Some of the Best Books Featuring Friendship for Children and Teens

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Here are some of our favorite books for the classroom for preschool through ninth grade, which feature friends and friendship. This list is not all inclusive. There are so many great books which revolve around friendship, but these should get you started. Friends, friendship, and friendliness are wonderful classroom topics to explore in their own right. They also interweave well with the classroom topic of bullying (See our article on bullies) since they all speak to issues of empathy, kindness, exclusion and inclusion.

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Grades 3 - 6
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez. Novel. 336 pages.
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This wonderful book is rich in Mexican-American culture, music, friendship, school and family relationships. The central theme follows seventh grader Malú as she struggles to find her own place in relation to all these issues after having literally moved to a new place. As a read-aloud, it can even work with third graders, and some of them will be able to read it independently. Great for students right up to eighth grade. The text is broken up by illustrations of collages Malú creates as a kind of journal of her inner world. Read More.

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Grades 2 - 5
Wolfie and Fly by Cary Fagan. Illustrated by Zoe Si. Chapter Book. 96 pages.
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Renata Wolfman is an introvert, she likes being her own friend, and is filled with curiosity. Her parents particularly want her to play with the nice boy next door, but she refuses. One day she makes a submarine out of a refrigerator box. Much to her chagrin, she is interrupted by the boy next door, Fly. He is very insistent that she let him in because he lost his brother's new baseball and is trying to escape retribution. Fly helps Wolfie make enhancements to the submarine and convinces her to pretend they're steering it through the ocean. Pretending is something Wolfie says she never does, "I don't even know how. It's for kids," she says. "We are kids," is Fly's reply. Read More in our Featured Book Teachers Guide with discussion questions, extension activities, related books and links.

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Grades 3 - 7
Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. Illustrated by Isabel Roxas. Novel. 320 pages.
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In this Newbery Award winner we follow three misfits and a bully, at the beginning of summer vacation, as their lives intersect in a suburban neighborhood. Virgil is Filipino-American and painfully shy. Valencia is deaf and has been deserted by her so-called friends. Kaori is a Japanese-American, self-proclaimed psychic. When Chet, the neighborhood bully, tosses Virgil's backpack down an empty well, Virgil becomes trapped there, after going down to retrieve the backpack, which contains his guinea pig. Read More in our Featured Book Teachers Guide with discussion questions, extension activities, related books and links.

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Grades 3 - 6
Masterpiece by Elise Broach. Illustrated by Kelly Murphy. Novel. 304 pages.
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Eleven-year-old James and a small beetle named Marvin become friends and join forces to prevent a crime at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wonderfully written, this book evokes The Borrowers, Charlotte's Web and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Read More in our Featured Book Teachers Guide with discussion questions, extension activities, related books and links. Read More in our Featured Book Teachers Guide with discussion questions, extension activities, related books and links.

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Grades 5 - 9
The Breaker Boys by Pat Hughes. Novel. 256 pages.
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Twelve-year-old Nathan Tanner has been kicked out of yet another boarding school to return home to Hazelton, PA. His mother died several years ago and his father has remarried. His family owns one of the coal mines and Nate makes friends with some breaker boys -- boys who work sorting coal in the mines. When the boys become part of a strike at the mine, Nate's loyalties are torn. Read More in our Featured Book Teachers Guide with discussion questions, extension activities, related books and links.

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Grades 3 - 6
Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. Illustrated by Garth Williams. Novel. 282 pages.
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This book, that's brought tears and laughter to so many generations, is a book that we tend to take for granted. No other book in the field has handled the inevitability of the cycle of life with more skill and wisdom. At the same time, White pokes gentle fun at advertising and human nature while he celebrates the simplicities of farm life. Another beauty of the work is that it can be understood on so many levels. Children much younger than eight may be too young to deal with the death of a favorite character, but kids from that age up can usually handle it. Read More in our Featured Book Teachers Guide with discussion questions, extension activities, related books and links.

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Grades 5 - 9
Far North by Will Hobbs. Novel. 304 pages.
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This is an excellent survival novel. It will remind some of Paulsen's Hatchet but it does more than tell of physical survival. There's a pleading for respect for the Old Ways of the Dene (an indigenous people of Northern Canada) and for the animals. The myth of the raven plays a big role here as well. Gabe and his Dene roommate, Raymond, together with Raymond's great-uncle Johnny Raven, crash in the remote area of the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories in November. Johnny Raven transmits as much as he can of the myth and the skill of his people to the boys before he dies, and the boys make their own way out. Read More in our Featured Book Teachers Guide with discussion questions, extension activities, related books and links.

