I love quotes. If you search on Google for quotes about friends, you will find more than you can possibly read. There are quotes about how to make friends, how to keep friends, realizing friendships are over, and countless other aspects to that type of relationship.
Working with younger students, I am constantly reminded how easy it is for some kids to make friends, and how other students view it as seemingly impossible. The fantastic authors Dan Santat and Peter Brown have each written books about friends and friendship that will serve any early childhood classroom well for many years to come.
First off, there is Beekle, written by Santat. Oh my goodness, I can’t even tell you how much I love Beekle! Beekle was born where all imaginary friends are born. After waiting patiently for his child, he decides to do the impossible: he leaves the island where he was born to venture off and find his person.
His journey captures students' imagination while gently speaking to adults about finding joy in the everyday world. The artwork is gorgeously poetic, full of life, and mesmerizing for children and adults alike. As you read the story you are introduced to Alice. Alice is a very shy child who has never made a friend before. Alice is an adorable character who loves art, and struggles in social situations. Alice and Beekle become friends in a very funny first meeting, and a true friendship is born.
On the opposite end of the making friends continuum, is Lucille Beatrice Bear. Lucy is the main character in two Brown books: Children Make Horrible Pets and You Will Be My Friend! I could talk about Children Make Horrible Pets forever because it is wonderful. If you can get your hands on the Scholastic/Weston Woods video of Children Make Terrible Pets, it will instantly become a favorite in your class. At snack time we will occasionally watch a story video and my students literally chant for this one calling out, “Children Make Horrible Pets” over and over! It’s hilarious.
In You Will Be My Friend!, Lucy wakes up and tells her mom that she is going to make a friend that day, and sets off to do just that. It becomes obvious that she has been told the rules for making friends: ask them about themselves, be helpful, and just have a friendly attitude. Unfortunately, she asks an ostrich what it’s like to fly, tries to scrub the smell off a skunk, and evidently yells “You WILL be my friend! I can wait.” at an egg. Combine these uncomfortable first impressions with her other gaffes, and it is no wonder that she struggles to make friends. However, just like in Beekle, friends are made and the sweetness of the story is evident from the first page.
Use these books for a perfect bookended lesson on making friends.
Begin by asking your students if they have an imaginary friend. Take a couple minutes and let the ones who are willing to share tell the class about their friend. (My daughter, Ella, had an imaginary friend named Baby Dinosaur who I believe fed Ella’s need to nurture.)
Read Beekle to the class.
After the book, ask the class what Alice could have done to make finding friends easier. Make a list of the “rules of making friends” (from the book) on the board.
Then have the students walk around the room using the rules to role-play to make new friends.
Discuss how this activity went. Was it easy to make friends? Were people nice when the student used one of the rules to try to make a friend?
Finally read You Will Be My Friend and each time that Lucy tries to make a new friend you can identify what friend-making rule she tried to use.
Recently, I was lucky enough for the opportunity to ask Dan Santat a few questions about Beekle. I think sharing this with your class after you read his book will be a fun experience.
Brian Smith: Where did you get the inspiration for Beekle?
Dan Santat: I was always fascinated with the idea that an imaginary friend was the perfect friend that a child created, and I wanted to play with the idea of a role reversal where the imaginary friend is waiting to find that perfect someone but has doubts about whether that day would ever come. The story is a metaphor about the birth of my first son and the anticipation one gets wondering what that person will be like, and it is also a reflection about making your first friend at the first day of school.
B.S.: Did you ever have an imaginary friend? If so, can you share some details about your imaginary friend?
D.S.: Sorry, I didn't have an imaginary friend, and even if I did I'm sure it would have been derivative of something I saw on television. Optimus Prime maybe?
B.S.: Is Alice based on a real person?
D.S.: Alice embodies the artistic youth. She is the person who is too shy to go out and make a new friend, but is creative enough to imagine someone as unique as Beekle. Most artists I know are private, and quiet folks who often spend most of their days alone in a studio. The moment Alice meets Beekle and shows him the picture, you realize that she was telling the story of how they met the entire time and at the end of the book it is Beekle who helps her find the courage to go out and make new friends.
B.S.: If you could give children two rules for making a friend, what would they be?
D.S.: Listen and share.
B.S.: How long did it take you to write and illustrate the book?
D.S.: Beekle, as a story, was in my head for maybe nine years. Once I found the time to write it down it took about a good nine months to perfect and finalize the storyline and about six months to do the art.
I want to thank Dan Santat for taking the time to answer my questions. Hearing him talk about Beekle as a metaphor for his son's birth made me immediately go back and read Beekle through a new lens.
I can’t wait to see you next week, my friend!