Depiction of friendship in children’s literature

Have you ever read a book and wished you were part of the chaotic friend group? Or sobbed your eyes out after they were reunited with a childhood best friend or when they sacrificed themselves for the other? Then this list is for you! 

Most relationships in YA and children’s books tend to center around complex love triangles, or the prince charming and his mysterious belle. But sometimes, the most captivating relationships are the friendships – the side character who’s there even after the dramatic breakup, or the group they meet on their first day at the new high school. 

Making friends, having friends and losing friends are just as formative parts of our lives as first loves and heartbreak. As comforting as a happy ever after for the couple you’ve been rooting for is, sometimes the most fulfilling ending is with a main character supported and loved by their friends, no matter what. 

These books vary across topics and timelines, but they all have one thing in common: the theme of friendship. They portray the highs and lows, the happy moments and devastating ones, and the many different forms a friend can take. Most of all, they remind us that novels of friendship are sometimes the most powerful love stories of them all. 

When You Were Everything, Ashley Woodfolk 

“But girls cling to their friends for dear life as they wade through the rough waters of learning who they are while everything around and inside them is changing minute by minute.”

Alternating between timelines of Then and Now, When You Were Everything follows best friends Cleo Imani Baker and Layla Hassan. Or rather, ex-best friends. Now in their sophomore year of high school, their bond is slowly disintegrating as Cleo’s best friend since age twelve begins to drift away bit by bit- eventually abandoning Cleo altogether. Frustrated, Cleo instigates a vengeful feud and successfully implodes what is left of their friendship. As if things weren’t terrible enough already, now that mourning the loss of Layla has become a pain reminiscent to that of grieving her late grandmother, her attempts to erase all memories that tether them are interrupted as she is assigned as Layla’s tutor. In captivating prose, Woodfolk seamlessly interweaves alternating timelines to capture the depth of friendship, the chaos of its undoing, and the devastation of its aftermath, as well as the raw and messy emotions that taint all three stages. When You Were Everything is a poignant ode not only to friendship, but to anyone navigating a relationship that has grown up, a family that is shattering, and learning to trust and see new friends for who they are. 

Darius The Great Is Not Okay, Adib Khorram 

“The thing is, I never had a friend like Sohrab before. One who understood me without even trying. Who knew what it was like to be stuck on the outside because of one little thing that set you apart.”

Darius Kellner is dealing with depression, high school bullies, and a father who he never seems to be enough for. And now, his parents are taking him and his sister to Iran for the first time in his life because of his terminally ill grandfather. 

White American on his father’s side and Iranian on his mother’s, mocked for his nerdy interests and name in Oregon and not speaking enough Farsi to communicate with his relatives in Asia- Darius isn’t sure he’ll ever belong anywhere. 

But in the midst of the overwhelming whirlwind of socialising with family he has never met before, celebrating Nowruz and learning Persian card game Rook, is Sohrab. The Bahá’í boy next door who changes everything. Who shows Darius what friendship really is through days of football and rosewater ice cream, hours on a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline and an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes Darius feel like a ‘True Persian’ for the very first time. 

Khorram’s debut novel is a masterful exploration of mental illness, identity, and individualism as Darius learns how to be Darioush. 

Bridge To Terabithia, Katherine Paterson 

“Leslie was more than his friend. She was his other, more exciting self – his way to Terabithia and all the worlds beyond.”

Jess Aarons, who has been practising all summer to become the fastest runner at school and finally shed his reputation as “that crazy little kid who draws all the time”, never expects the aftermath of his defeat in the first race of fifth grade to newcomer and first girl to venture into the boys’ part of the playground Leslie Burke. What follows is an invention that changes Jess’s life- their imagined land of Terabithia. Their secret kingdom in the woods is home to Leslie’s wonderful stories, where she spins tales of gloomy Denmark royalty and insane captains hellbent on murdering a whale. She lends him her Narnia books and offers lectures on endangered predators, he teaches her compassion for the mean girl at school. And throughout it all, they develop a friendship more magical than even Terabithia. 

It is this magic, the strength Leslie gave him, and his family’s love that must help him survive the aftermath of a tragedy that uproots his life. 

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White

“Friendship is one of the most satisfying things in the world.”

Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. 

When these words appear in a spiderweb high up in Mr. Zuckerman’s farm, they spark nothing but astonishment in people for miles around. But these tell more about the pig, Wilbut, whose forthcoming slaughter has been replaced by a show prize at the appearance of the magical letters, than most people would assume. 

They tell of Fern Arable, who pleads for Wilbur’s life as a runt piglet and nurses him until he is sold to the Zuckerman’s. Who visits everyday to muse in silence, offering her constant company and support. 

They tell of Charlotte, the clever spider who befriends him when he is lonely and downcast. Who is the first to campaign for him and propose the idea of the spiderwebs in hope of saving his life. 

And more than all, they tell of a farmyard of animals, a young girl and a spider whose actions teach a naive pig the importance of friendship, love, and life. 

Friendship is one of the most universal themes in literature. It touches on a ubiquitous human emotion, and is an ideal vehicle to explore more complex issues with a stability and creativity that differs from the patterns and pitfalls romance often travels. From Sherlock and Watson to the Golden Trio, friendships are often the most cherished relationships in books. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gives value to survival.”

// This is a commissioned article penned by 14-year-old Purvaja Y from Hyderabad, India. She has combined research and her reading experiences to come up with a wholesome list of books depicting friendship wonderfully in children’s/YA literature. // 

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