Why Can’t We Be Friends?: Tales of the Heart

Filled with unlikely but enduring attachments, ostensibly incompatible Romeos and Juliets, and unexpected instances of true animal camaraderie, these books prove that affection can allow individuals to look beyond their differences and forge long-lasting bonds. Use these books to expand Valentine’s Day and friendship storytimes; tease out overarching themes; and initiate discussions of tolerance, compassion, and community.

Filled with unlikely but enduring attachments, ostensibly incompatible Romeos and Juliets, and unexpected instances of true animal camaraderie, these books prove that affection can allow individuals to look beyond their differences and forge long-lasting bonds. The stories are entrancingly illustrated and skillfully told, ranging in tone from heartstring-tugging to funny-bone-tickling, and in style from fantastical to those based on fact. Appropriate for sharing aloud or reading independently, the stories target youngsters who are just beginning to explore social interactions independently, form friendships by choice, and realize that their actions can have positive or negative consequences. Many of these titles celebrate individuality while emphasizing the importance of finding common ground with others. They convey essential truths regarding the value of compromise, the emotionally empowering results of empathy, and the wonders of glimpsing the world through the eyes of another. The message that no one is ever truly alone echoes throughout the selections and provides inspiration and hope. Use these books to expand Valentine’s Day and friendship storytimes; tease out overarching themes; and initiate discussions of tolerance, compassion, and community.

Tales of the Heart

BURKSJamesBird & Squirrel on the Run! illus. by author. Scholastic/Graphix. 2012. pap. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-545-31283-7. Gr 2-6–Stalked by a ferocious feline, two critters with polar-opposite personalities–carefree Bird and scared-of-everything Squirrel–flee together south toward safety, and their hair-raising, humor-filled, save-each-other’s-skin adventures gradually transform an uneasy alliance into deep-felt friendship. Burks’s graphic novel sparkles with crisp color artwork, quip-cracking dialogue, and plenty of heart.

BUZZEOToniOne Cool Friend. illus. by David Small. Dial. 2012. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3413-5. PreS-Gr 3–A “very proper” tuxedo-wearing boy discovers a kindred spirit at the penguin display at the aquarium, pops the critter into his backpack, and goes about making Magellan feel at home, all under the large-size nose of his seemingly oblivious father. A hoot, with perfect comic interplay between the wryly straight-faced storytelling and supple-lined artwork.

CRUMMELSusan Stevens & Dorothy DonohueCity Dog, Country Dog. illus. by Dorothy Donohue. Marshall Cavendish. 2004. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-2-223-42222-7; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-7614-5538-7. K-Gr 4–After meeting at art school in France, best pals Henri T. Lapooch and Vincent van Dog must surmount discordant personalities and preferences to find common ground. Filled with clever references to the canine characters’ true-life inspirations (Toulouse-Lautrec and van Gogh), this Aesop-based story blithely blends upbeat text, vibrant collage artwork, and a resounding moral (“Vive la difference!”). Audio version available from Spoken Arts Media.

DICAMILLOKate & Alison McGheeBink & Gollie. illus. by Tony Fucile. Candlewick. 2010. RTE $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-3266-3; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5954-7. Gr 1-3–Two girls–one tiny, tousled, and puckish; the other tall, tidy, and coolly self-possessed; both delightfully quirky and headstrong–embark on three hilarious adventures that showcase their differences while celebrating the special bond they share. Droll dialogue, splattered-with-color cartoons, and perfect comic timing add up to a whole lot of fun. The zany escapades continue in Bink & Gollie, Two for One (Candlewick, 2012). DVD and audio version available from Weston Woods.

ESBAUMJillTom’s Tweet. illus. by Dan Santat. Knopf. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-85171-1; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-375-95171-8; ebook $8.99. ISBN 978-0-375-98472-3. K-Gr 2–Coming across a fallen-out-of-the-nest baby bird, a scruffy stray cat exclaims, “Hello, breakfast,” but “Dadburn it!,” the quivering tot is just too skinny to consume, and “Consarn it!,” too helpless to leave on its own. In this riotous read-aloud, rousing rhymes and rambunctious caricature-style cartoons describe how Tom goes from chompers-ready predator to tweety-cuddling chum.

