Children’s friendships are most often instinctual and based on a kindred connection between two people. Friends provide children with an enormous sense of security so changes to those relationships can feel as destabilizing as an earthquake. With the new school year upon us, kids may feel nervous about the prospect of making new friends or getting reacquainted with those they haven’t seen for the whole summer. Some may be making the transition from primary to high school while others may have simply gone through changes over the summer that have left them feeling less akin to the friends they left behind in June. Books that explore the nature of friendship can provide children with the opportunity to reflect on what being a friend means to them and the kind of friendships they would like to have.
Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls: Moving Day (Scholastic Books, $7.99)
by Meg Cabot – Ages 7 to 10
Meg Cabot, best known for her Princess Diary series, has created a sassy character in Allie Finkle, a girl who is trying to figure out some of life’s rules, including what to do when friendships get complicated. Allie has just found out that her family is moving and she isn’t happy about leaving behind her house, school and friends. But this news also causes Allie to see her friendships in a new light. She has a falling out with her best friend Mary Kay and then tries to reach out to a new group of kids. Along the way, she comes up with some philosophical “rules” that will help readers examine their own ideas and feelings. This book is the first in a series, so if kids enjoy Allie’s rules, they will find more books featuring the delightful heroine.
Strawberry Hill (Little Brown, $8.99)
by Mary Ann Hoberman – Ages 8 to 11
The novel’s author is currently the Children’s Poet Laureate, an honour given to her by the Poetry Foundation in the United States. However, she has successfully plunged into the realm of children’s literature with her first novel Strawberry Hill. The book is based on Hoberman’s own childhood and is set in Depression-era Connecticut. Ten-year old Allie has just moved to a new neighbourhood, the beautifully-named Strawberry Hill. But while the name evokes a magical place, the reality is much different. Allie’s new neighbourhood is ordinary and she has trouble finding friends she can truly connect with. She meets Mimi, who conveniently lives across street, but whose whiny disposition and intimidating father are obstacles to true kinship. And then there is her classmate Martha, who Allie genuinely likes but whose friends make anti-Semitic remarks. She finds herself torn between wanting to be accepted and the reality of the racism surrounding her. Hoberman presents the genuine struggles that are faced by children as they try to navigate new social circles that can give off deceptive first impressions, much like a place named Strawberry Hill.
Along Came Spider (photo above – Scholastic, $13)
by James Preller – Ages 7 to 10
In this sensitive novel, author James Preller tackles a common dilemma faced by children as they grow up: to follow the popular crowd or stay loyal to their friends. The main character, Robert Stevens (known as Spider), has been good friends with his neighbour, Trey Cooper, a boy who is a bit eccentric. (There are hints that Trey might have autism.) When Spider and Trey start the fifth grade, Spider feels caught between a desire to hang out with the more popular children in his class and standing by Trey, whom most of the kids find strange. When he decides to join a basketball team that doesn’t have a spot for Trey, he feels a deep sense of guilt for betraying his friend. Preller doesn’t shy away from confronting this difficult situation and, in the end, Trey and Spider come to understand each other better, which only strengthens their bond.