Lessons in “Best Friend” Picture Books
As a Pre-K teacher, I want to help my students learn to socialize and make friends. Inevitably, children often pair off and become “best friends” as the year professes. These best friend relationships involve playing and experiencing great joy together; but, best friends can also fight, argue, annoy, and experience sadness together. I want to help children in my class navigate the highs and lows of these friendships. Fortunately, many books appropriate for the Pre-K demographic are great at helping children learn about what it means to have a best friend. Two classic best friend relationships are Frog and Toad and Elephant and Piggie.
Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad exemplify many relationships of children and adults too. As Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat once noted, “Opposites Attract” and true to form Frog and Toad are nothing alike. Frog is perpetually extroverted, energetic, and optimistic while toad is more reserved and prone to bouts of sadness and grumpiness. Despite their differences, Frog and Toad care deeply for each other. Frog will do anything to help Toad out including banging his head against a wall to think of a story to cheer Toad up, looking for Toad’s lost button, sending him a letter in the mail and more. These stories of Frog and Toad can spark discussion during circle time where children can share ideas about times they have helped out their friends and about ways you might try to cheer up a sad friend. They also can be catalyst for talking about ways we are similar and different than our friends and how we might have different perspectives about the same situation (i.e. Frog is eager for Spring while Toad wants to sleep more).
Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie in some aspects are opposites like Frog and Toad; but in many other ways their two personalities mesh well together which allows them to engage in all sorts of fun play. Whether they are playing with a new toy, teaching each other to dance, or going for a drive, Elephant and Piggie have fun together in ways the average Pre-K child can relate to. That being said, even a fun filled relationship like Elephant and Piggie’s can still have moments of crisis. For example, Elephant debates whether he should share his ice cream with Piggie and in another story he fears pigs make him sneeze. An even deeper crisis occurs when Piggie makes a new friend who Elephant fears may become Piggie’s new best friend. These are stressful situations that are common in a Pre-K classroom. In a typical Pre-K class, children struggle to share with their friends and get upset if they feel like their best friend is playing with someone else more than them. Elephant and Piggie’s stories can spark discussions about both the positives of friendship such as having fun but also how to deal with the emotions that arise when we have conflicts in our friendships or become jealous.
So what’s next ? Will Tina Kugler’s “Snail and Worm” become another friendship franchise to add to the cannon? What lessons will children learn from the two turtle friends who find a hat in Jon Klassen’s latest book in The Hat trilogy? Will the two boys in Chris Raschka’s “Yo! Yes?” and “Ring! Yo?” have their friendship evolve? Are there any other friendships brewing in picture books we should all know about?