GORBACHEVValeriHow to Be Friends with a Dragon. illus. by author. Albert Whitman. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8075-3432-8. PreS-Gr 2–Simon loves everything about dragons, and while listening to his older sister expound upon the basics of befriending these beasts (from “be nice” to wear your seatbelt if he takes you flying), the boy envisions imagination-soaring interactions with a smiling green-scaled companion. Engaging narrative and airy artwork gracefully balance realism with fantasy, humor with gentle affection.

GREYMiniThe Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon. illus. by author. Knopf. 2006. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-375-83691-6. Gr 1-4–The nursery-rhyme twosome runs away to 1920s New York City, where they find fame as vaudeville stars, turn to crime after going broke, and are tragically separated after an unsuccessful heist. However, true love withstands the vagaries of fate, resulting in a joyful reunion years later. Colorful collages and snappy narrative shine with playful details and invigorating élan.

HOWEJamesOtter and Odder: A Love Story. illus. by Chris Raschka. Candlewick. 2012. RTE $14. ISBN 978-0-7636-4174-0. Gr 1-3–Gazing into the “round, sweet, glistening eyes” of his soon-to-be dinner, Otter finds himself falling for his food source, Myrtle the fish. Can this star-crossed, cross-species couple overcome wagging tongues and innate predator-prey instincts to find their happy-ever-after ending? The lyrical narrative and childlike artwork convey wise truths about following one’s heart and cherishing love.

KOSTECKI-SHAWJenny SueSame, Same but Different. illus. by author. Holt/Christy Ottaviano. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-8946-2; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-4668-1116-4. K-Gr 2–When pen pals Elliot and Kailash begin to exchange drawings and letters, they discover that even though they live in two different countries–America and India–they have much in common. Jewel-toned mixed-media illustrations dynamically depict details of both worlds, encouraging readers to identify aspects unique to each culture while appreciating the universality of shared interests and affection.

LANGSTAFFJohn, retelFrog Went A-Courtin’. illus by Feodor Rojankovsky. Harcourt. 1955. Tr $17. ISBN 978-0-15-230214-6; pap. $7. ISBN 978-0-15-633900-1. PreS-Gr 4–An amphibian dandy gallantly woos the lovely Mistress Mouse, wedding preparations are made, and the couple celebrates with animal and insect guests until a pouncing cat brings an end to the festivities and prompts an early honeymoon departure. This sprightly retelling of a folk song harmonizes toe-tapping couplets with spellbinding homespun artwork. Audio version available from Weston Woods.

LEAREdwardThe Owl and the Pussycat. illus. by Jan Brett. Putnam. 1991. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-21925-2; pap. $6.99. ISBN 978-0-698-11367-1. PreS-Gr 4–Lear’s whimsical poem about two seemingly mismatched lovers unfurls against a lush-hued, lavishly imagined Caribbean setting. Mingling detailed realism with fanciful charm, the sun-shimmering paintings depict the tender courtship between dashing fowl and dainty feline aboard their “pea-green boat,” while another romance–a tale of two tropical fish separated and reunited–plays out beneath the ocean’s surface.

MILLERBobbi, retel. Miss Sally Ann and the Panther. illus. by Megan Lloyd. Holiday House. 2012. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-1833-6. K-Gr 3–When the feted American folk heroine meets a mean-as-tarnation varmint in the woods, a tree-felling, gorge-clawing, Milky Way-curdling brawl ensues, a “conbobberation” that lasts until both combatants prove their mettle, smile at one another, and become “great and glorious friends.” A rip-roaring tall tale with tongue-tingling language and bold-as-brass artwork.

PINKWATERDanielBear in Love. illus. by Will Hillenbrand. Candlewick. 2012. RTE $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-4569-4. PreS–Someone has been leaving tasty treats for Bear, causing him to sing jubilant songs and to leave his own sweet offerings. Kindness adds to kindness until the two finally meet–it’s a shy bunny–to share their mutual enthusiasm for food, music, and one another. This charmer soars with scrumptious storytelling and sweet-as-pie paintings.

RICHARDSONJustin & Peter ParnellAnd Tango Makes Three. illus. by Henry Cole. S & S. 2005. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-6898-7845-9; ebook $12.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-2410-4. PreS-Gr 3–Two male penguins forge an enduring bond, construct a nest, and start a family by caring for an abandoned egg. Set in New York City’s Central Park Zoo and based on a true story, this tale pairs enchanting sherbet-hued watercolors and fine-tuned text to speak volumes about the importance of tolerance and the power of love.