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Grades 5 - 9
The Foxman by Gary Paulsen. Novel. 128 pages.
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In this powerful anti-war novel, the narrator, a 15 year old town boy, is sent to live on a remote farm in the Minnesota woods. There he forms a friendship with the disfigured Foxman who was injured during World War I and who teaches him many things. The book has some sexual references though they are not specific and are alluded to rather than narrated. Read More in our Featured Book Teachers Guide with discussion questions, extension activities, related books and links.

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Grades 3 - 7
George by Alex Gino. Novel. 208 pages.
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George is transgender. She knows that she is a girl, but she has a boy's body, and everyone treats her as a boy since she hasn't told anyone her secret. However, things are becoming unbearable. Her fourth-grade class is putting on a play version of Charlotte's Web, and she desperately wants to play Charlotte.This gentle book is a wonderful vehicle for insight into what it must be like to be transgender. The author's use of all female pronouns for George, even while everyone is treating her as a boy, creates instant empathy in the reader. The pronoun's simple truth makes it easier for us to understand her inner experience and the tension she feels between that and how she is perceived. Read More.

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Grades 4 - 8
Doll Bones by Holly Black. Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. Novel. 256 pages.
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This Newbery Honor winning ghost story is great for reluctant readers as well as more enthusiastic readers. Three early adolescents, Zach, Alice, and Poppy, have been playing an elaborate game for years using action figures and dolls. When Poppy says that the ghost of a young girl told her that the bone china doll is made from her bones and contains her ashes, the three friends embark on a journey from Pennsylvania to Ohio to bury the remains at the girl's grave. If they don't, the ghost will curse them. The excellent writing takes what could have been an all-too-familiar premise and turns it into something extraordinary. Use with fourth grade and up. Read More.

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Grades 4 - 7
Lily's Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff. Novel. 208 pages.
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Lily has been going to Rockaway Beach in New York every summer for as long as she can remember. This summer promises to be as good as ever. Then her father announces he is going off to fight in World War II. Her best friend is moving away so that her father can find work in a defense plant. Lily is stuck with no one but Gram and her incessant demands on Lily's time. Lily is so furious with her father's betrayal that she refuses to say goodbye. Read More.

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Grades 4 - 7
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. Novel. 128 pages.
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This is the story of a miserable boy, Rob, and an equally miserable girl, Sistine. Rob grieves for his recently deceased mother, but he must do so without tears for his father has forbidden tears. Sistine is miserable because of her family's divorce and her relocation here in this awful town. When Rob discovers a caged tiger, he shares the secret with Sistine who is determined to free the tiger. This runner up for the National Book Award is brilliantly done. It's a tale of loss and redemption, of humans made whole by each other. Read More.

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Grades 3 - 7
Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. Novel. 288 pages.
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Heart-warming, touching, tender are all apt adjectives for this brief novel. Winn Dixie is a stray dog that our heroine, India Opal, finds in the midst of chaos at the Winn Dixie grocery store. Not since Shiloh have we had a literary dog so full of life and character. Read More.

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Grades 6 - 9
Holes by Louis Sachar. Novel. 272 pages.
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Camp Green Lake is neither a camp nor a lake although it once was both. Now it's a barren desert area and a prison camp for delinquent teenage boys. A boy with a palindrome for a name, Stanley Yelnats, was tried and convicted of a crime he did not commit--stealing a basketball hero's shoes--and was given the choice of Camp Green Lake or prison. This is just the latest in a series of misfortunes that have befallen generations of the Yelnats family since being cursed by an old woman in their native country. Read More.

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Grades K - 2
There is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems. Easy Reader. 57 pages.
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Winner of the 2008 Geisel Award this book is a gem. Mo Willems has written several delightful titles but this is my favorite. In this installment of the Elephant and Piggie series the two are relaxing peacefully when a bird lands on Elephant's head. Elephant is undone. As he panics Piggie gives him updates: "Now there are two birds on your head." "They are in love!" "They are making a nest!" Read More.

Grades 3 - 9
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco. Picture Book. 48 pages.
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This heart-wrenching historical picture book, based on a true story, presents us with two men from the Union army who meet after a battle of the Civil War. Say, the white, younger man, has been wounded. Pink, a black man, carries him home to where Pink's mother is surviving in the ruins of a deserted plantation. Pink is determined to rejoin his unit in spite of his mother's protest. Say, who was deserting when wounded, only agrees to rejoin because of the danger they present to Pink's mother. Marauders come and kill her while they hide in the cellar. On the way to the front lines, they are captured by Confederates and taken to Andersonville prison, where Pink is hung. Say survives to become the author's great-great grandfather. Read More.

