In this episode we look at A. A. Milne’s books in honor of his birthday as well as several books about friendship and best friends.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
(Note: I’m sorry for how odd my voice/pronunciation may sound in this episode. I have allergies, and occasionally when I have a reaction, it affects my tongue. I was having trouble talking the day I made this recording. I apologize for how strange I may sound at certain points in the program.)
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids.
This week is AA Milne’s birthday. He is the author of the Winnie the Pooh series. So I wanted to start by recommending some Winnie the Pooh books. If you are like me, you’ve been a fan your whole life of Winnie the Pooh. They have the Classic Collection as a boxed set available. It is Winnie the Pooh Classic Collection by A. A. Milne. It has The House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, and Now We Are Six in that boxed set. And then there is also The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, which is a one volume book available. And there are several others, but these are the ones with the classic illustrations that were in the original books. They include all the classic characters. Of course, there are some modernized stories of Pooh Bear and Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger, and all of them that are available in paperback books and easy readers. And there’s just a whole plethora of Winnie the Pooh books, but I wanted to remind you of these wonderful classic books with the illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard, who was the original illustrator for these wonderful books.
There’s another book that I think is just wonderful. It is called Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. And this is by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. It’s a wonderful story about the little bear that inspired Milne as he wrote the book, Winnie the Pooh. So I highly recommend reading that book as well. And because we’re talking about Winnie the Pooh, it’s one of those classic books of friendships and accepting each other with all of your quirks and differences. I love that each character in the story has such a different personality and such a different understanding and take on every situation. Christopher Robin is just so patient with them. They are so patient with each other, and it’s just wonderful. And I love the way that they encourage each other and the way they help each other and look out for each other. It illustrates a sweet friendship and a sense of acceptance with the people around us, regardless of their quirks and struggles and challenges. I love that.
There are, of course, some other classic books that are dealing with friendship that are worth mentioning as well. The classic Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White is a beautiful story of friendship and caring for one another and making a difference in each other’s lives by using the talents that we individually have and what we can bring to each other’s lives.
Frog and Toad Are Friends: The 50th Anniversary Commemorative Book is out. And that one of course was written by Arnold Lobel. 2020 was their 50th anniversary. Those stories are a lot of fun. There’s Frog and Toad Together, Days with Frog and Toad, and any of the Frog and Toad books are just fun stories.
Another favorite of mine is The Cricket in Times Square: Chester Cricket and His Friend’s, Book One. I did not realize that there are several books in this series until recently I read this book again with one of my students and realize they have a whole series of books. The Cricket in Times Square is a beautiful story of friendship. It’s by George Selden; the illustrations in the particular book I have and that I’ll have the link for is illustrated by Garth Williams. This classic story shows friendship and integrity in friendship, being faithful in friendship and not compromising your morals and standards just to save face or get out of trouble. And I appreciate that about the story. I’ve always loved this story. I think it’s such a great one.
Then there are some more modern stories of friendship, and the first two I’m going to share with you are completely silly, absurd, ironic stories. And, of course, I love them because they are ironic stories. The first one is called My Best Friend, and it’s by Rob Hodgson. It’s about a mouse and a great owl. And the mouse keeps talking about his best friend, the great owl. And we realize that the owl is wanting to eat the mouse, but the mouse just thinks owl is taking care of him and watching out for him. So let me just read a little bit of this silly story to you. It says, “Hello, I’m mouse. And I want to tell you about my best friend giant owl. We’ve been buddies ever since giant owl brought me to live at the tree. I’m so lucky giant owl found me. I think we were destined to be best friends.” So of course the owl has captured him and carried him off to his tree for a midnight snack. And it says, “After all, we have so much fun. We play chase together and sometimes giant owl nearly catches me, but not quite. Giant owl’s favorite game is hide and seek. I’m so good at hiding. I can play for hours.” And so the owl is just tearing up his tree, trying to find his snack. “When We stop playing, giant owl always shares the tastiest snacks with me. I’m so lucky to have such a generous best friend. I love donuts, and giant owl always gives me more and more, and I eat them all up, every last one.” And so the mouse is now really chunky. He’s pretty fat. Owl is fattening him up. And he says, “Occasionally I do have my doubts about our friendship, Like sometimes when I want to go for a walk or just be by myself for awhile, giant owl is always there. Having a best friend can be annoying sometimes.” He will not let him go. And he’s like, “He loves me so much.” It goes on and on. And so finally, one day he eats the mouse, but the mouse won’t stay down, and he burps him up and he says, “Giant owl, you saved me! You’re my best friend in the whole world.” So it’s pretty silly.