RUNTONAndyBright Lights and Starry Nights. illus. by author. (Owly & Wormy Series). S & S/Atheneum. 2012. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-5775-1; ebook $12.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-5439-2. K-Gr 3–Two unlikely besties embark on a star-gazing camping trip marked by mishaps that test their verve and their nerve before finally catching sight of an awe-inspiring vista and winning a few new pals. Starring an amiable round-eyed owl and a spunky comma-shaped worm, this wordless sequel to Friends All Aflutter! (Atheneum, 2011) conveys events and emotions with ebullient drenched-in-dusky-hues cartoons and pictograph thought bubbles.

SAUERTammiNugget & Fang: Friends Forever or Snack Time? illus. by Michael Slack. Houghton Harcourt. Apr. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-85285-0. PreS-Gr 2–Nugget and Fang are boon companions until Nugget swims off to school and is taught that minnows can’t be buddies with sharks (as per the food chain). They part ways, but when Nugget’s life is endangered, faithful Fang gets the chance to prove his affection. Tongue-in-gill text and buoyant deep-water-hued cartoons send a heartfelt message about friendship.

STEADPhilip CA Home for Bird. illus. by author. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-711-1. PreS-Gr 4–While out foraging for “interesting things,” a toad instead finds a friend (an illustration shows the wooden-looking bird falling off a cuckoo clock on a passing-by pickup). Worried that his pal’s stony silence is symptomatic of homesickness, Vernon takes Bird on a daring quest to locate his abode. Deadpan text and effervescent artwork relate a smile-inducing tale of altruism and empathy. Audio version available from Recorded Books.

STEIGWilliamAmos & Boris. illus. by author. Farrar. 1971. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-374-30227-6; pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-312-53566-7. K-Gr 5–While sailing the high seas, a venturesome mouse falls overboard and is rescued by an affable whale. Despite vast disparities in size and stomping grounds, the two mammals forge a friendship that resurfaces years later when Boris ends up in dire need of Amos’s assistance. Lighthearted watercolors and an eloquent narrative create a wise, witty, and wonder-filled tale.

WEEKSSarahWoof: A Love Story. illus. by Holly Berry. HarperCollins/Laura Geringer. 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-025007-2. K-Gr 2–Smitten by a pretty white cat with sparkling green eyes, a dog tries to articulate his feelings to her, but his “woofs” and “grrrs” only send her scampering up a tree…until he digs up a “shiny brass [trom]bone,” trumpets his emotions with passionate gusto, and wins her heart. A read-aloud romp with breezy rhymes and exuberant collage artwork.

WILLEMSMoCity Dog, Country Frog. illus. by Jon J. Muth. Hyperion/Disney. 2010. RTE $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4231-0300-4. PreS-Gr 2–On a glorious spring day, a tail-wagging pooch meets a smiling amphibian and amity blossoms. Through the seasons, City Dog returns to frolic and reminisce with his pal. When winter’s visit finds Country Frog no longer there, spring’s return brings the comfort of remembrance and a new companion. Spare text and touched-with-light watercolors create an uplifting ode to friendship.

Easy Readers, Endearing Friendships

BELLCeceRabbit & Robot: The Sleepover. illus. by author. Candlewick. 2012. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5475-7. K-Gr 2–When the evening doesn’t go as planned, single-minded Rabbit overreacts, but logical Robot remains unruffled and demonstrates how to roll with the punches, until he runs out of steam and Rabbit comes to the rescue. Funny situations, nuts-and-bolts visual high jinx, and a satisfying meeting-of-minds resolution leave readers rolling with laughter.

HOWEJamesHoundsley and Catina: Plink and Plunk. illus. by Marie-Louise Gay. Candlewick. 2009. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-3385-1; pap. $3.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-6640-8. K-Gr 2–Though best friends, a floppy-eared dog and snowy-furred cat have dissimilar interests–he likes canoeing while she likes bicycling. After a few frustrating outings, they discover that they must help one another overcome fears in order to share these favorite pastimes. Part of a charmingly illustrated and invitingly told series featuring two winsome characters.