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Grades PreK - 8
Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni. Picture Book. 48 pages.
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On a surface level, the book about friendship is easily understood by preschoolers. On a slightly deeper level, the story is about color and how primary colors can be combined to make secondary ones. Digging deeper, it may be viewed as an allegory for racism and, as such, is one to intrigue older readers and viewers. Read More.

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Grades K - 2
Chester's Way by Kevin Henkes. Picture Book. 32 pages.
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Chester is a creature of habit. He does things in very precise ways and he likes his routine. Wilson, Chester's best friend, is exactly like Chester. They are happy in their rut until Lilly appears. Lilly is nothing like Chester or Wilson. Her exuberance and unconventional behavior frighten the boys and they shun her company until she rescues them from some bullies. After that, they take another look at Lilly. Now it's the three of them and they're very happy. However, on the last page, Victor, who looks like another nonconformist, has just moved into the neighborhood. Read More.

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Grades 4 - 7
Thank You, Jackie Robinson by Barbara Cohen. Illustrated by John Steptoe. Novel. 128 pages.
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Sam Green is nuts about baseball. His mother runs an inn in New Jersey and Sam's best friend is Davy, the African American cook at the inn. They especially admire Jackie Robinson, the first black man in major league baseball. Together Davy and Sam set out to see a game at each ballpark within a day's drive of their home. They can't go any farther than that since, in the 1940's, segregation prevents Davy from entering any restaurant or hotel. When Davy has a heart attack, Sam musters up his courage and gets past many obstacles to get Jackie Robinson's autograph on a baseball for Davy, somehow convinced that the ball will make him better. Read More.

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Grades 4 - 7
Ava and Pip by Carol Weston. Chapter Book. 224 pages.
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Ava and Pip are sisters, but they have their differences. Ava is very outgoing and Pip is quiet and shy. When Pip's birthday party is ruined because Bea, a popular girl, has a party on the same day and "steals" all the would-be party goers, Ava writes a story starring the other girl as the villain. She is thrilled when it wins a contest, but then mortified when everyone is able to easily identify the true identity of the villain. However, Ava and Bea come together to find a way to help Pip come out of her shell more.

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Grades 8 - 12
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. novel. 368 pages.
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It's 1987, and Ari and Dante are 15-year-old Mexican Americans living in El Paso, Texas. Dante is gay and disarmingly open and vulnerable. The story is told from the perspective of Ari who is angry, guarded and completely at a loss as to why he feels so miserable. The story unfolds gradually as their friendship grows. It is not until the end that we discover, along with Ari, that the source of his angst is his suppressed sexual identity and his refusal to recognize his true feelings for Dante. The introspective journey is supported by their very understanding parents.

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Grades 6 - 9
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. Novel. 368 pages.
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Set in 1968 small town New York, this is a stand-alone companion book to The Wednesday Wars, this time focusing on the prankster Doug. He is starting eighth grade, which is bad enough, even worse his father abuses him and his brothers--even when one of them returns from Vietnam having lost both legs. Doug escapes to the local library where he discovers the bird paintings of Audubon, some of which are printed at the start of each chapter. The librarian teaches Doug to paint and to see the world with the eye of an artists. A powerful statement on the transformative effects of creativity.

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Grades PreK - 3
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. Wordless Picture Book. 40 pages.
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This wordless Aesop fable is gorgeous. We are surprised when the lion frees the mouse he has caught and then touched when mouse finds a surprising way to return the favor. The cover of the book fittingly is absent of any title or other print to set the silent nature of a wordless book from the very beginning. A great retelling of a classic for a new generation. Winner of the 2010 Caldecott Medal.

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Grades 8 - 12
A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Novel. 204 pages.
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The novel is told as a flashback when Gene Forrester revisits Devon School in New Hampshire, fifteen years after he was a student there. His best friend at that time is Phineas, called Finny, a natural athlete and idealist who Gene envies Finny so much that he contrives to make him fall from a tree, crippling him. Guilt causes Gene to confess what he has done to Finny but the results are not what Gene expected. This coming-of-age tale follows the actions of a group of boys as they struggle with academics, sports, friends and their impending involvement in World War II.

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Grades 3 - 7
Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? by Avi. Novel. 176 pages.
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Real life is less than satisfying for Frankie Wattleson in 1945 New York. His brother is home from the war wounded and depressed. A mysterious lodger has rented Frankie's room. Frankie's only refuge is listening to the radio and escaping into the adventures of Captain Midnight, The Lone Ranger and Superman. He and his best friend Mario spy on the lodger in Frankie's home whom they are convinced is either an evil scientist or spy. The entire book is relayed in dialogue only, making this an ideal book for reader's theater or for a study of the art of writing dialogue.