months old Joe was admitted to hospital where he has lived ever since. New visitors have to be screened in case they bring in life-threatening germs. Joe longs to see the world and live like a normal boy. When Amir becomes his nurse, he seems a little crazy at first, especially since he believes in aliens! But soon Amir shows Joe the world in a different light and his life expands in a way he could never imagine. (Age 9+)
For more book suggestions, recommendations and reviews, check out Children’s Books Ireland here.