LOBELArnoldFrog and Toad Are Friends. illus. by author. HarperCollins. 1970. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-023957-2; pap. $3.99. ISBN 978-0-06-444020-2; ebook $4.99. ISBN 978-0-06-197410-6. K-Gr 3–Frog is outgoing and spontaneous while Toad is more staid and set in his ways, but these companions share a tried-and-true friendship filled with heartwarming empathy and a genuine appreciation for one another’s foibles and fortitudes. The first in a series of grin-making adventures, told with accessible language, packed-with-personality artwork, and everlasting child appeal. Audio version available from HarperFestival.

WEEKSSarahMac and Cheese and the Perfect Plan. illus. by Jane Manning. HarperCollins. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-117082-9; pap. $3.99. ISBN 987-0-06-117084-3. K-Gr 2–In this second adventure about two feline friends, happy-go-lucky Mac is determined to get curmudgeonly Cheese out of the alley and off to the seashore, but when Cheese’s hemming and hawing causes them to miss the bus, he grudgingly finds a way to placate Mac and make some fun. Rhyme-filled text and comical artwork shine with humor and affection.

WILLEMSMo. Let’s Go for a Drive! illus. by author. (Elephant and Piggie Series). Hyperion. 2012. RTE $8.99. ISBN 978-142316482-1. K-Gr 2–Meticulous-minded Gerald the elephant formulates a plan for the perfect road trip, sending ever-peppy Piggie scrambling to gather supplies. When one small detail (they don’t have a car) derails the undertaking—as well as Gerald–Piggie cheerfully comes up with a new plan. Kinetic cartoons, zesty text, and an unforgettable friendship combine in this laugh-out-loud addition to a never-miss series.

True Tales

BUCKLEYCarolTarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends. photos by author. Putnam. 2009. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25443-7. K-Gr 5–After years in the entertainment industry, Tarra retired to Tennessee’s Elephant Sanctuary but never paired off with a pachyderm pal like the other inhabitants. Surprisingly, the role of BFF was filled by a feisty stray dog. Crystal-clear photos and straightforward text describe how the two unlikely but devoted companions romp and play, communicate, and look after one another.

HATKOFFIsabella, Craig Hatkoff, & Paula KahumbuOwen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship. photos by Peter Greste. Scholastic. 2006. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-439-82973-1. K-Gr 5–Stranded on a coral reef by a 2004 tsunami, a baby hippopotamus was rescued, transported to an animal sanctuary in Kenya, and placed in an enclosure occupied by a 130-year-old tortoise. The long-lasting bond that ensued has amazed scientists and inspired many. Engaging close-up images and compelling text relate events with clarity and an emphasis on hope. The story continues in Owen & Mzee: The Language of Friendship (Scholastic, 2007).

JURMAINSusan TrippWorst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud. illus. by Larry Day. Dutton. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-525-47903-1. Gr 2-5–As different as “pickles and ice cream,” tall, shy Thomas and short, loquacious John were the best of friends, working together to shape their newly born nation, until a passionate disagreement about presidential powers caused a political and personal rift that only time–and true affection–could overcome. Vivacious text and witty pencil-and-watercolor artwork blend historical detail with winning humor. Audio version available from Recorded Books.

LARSONKirby & Mary NetheryTwo Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival. illus. by Jean Cassels. Walker. 2008. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8027-9754-4; PLB $17.89. ISBN 978-0-8027-9755-1. K-Gr 3–Left homeless by the devastating storm, a dog and a cat–dubbed Bobbi and Bob Cat for their bobbed tails–wandered the streets of New Orleans for months, surviving only by sticking together, until they were finally rescued by animal shelter volunteers. Simple narrative and soft-toned realistic paintings tell a stirring tale of companionship. DVD available from Nutmeg Media.

THIMMESHCatherineFriendsHoughton Harcourt. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-39010-9; ebook $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-76921-9. K-Gr 2–Strikingly photographed instances of remarkable animal amity–an elderly orangutan cuddling with a cat, a lion cub and piglet snuggled up and snoozing, a polar bear romping with a sled dog–are paired with simple rhyming verses that elucidate the wonders of friendship (prose paragraphs provide background information). This audience-grabber will inspire discussion along with “oohs” and “awws.”

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