By Keila V. Dawson
Friendship is the most popular topic in picture books written for ages 4-8. During those years kids are beginning to learn how to make friends, how to keep friends, and how to be a friend. Philip Stead books allow readers to experience the meaning of friendship. His quiet stories are not overwhelmed with action or plot and deliver powerful messages about friendship, kindness and empathy.
Stead’s characters are endearing. A story may engage the reader in a common dilemma, a complex problem, or an adventure. Whether whimsical, imaginative, or comforting, I find Stead’s stories inspirational.
Friends are caring
This is a heartwarming story about caring for one another. When a zookeeper wakes with the sniffles and can’t go to work, the animals he cares for take care of him.
Friends are helpful & patient
Bear wants to tell one more story to his animal friends. Each friend he meets is busy preparing for winter so the gentle Bear helps them instead.
Friends are real or imaginary or unexpected
A determined Sadie wants to deliver an elephant to her Great-Aunt Josephine who “lives almost completely alone and can really use the company.” But that would take too many stamps! So Sadie goes on an adventure to deliver the elephant herself.
Vernon the toad finds a new friend, a bird, that doesn’t speak. Vernon worries that the bird is silent because he misses his home. That makes Vernon determined to help Bird find where he belongs.
A friendly woolly mammoth, Samson, meets a little red bird who wants his flowers for her sad mouse friend. Samson wonders what it's like to have a friend. He fell asleep, woke during a blizzard and worried about the little bird so Samson searches for her and finds friends too.
Friendships are comforting
Peter moves to a new home in the dark, scary woods across from a bridge. When he can’t sleep, Peter makes Lenny from pillows and blankets to guard the bridge. He worries about Lenny being all alone in the woods so he makes him a friend, Lucy. Together, they discover his new home isn’t so scary or lonely and he even meets a girl who lives next door.
Friends are everywhere
A brave little bird, Ruby, introduces herself to every animal she meets, eager to learn about others while trying to make friends. Despite rejection, Rudy persists until she meets a bird who leads her to a flock with a name just like hers.
In addition to Stead's stellar storytelling, his artwork transports readers into the world his characters inhabit, captures their moods, and shows what's in their hearts. I believe there will always be a place and need for books where friendship, kindness, and empathy are central themes.