The second one that is absolutely absurd and silly: Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend Forever (Probably) by Julie Falatco illustrated by Tim J Miller. This is the second in the series. The first one is Snappsy the Alligator Did Not Ask to Be in This Book by the same writer and illustrator. And these two books are so silly. They are a lot of fun. Kids will really enjoy them. In this story there’s the chicken. He keeps saying that Snappsy is his best friend forever, and the alligator is like, “You’re exaggerating.” And he’s like, “We do everything together.” And he’s like, “No, we don’t. And I’m going out to do my errands by myself.” But then at the end Snappsy does realize he kind of likes having a friend, and they start doing things together. These stories, I just love both of them. They’re totally, totally silly.
Now, as far as some books that are more serious and really talking about friendship, there’s this one called My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay by Carrie best and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton. And this book is very sweet. The characters, the four girls, are all very different. The main character is blind. The other girls are different ethnicities. Zulay wants to run a race. And so they cheer her on and encourage her and help her. And even though she’s blind, she’s able to run this race. So it’s just such a nice book about encouraging each other, supporting each other, not worrying about the differences in their personalities, in their abilities and in who they are, but just loving and accepting and encouraging one another.
There’s a book that’s coming out in March that I thought I would share with you. Of course, I haven’t read this one, but it looks really interesting. And I look forward to reading it and seeing what all is in it, but it is by a brand new writer and illustrator named Sandra Salsbury. I understand this is her first book she has out, Best Friend in the Whole World. And so, of course, I like to support new writers. In Amazon it says, “Roland lives a quiet life filled with books, music, and tea parties for one. But sometimes he feels rather lonely. When Roland finds the perfect companion in Milton, [who is a pine cone], they find they have so much in common, but clues start popping up in the woods, suggesting someone else might be missing their best pine cone friend. Roland must decide if it’s worth leaving someone else in their loneliness to keep Milton in his life.” So you see that the little rabbit is going to have this dilemma of whether to be selfish with his friendship, with the pine cone, or to let go. It says, “In this sweet and moving picture book about loneliness, friendship, and compassion, debut, author/illustrator, Sandra Salsbury celebrates the transformative power of connection and the painful melancholy of loss. I look forward to reading this. I think it could be an interesting book. So it might be one you want to check out. And like I said, it comes out in March of this year.
Another book that I’ve shared before that I think falls into this category of friendship and best friends so well is The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton. And I love this one. The illustrations show the story happening and unfolding as the little boy starts out being transparent and black and white, where everyone else is in color. And as the story goes along and he is drawn into the friendships with this new boy in the class and how that little boy helps him become part of the group, he becomes colorful in the illustrations and then is the same as everyone else. And I love it because it talks about the uniqueness of each person being more accepting and welcoming to people who are different than us, whether they’re different because they’re shy or they’re different because they’re a different ethnicity or they’re different just because they’re a newcomer or whatever it shows how just little kindnesses and words of encouragement can make such a huge difference in people’s lives. And that being inclusive with one another and bringing each other into the groups to work together and learn together is just wonderful. And I think the Bible tells us over and over to encourage one another. And we don’t recognize often how powerful encouragement is.
And then one of my favorite books that I found for friendship is called Enemy Pie by Derek Munson. This book is absolutely brilliant. It’s illustrated by Tara Callaghan King. I wish I had written it. It’s so cleverly done in such a cute story. This little boy has one enemy in the world, and that enemy has moved in next door to his best friend. And his dad’s like, “I can help you. Nothing gets rid of an enemy faster than enemy pie.” So he has this secret recipe for enemy pie and he makes the pie, but he tells him, “But for it to work, you have to spend one day with your enemy and then give him the pie.” He spends all day with this little boy that is his enemy. And he starts realizing, “Hey, we have things in common.” And he enjoys being with this kid and they start to become friends. And then when his dad serves the enemy pie, (Jeremy is the little boy) Jeremy is thinking that it’s going to make his friend disappear and that it’s got to be horrible, poisonous, terrible, awful pie. So he yells, “Don’t eat the pie! It’s poisonous.” His friend’s like, “But your dad’s eating it. And he’s okay.” And so he takes a bite and he’s okay. And so Jeremy starts thinking, “Huh, his hair isn’t falling out or anything.” So he takes a little bite, and they realize the pie is good, and he can eat it. The way his enemy disappears is he becomes his friend. Like I said, such a clever book. So well-written and cute as can be. I highly, highly recommend this book.
