by Christina Van Starkenburg
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: February 2019
February is celebrated as the month of love. Pink and red hearts and roses are proudly displayed everywhere. But romantic gestures are not the only thing celebrated this month. Just a few days before Valentine’s Day there is a lesser known, but, in my opinion, much more important special occasion: Make a Friend Day.
Friendship is truly special and important. Friends are there to comfort you when life is hard. They are there to share in your joy and happiness. Friends help you develop your social skill and learn about boundaries and compromise. They’ll give you a reality check if need be, but will also encourage you to follow your dreams. Studies show that having a few good friends helps you stay healthier, live longer, and have a higher sense of self-worth and confidence.
Even though we know friends are a gift, and absolutely wonderful to have, sometimes it can be scary to make new friends. Especially if you’ve recently moved to a new place, or if your potential new friend looks, acts or sounds different than you. It’s no coincidence that the theme of friendship appears in so many books and why I believe Make a Friend Day is a great day to acknowledge and celebrate.
Life Lessons for a Cat Countess by Janet Hill (Tundra, 2019) explores the importance of friendship. When Miss Marcella Mink created her own company—a cruise company for cat lovers and their furry companions—she became so busy that she no longer had time for herself or her friends. So she turned to her 67 feline companions for advice. From them she learned 20 tidbits to help her find herself again, become happier and strengthen friendships. For ages 4 to 8.
Sometimes the reason you need to make new friends is because you have moved to a new place. If your children find themselves in this spot, they might like to read Megabat by Anna Humphrey and illustrated by Kass Reich (Tundra, 2018) to remind themselves that new friends can be found in the most unlikely places.
In this book, Daniel and his family have moved to a new city, and he is about to begin a new school without his two best friends. As he is struggling to come to terms with this, he meets Megabat, the talking fruit bat who lives in his room far away from his jungle home. The two unlikely friends bond over food and Star Wars. For ages 7 to 10.
No matter why you are making new friends, it can be intimidating to talk to new people. The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Rafael López (Nancy Paulson Books, 2018), addresses children’s concerns about making new friends when they look and act different from each other. Woodson explains that it’s “not easy to take the first steps into a place where no one knows you yet,” and the illustrations of the different children in her book show just how nervous and worried the kids are when they aren’t as athletic or wealthy as the other kids. But the children try, and because they try, they open themselves up to a world of possibilities and friendships. For ages 5 to 8.
Sometimes the thing that makes you stick out is your name. In Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick Press, 2018), Alma learns why her father called her Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela—a name that she thinks is way too long.
So her father tells her the stories behind each of her names, and asks her if she still doesn’t think it fits. Then he tells her she can add her own story to her name, and asks what story she wants that to be. Just like Alma’s father, author Martinez-Neal asks readers “What is the story of your name?” and “What story would you like it to tell?” at the end of the book. If your children decide to follow Woodson’s advice and introduce themselves by telling their story, then maybe they can use these questions to help guide their words and conversation. It doesn’t take much to get a friendship sparked. For ages 4 to 8.
Finally, when you have good friends problems can still come up. In Too Much! Not Enough! by Gina Perry (Tundra Books, 2018) two monsters are constantly fighting over the amount of toys they have, noise they can make, food they can eat, and pictures they can paint. Moe is easily overwhelmed and thinks everything is too much. Peanut loves to live life loudly and with as much energy as possible. But if these best friends are going to be able to live together they have to learn to appreciate each other’s differences. This cute book will help friends learn that it’s okay to be different and like different types of things, because that doesn’t mean they can’t be friends anymore. For ages 3 to 7.
Christina Van Starkenburg is a freelance writer and mother of two young boys. You can read about their adventures at thebookandbaby.com.
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