Eleven excellent children's books about unbreakable friendships

Published on: 25 January 2023

The Storm Swimmer author Clare Weze shares her favourite stories about friendships against the odds.

The Storm Swimmer is about a girl called Ginika whose life has been turned upside down, and she spends the first chapter in a very bad mood because of it. She’s lost her home and has to spend the summer at her grandparents’ seaside boarding house. But there, she meets a boy called Peri, who seems to live in the sea, and their friendship shapes the adventure to come.

She needs to keep him secret so that he’s safe, and as the book progresses, we find out whether or not she can do this. We learn more about Peri as the pair show each other how their different worlds work, and we see how much Ginika is prepared to risk for this precious bond. It’s a complete meeting of minds that transcends barriers of language and background.

Here are 11 more brilliant books that feature friendship against the odds:

Any of the Moomin books, by Tove Jansson

Illustration from Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove JanssonIllustration from Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson

There’s a lovely friendship depicted throughout the Moomin books, where the characters Snufkin and Moomintroll allow each other to be themselves, even though they’re very different and on the surface don’t make an obvious pair. One or other could easily have been dominant and persuasive, but it works so well without that tension.

Snufkin needs his silence and solitude, but always returns to the Moomin family after his travels. Their friendship settles back into its familiar warm groove, and that’s a lovely thing to experience as a reader.

Ways to Live Forever, by Sally Nicholls

The friendship between Sam and Felix at the heart of this story about two boys who spend time in and out of hospital is hilarious, warm and totally realistic. It’s probably the most heart-breaking book I’ve ever read, but I’m so glad I found it. It’s made melook at life in a different way.

High Rise Mystery, by Sharna Jackson

A fantastic mystery wrapped around humour and that very special and tumultuous friendship that you often find between sisters. I love buildings, so the tower block setting gave my imagination a great place to roam in.

The teamwork between these siblings made me wish I could jump into their world and follow some clues. Their speech patterns and wordplay is magnificent.

Julia and the Shark, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Illustration: Tom De FrestonIllustration: Tom De Freston

This is one of my favourite recent books, and the new friendship at the centre of it goes through a falling out and a betrayal, which makes it all the more intriguing.

This friendship serves as a grounding counterpoint to Julia’s adventure with the shark, and her struggle to cope with her mother’s mental health crisis.

Down to Earth, by Patricia Wrightson

This is a very old book but I read parts of it again recently, and it still stands up, particularly in the way it deals with friendship and banter. A group of children discover a space boy living in their city.

From then on, we explore, in a very realistic way, what would actually happen if you encountered an alien who was totally on your wavelength and just trying to get by in life. So sci-fi is fused with urban realism, and the author does it all through sheer friendship. Fantastic.

Tom’s Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce

Illustration: Levi PinfoldIllustration: Levi Pinfold

Another classic, but no list on the theme of friendship would be complete without it. Parts of this book had me in floods of tears, but they weren’t tears of sadness. They were tears of something there isn’t really a word for. Read it and you’ll see.

There’s a reunion between friends that obliterates time and ageing. (The passage of time itself almost becomes an extra character.) This is one of the books that made me a writer. 

Ghost, by Jason Reynolds

This story, about a track runner from a tricky background and the coach who sees his potential, makes for an uplifting exploration of a different type of friendship. I love stories involving mentors, and this one is refreshingly unsentimental, due to the hurdles “Ghost” faces – trouble is never far away.

That edge makes their subtle relationship all the more precious.

The Way to Impossible Island, by Sophie Kirtley

Friendship really does lie at the heart of this book, and the protagonists couldn’t have done what they do without it. It’s such a different setting, and the serious illness of the main character provides a fantastic ticking clock to the pacing. The odds are very much against them.

I can still see the island in my mind, in both its vastly different time settings. 

Between Sea and Sky, by Nicola Penfold

The new friendship in this amazing book might be a dangerous one, but it’s a wonderful example of the bonds that sometimes form when a stranger arrives.

Curiosity and friendship fuse beautifully with the environmental themes – the stakes really are life-and-death here – and it is absolutely gripping. 

Ellie Pillai is Brown by Christine Pillainayagam

Illustration: Trisha SrivastavaIllustration: Trisha Srivastava

And to finish at the older end of things, two books for teen readers that are heavily oriented around very precious friendships. Ellie Pillai is Brown follows Ellie as she finds first love whilst not really fitting in, and navigates tricky friendships, all with a soundtrack playing in her head.

One Drop by Peter Kalu

This story is set in a dystopian near future where the bond between the two main characters carries them through against tremendous odds.

Writing this list has shown me how important friendship is to the kinds of books I enjoy. I hadn’t realised this before! Whatever you choose, have a great read.

The Storm Swimmer by Clare Weze is out now.

Topics: Friendship, Features

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