12 Funny and Real Tales of Friendship Gone Wrong for Kids
by Julie Falatko
Friendship stories are my favorite kinds of picture books, because they teach us that, even though there is adversity in the world, your friends will help you through. Winnie the Pooh and Piglet grow closer by tiddly pomming through a snowstorm. George and Martha are best friends because of chipping a tooth, a loafer full of pea soup, and repeated situations that called for yelling out “Have mercy!” Snail and Worm prod each other toward greatness while encountering a flower, a penny, a spider.
One of my especially favorite sub-genres of friendship stories is Friendship Gone Wrong. I don’t mean when the friends, together, meet adversity. I mean when the friends are the adversity, and both of them wonder if the whole friendship was a mistake. Because we’re all weird and flawed, and sometimes we make truly terrible decisions about what to do with our day and how to treat our loved ones. Sometimes you don’t even feel like your friend is the same species as you (of course, in picture books, sometimes the friends literally are from different species).
Here are twelve of my favorite picture books about friendships gone wrong, in celebration of my own new picture book, Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably), in which the chicken narrator from Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) once again inserts himself into Snappsy’s life, suggesting sleepovers, pizza hats, and conga lines, because isn’t that what best friends do? (He did not get the memo about how, for starters, best friends don’t annoy the bejeepers out of each other.)
Gray and brown lumps of clay egg each other on (mostly spurred by the gray lump’s initial naughtiness) to mold themselves into different shapes for fun. One-upping each other leads to hilarious imaginative disaster. We all understand what it’s like to have that one friend who pushes us a little too far toward the detention zone.
Tea Party Rules
A bear did not set out to make a friend, he just wanted cookies. And in his pursuit of those cookies, he became an unwilling participant in a girl’s Tea Party Makeover SWAT Team. If you’re being forced to take a bath in the name of friendship and parties, it might be worth it, if there are cookies.
Yak and Dove
Friends Yak and Dove navigate their differences in this set of three stories. As you might expect, a yak and a dove have a lot of differences. The stories reflect their oppositional togetherness (they are most definitely not twins, for instance, and they plant a Very Noisy Quiet Garden), and the result is sweet, funny, silly, and lovely.
A Bargain for Frances
I adore all the Frances books forever and always, but A Bargain for Frances is the one that really shows how capricious elementary school friendship can be. Sometimes friendship is outings and cookies, and sometimes it’s trickery and a penny in the sugar bowl. And you must ask yourself, “Do you want to be careful, or do you want to be friends?”
A friendship-gone-wrong story where the friendship stays wrong (that is, until the sequel, I Love You Already!). Sleepy bear and overcaffeinated duck are neighbors with different schedules, different energy levels, and different needs in the friendship, to brightly colored and hilarious results.
The Princess and the Pony
This is the story of a mighty warrior princess who needs a fierce and strong horse, and, instead, her parents get her a wall-eyed farting pony who can’t keep his tongue in his mouth. Princess Pinecone does her best to work around her pony’s limitations, but in the end her pony shows her that she was underestimating both him and all the fierce battling warrior brutes.
The Story of Fish and Snail
An adventurous fish and a homebody kitten-loving snail are friends — but are they only friends because they happen to be in the same book together? These friends get into a huge fight because of their differences, and it might be the end of everything (their friendship, and the book they live in).
Leo: A Ghost Story
Sometimes the problem isn’t that the friends aren’t getting along. Sometimes the problem is a misconception and a secret. I will forever love this book for its retro classic feel (the phrase “sneak thief,” for instance), but I will also love it for the friendship between Leo and Jane. She thinks her new pal Leo is imaginary, and he loves having a friend, but he has to decide whether to tell her the truth about his ghostiness. So great.
I Don’t Like Koala
What’s poor Adam to do? His parents gave him a weird and creepy stuffed animal koala, and keep insisting that he loves it and would miss it if he left it behind in a store (which he continually tries to do). This version of friendship-gone-wrong occupies the same space as a forced playdate with an awful peer, just because your moms are friends. And it’s hilarious.
Good Night Owl
A lot of these friendship-gone-wrong stories are about characters who may not, in fact, be friends. But I submit that two picture book characters interacting in the same house and not actively fighting are friends. Further, I submit that if one character causes the other to completely tear his house down, the friendship has gone wrong in some respects. And then, if they end up sleeping in the same bed, the friendship has prevailed, even if the roof has not. I love this book.
Officer Buckle and Gloria
Oh, this book. It’s so great. And it all comes down to the look on the faces of both Officer Buckle and Gloria (a dog) when Officer Buckle finds out that the audiences he thought were in love with his safety presentations were really in love with Gloria. Look, sometimes friendship hurts. But it takes a real friend to realize you are a better person with your friend around.
This book (illustrated by Snappsy illustrator Tim Miller!) is so delightfully weird. Friendships can be founded on shared interests (in this case, coin collecting), but if both of you are from massively different backgrounds (a boy with a magic coin, and the monster who lives in all our couches) (you know) then it can take a while to build on those shared interests and become true friends. (Look, if you’re a couch monster, it takes you a while to figure out how friendship works.)
What stories about the sometimes bumpy road to friendship would you recommend to young readers?