Nothing is more important to a ten-year-old than having a best friend. This is the golden ticket for opportunities like inside jokes, matching outfits, and in the year 2022, FaceTime chats. Spring fever has hit my classroom, and the social dynamics are front and center. I hate to stereotype by a binary gender, yet from my experience this week, the friendship feels have been… well, feeling for the girls. Having a best friend feels warmy and glowy and special. There’s giggling over by the slides and making up dances on the grass at recess. Yet sometimes that glow fades like that of a firefly (ha, irony), and then there are the sullen faces in the corner and the “she said, but she said” rumors flying fast. Friendships are really hard to navigate, and what’s harder is that as the adult, I can’t micromanage them. I have the wherewithal to know the lines, “If they’re really your friend, they’ll treat you kindly and respectfully,” or “You should want to spend time with people that make YOU feel good,” but they have to figure out a lot of that through trial and error. The best I can do as their teacher is provide tricks to healthy communication skills and to model respect.
I’m so lucky. I have a sister, so for me, a best friend came from the womb. Even though I joke that Lacy has to like me no matter what because we’re related, I know that in actuality, our bond has to be nurtured and cared for and learned just like any other. When done well, successful best friendships are all about uplifting each other, being present for the good and the hard, and even as adults, the occasional dance routine. After all, we were in a quarantine for two years. In these four books, I believe there’s a healthy debate to be had over whether some of these friendships are meant to go the distance.
We have two distinct friendship tropes that wave throughout these tales. In the case of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends and Judy Blume’s Just As Long As We’re Together, three becomes a crowd and shifts the dynamics of a best friendship in unexpected ways. Then, we have the opposites attract in Kristin Hannah’s Firefly Lane and our picture book Two Sides by Polly Ho-Yen and Binny Talib. Will the differences amongst protagonists fuel the tightness of their bond, or cause inevitable, untenable fissures?