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  • Kim Bogren Owen

Friendships that Defy Difference: Books that Help Us Find our Similarities

This week, our blog continues the exploration of friendships between those who are different with Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis which tells of the arrival of a new girl at school who is ignored by the other children. They never speak to her or play with her because she wears hand-me-down clothes and eats different foods. On that day, the children discuss kindness and the ripple effect it has on the world, she does not return. The narrator (who is another child in the class) realizes that she should have been friendlier and vows to be friendlier to the next new person she meets. Use this book as an example of what could have been, and the importance of treating everyone with kindness.

The following four books tell of friendships between black and white individuals. While few people see that as odd now, explain to your child that from the time of slavery through the Civil Rights era, blacks and whites were not supposed to be friends. There were, of course, people who knew this was wrong and broke those barriers as did the characters in these books. These titles fit with Black History month, as well as friendship, and are great examples of both doing what is right and not worrying about what others think of you.

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls tells the story of the Loving family and their fight to be able to marry in the 1950s and 60s. A great story to introduce children to the fight and struggles for equality in this country.

Two boys, one white and one black, enjoy their summer together in Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles and Jerome Lagarrigue. Their joy is marred when they realize they cannot go to the store together to buy ice pops, or to the white's only pool. One day they are excited to hear that they will be able to finally swim together, but when they go the pool they find it is being filled in to prevent blacks using it. Disappointed and angry, the two sit for a while and then realize they can still get ice pops together for the first time.

In Friend on Freedom River by Gloria Whelan and Gijsbert vab Frankenhuyzen, a boy helps a black family escape slavery by rowing them across the Detroit River to Canada and freedom. At first, the son of the slave family does not trust the boy entirely, but while rowing across the river, they are able to begin to form a friendship and realize they like some of the same things. This would be a nice opener for a conversation about trust, and how hard to can be to trust again when someone has hurt you.

Clover, lives on the black side of town, but watches a white girl as she plays in her yard on the other side of the fence, but neither one of them is allowed to cross over. After spending a good time watching each other, they find a solution and become friends in The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson and E.B. Lewis.

After reading these books talk with your child about the ways they are similar and different from their friends. The differences may be based on physical appearances, such as height, eye color, weight, skin color, length of hair, or hair color; preferences, such as for sports, activities, or foods; where you live; religion; or family make-up. This type of activity normalizes differences because, after all, no two people are exactly the same and we would not want it that way. What really matters in a friendship are the activities you enjoy doing together and the ways you care for one another. As you talk about these books, highlight the things that brought the friends together and how they helped one another.

Make a friendship book of your child's friends that includes pictures of your child and their friends. Add text that says, for example, "This is Bob. He is my friend. He likes broccoli, and I think it is gross, but we both like to play soccer and he hugs me when I am sad; This is Shayna. She is my friend. She has blue eyes, and I have brown, but we both like to swim and read Judy B. Jones books."

As always, I hope you enjoy these recommendations. Feel free to share with credit to Words Reflected and Kim Bogren Owen on Facebook, your website, or in your newsletter. Please add your recommendations for additional books about friends who are different in the comments.

(This blog uses the Amazon affiliate program so when you click on the title and purchase through Amazon, you are supporting us! If you don't purchase through these links, please, be sure to support your local, independent bookstore or find them at your library!)

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