Picture Books That Remind Children — and Grown-Ups — What Real-Life Friendship Looks Like – New York Times

We all need a reminder of what the word “friend” used to mean before the social media era, when it signified a lot more than being a “follower.” Four new friend-themed picture books offer a much-needed favor to humanity in reminding us of what it takes to find, keep and take good care of true friends. All of these may be referred to as children’s books — but I beg to differ. These books have big messages useful for any stage of life.

Being a twin myself, I smiled as I read the opening words of “Yak & Dove,” written by Kyo Maclear (“The Wish Tree”): “If we were twins…” Little Dove ponders this with her huge furry friend, Yak, with whom she is clearly, not even remotely twin-ish. As they begin to focus on how different they are, the friends drift apart. A long and funny search for a new friend ensues, aided by a matchmaking Marmot. Upon refining Yak’s requirements for a friend, Marmot reveals Yak’s ideal match, which is, of course (spoiler alert), his dear old friend, Dove.

Every page of Esmé Shapiro’s art is suitable for framing. She has created a lush world inspired by the Central Asian region where yaks are found. There’s a bonus story at the end of the book called “Yak and Quiet,” a cautionary tale of how the “static” of technology can ruin the tranquillity of friendship. This really could have been its own book, but for the reader it’s an extra treat.

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From “Molly & Mae.”

There’s a similarly clever idea behind “Molly & Mae”: comparing friendships to train travel. Some parts of the journey are smooth, but inevitably there will be rough spots. The sparse prose by Danny Parker (“Parachute”) takes us on the sweet voyage of two friends riding the rails together, and riding out a disagreement. Young Molly meets another 7-ish-year-old, Mae, who is hiding under a bench in the station. They play and tumble around together, and by the time they board the train less than an hour later, they are friends “forever” — even when Mae gets “tired of being bossed around” and they exchange angry words.

Their expedition takes them through what looks like English countryside. Freya Blackwood’s (“My Two Blankets”) wispy watercolors are luscious, dreamy and packed with detail. She missed an opportunity, though, to add some diversity to the crowds in the stations and the many passengers on the train. The book’s world is weirdly white. Still, “Molly & Mae” shows us how a few kind words after a fight can build bridges and move friendship smoothly along the rambling rails of life.

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Through thick and thin: From “Baabwaa & Wooliam.”

Two sheep, one a knitter, the other a reader, are living a quiet and idyllic life in a trailer in a field. But the cover of “Baabwaa & Wooliam” hints that there’s trouble in paradise. Look closely and you’ll see a wolf poking out of the nearby forest. Written by David Elliott (the Orq books), this hilarious romp shares a timely and powerful message — that even our enemies can become friends when we discover common threads and common stories.

Melissa Sweet’s (“Some Writer!”) outstanding art is whimsical and playful. I can feel when an artist had fun illustrating a book, and I’m certain Sweet had a wildly good time bringing Elliott’s words to life. While we see a lovely transformation in the wolf, who becomes quite good friends with the pair of woolly pals, his wolf instincts remain intact, and there are some highly entertaininscenes of Baabwaa and Wooliam being chased about the property. Elliott gives the tale a nice twist, showing the wolf ultimately becoming an avid reader. As a bookshop owner, I appreciate books like this that show how delicious reading a real book can be.

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That low-tech gospel is more important than ever these days, and so it’s great to see that Nerdy Birdy is back — with a mission. This delightful sequel sweetly reminds us how tweets and clicks can drive wedges between us and creates an extremely connected universe at the same time. “Nerdy Birdy Tweets” will strike a chord with all those who have experienced how cellphones and devices have unraveled the fabric of relationships. Adults reading this book may even feel a bit uncomfortable, as the message will probably resonate more deeply with them than it will with young children.

Matt Davies’s wonderfully inky lines and wildly splashy watercolor images bring to life two unlikely friends — one a small bird and the other a very big vulture. The chuckles only increase as Nerdy Birdy’s collection of so-called friends grows, until you realize that Vulture, a true friend, is not only being ignored, he is hurt deeply when Nerdy Birdy thoughtlessly shares something with his followers meant to be private between the two friends. Aaron Reynolds (“Creepy Carrots”) has created an important reminder to cherish our real friends. Nurturing friendship, this book reminds us, takes effort that includes the urgent task of turning off all devices, with two exceptions: your heart and your brain.


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