Another book I want to share–and this is the final book I want to share for today is Jesus Is My Best Friend. And it’s written by Sherelle Gaston and illustrated by HH-Pax. This one is a little controversial, I think, because throughout the book, Jesus is represented by a little star that is always with this little boy. Let me read a little bit of this book to you. I think that the writer has done an excellent job of explaining what it’s like to have a real relationship with Jesus Christ and knowing that God is with us no matter where we go or what we do. But the other part of this book that I like is that this little boy acknowledges that the good things that happen to him throughout the day are actually blessings from God that we need to be thankful for. So there are so many good things about this book that I like that the one kind of odd thing about the little star in each of the pictures, I don’t know, I think if you just explain to your kids that Jesus isn’t really a little star, but that it’s just to represent that he’s always with us, then I think that this book is great. He just says, “I have a best friend that I tell all my secrets to. His name is Jesus. It is easy to talk to him because he is everywhere I go.” He, thanks God for waking him up or Jesus for waking him up. The other part of this book that I love is in the illustrations. This family is a very loving family, a very close family. The kids are always hugging on the parents and the parents hugging on the kids. And so it has a great message in the illustrations. Plus the illustrator has written little things in the illustrations that children will have fun looking for throughout the book as well, that are kind of fun. When he goes to get on the bus to go to school, he’s afraid he’s going to have to sit with these mean boys that are much older than him in the back of the bus, but then he realizes no, Jesus has saved him a seat next to his classmate. And so he thanks Jesus that that seat was open for him. He wants to make a good grade on his science test. And he says, “I wanted a good grade on it. So I asked my best friend if he could help me with it. And I studied hard. I was so happy. I got an A, I thanked my best friend for helping me.” So again, here’s a good lesson. Yes. We pray and ask God to help us. Then we do our part and study like we’re supposed to, and then be thankful when God has helped us to succeed because we can study and still not succeed. And there are times when God helps us mercifully when we haven’t studied enough. But I think teaching our children that we need to study and be responsible and not expect God to just give us things when we aren’t even trying. Then at the end of the day he is, before bedtime, he takes time to pray and thank Jesus for all the blessings throughout his day. And Jesus tells him that he will always be with him. It has a little note for the parents as well, and a prayer to pray with your children.
I want to end with a devotional reading. This is from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd Jones and illustrated by Jago. It’s called “Friend of Sinners” and it’s on page 43 in the book. “One Day, Jesus visited the important city of Jericho and had a meeting. Who with? The mayor? The Bishop? No, Jesus made a beeline straight for the biggest sinner He could find, who, by the way, was quite small and up a tree. It would be like going to Washington DC. And instead of having tea with the president, finding the worst criminal and having tea with him. Zacchaeus was the most hated, despised man in the whole city. And of all people, he was the one Jesus chose to have tea with. Back then that was scandalous. It was like saying, ‘Let’s be friends.’ The important people, sneered. ‘Jesus Is the friend of sinners.’ They were right. Jesus loves sinners. And they’re the whole reason he came.” First Timothy 1:15 in the New Living, says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” One of the mysteries to me of our Christian life and faith is understanding that God calls us His friends. To me that has always been a mystery and something that I don’t take lightly. I’m not one of those who feels that we can be so flippant and familiar with Jesus. We need to still honor and revere Him and treat Him with awe. But He is that personal with us, that He is our best friend. He is closer than a brother. It’s wonderful to me that as flawed and failing as we tend to be in our walks with God, He still calls us friends. What an amazing gift He has given us. I want to always be like Abraham, that my faith makes me right with God and close to God. And therefore also a friend of God. Friends are those who are on our side. Friends are those who stick with us no matter what. Through the good and the bad, friends are those who encourage and spur us on to good works. And Jesus does all of that for us. And we in turn need to be friends to Him, not becoming angry when things don’t go our way or He doesn’t answer a prayer in our timing or in the way that we think it should be done. But that a true friend is going to stick with Him, be committed to Him, and be grateful that He is in our lives.
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these books will spark meaningful conversations with the children in your life. Please check out my website at TerrieHellardBrown.com. Remember when you sign up for my mailing list, you receive several freebies. And joining my mailing list, you will get one to two emails, typically, each week. Occasionally, you might get three, but I try not to overwhelm your inbox. I respect you and your information. I respect your time and your inbox. So if you join my mailing list, this is what you will get and you won’t be overwhelmed. My podcast posts each Tuesday and typically my blog posts on Thursdays. Occasionally I’ll post a blog on Friday if it’s been a crazy week, but I try to get one posted each week on Thursday or Friday morning, very early.
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.
Disclaimer: Although Terrie majored in psychology and sociology for her bachelor’s degree and has taught AP Psychology, she is NOT a licensed therapist. She sometimes mentions items in her blog and podcast that could be considered comments on psychology, but these comments are based on ministry experience and ministering to people through the missions and church work she’s done for the past 36 years. If you have questions about psychological disorders or counseling needs, please consider finding a reputable, licensed counselor in your area. Terrie’s comments should be seen as anecdotal and ministry-experience-related or scripture-based. Thank you!